Monthly Archives: March 2014

So Long Farewell Good Riddance Most Likely

Tonight is the last episode of the world’s longest running live television show, Warratte Iitomo! (or It’s Okay to Laugh!), which has been hosted for its entire 32 years by the ubiquitous, on Japanese TV anyway, Tamori. You don’t need to know that much about the show: it’s a daily variety show with a revolving cast. What’s important for this blog is that it reminds me of one of my stranger television hobbies: watching the final episodes of television shows, even ones I don’t watch regularly.

My only rule is that I must have seen either enough episodes of a series to actually enjoy it and be sad it’s ending or enough to get annoyed by it and wish it good riddance (kind of like Jack at the end of Titanic). As a result, I’ve seen final episodes of many of US television’s most famous shows, and a couple of its most obscure: M.A.S.H; China Beach; Little House on the Prairie, which is complicated by Little House: A New Beginning and the fact it ended in a two hour movie, complete with explosions; Good Times; All in the Family; Mary Tyler Moore and its inferior ripoff Ally McBeal (which inexplicably aired here in Japan); Beverly HIlls 90210; Thirtysomething; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (which I had to track down on a trip to the USA); the underrated, badly named Space: Above and Beyond; The X-Files, Millennium; Fringe; Lost; Red Dwarf (complicated by having been continued later); Babylon 5; everything with Star Trek in the title; Battlestar Galactica (twice); and Breaking Bad, even though I’d only seen two episodes.

One of the things I enjoy is seeing how maudlin or insane the writers decide to get and how, more often than not, the endings are crap. My old standard for crap used to be St. Elsewhere (spoiler: it was all a little boy’s dream). My new standard is Battlestar Galactica, the new version, (spoiler: Huh? What? Oh come on! What bullshit is this? Really?)  Even the ending of Lost, as bad as it was, was more disappointing than stupid.

Part of the problem with endings, especially of TV shows, is that the shows usually start with a great premise and then, because of the nature of television, are forced to twist and mangle the characters and the story lines well beyond the premise and all hopes of resolution. Babylon 5 had a great conclusion after four years, but then, unfortunately was renewed for a fifth, and the ending is a quiet let down. Lost and Battlestar Galactica were clearly being made up as they went along, for better and for worse.

The best endings find an inevitable twist that makes you go “Of course. It couldn’t end any other way”. Dinosaurs had a great ending because, well, look at what happened to the dinosaurs. Star Trek: Voyager was a bit neat for my taste, but didn’t try to be too clever; Space: Above and Beyond, had a kind of bitter-sweet ending that left many characters’ fates in limbo–but not in an annoying Lost kind of way–and left me and a couple of my friends sad. Newhart, though, remains the best ending ever because it was the twist we didn’t know we wanted.

The worst endings, though, answer questions in ways that are too obvious or offer an annoying twist that distracts from everything that went before. For example, I could point out that my other odd television hobby is watching episodes where popular characters die, even if I don’t watch the show, but then not elaborate. Or, I could do the ALF ending, and just stop without resolving anything.



You Are Number Two And Will Be Treated Accordingly

Since today is the day I practice Karate, or was supposed to be (long story), it seems that Sunday’s are slowly becoming the day I tell my sports adventure stories, pathetic as they are.

Many years ago, when my friend Charles and I had our brown belts securely fastened and were being considered for our black belts, we were told that Norihito Kawamoto, the founder and head of our style, was going to visit our dojo–which, given the no nonsense nature of our style, meant he’d be visiting the community gym where we practiced. Our sensei’s suddenly turned very serious and we had several minutes of etiquette practice, which we’d never done before.

I don’t remember us talking about what we were expecting, but neither of us was expecting a tall, pot-bellied balding man who spent most of his time sitting on a chair with his eyes closed, apparently asleep, whilst two of our senseis tested for their sixth level black black belts.

Joining Kawamoto sensei was another high level sensei from a dojo in Myoko. I don’t remember his name, even though I’ve met him once since then, but I remember he’s the first Japanese martial artist I’d seen who had swagger. He knew he was good–and we weren’t about to argue. When we practiced with him, he was doing things in ways we hadn’t practiced, including getting in closer at the start of a technique than we’d practiced. I’ve learned since then that this is pretty common. Although we all stick to the same basic techniques, there’s a lot of variation in performance and teaching styles.

Eventually Kawamoto sensei left the chair and it was clear that despite his size, and a noticeable limp, he was light on his feet. He pulled the Myoko sensei over–as he was officially the second highest rank in the room–and used him to demonstrate the various techniques.

Now, it’s important for you to understand that, in this context “used him to demonstrate” means “smacked the living crap out of him for the better part of ninety minutes”. Several of our techniques involve pushing on the opponent’s face. Kawamoto demonstrated that by smacking the Myoko sensei loud enough in the face that the rest of us cringed. And then he kept doing it. By the end of the night, The Myoko sensei had a little less swagger and a bright red face.

Lesson learned: Never be the second highest ranked guy in the room.

Now, although this has never been officially stated, this seems to be a rule across the style. In my sensei’s case, you don’t want to be the second highest ranked student in the room. When Fukuda, a sixth level black belt, is at practice, I get the extra special treatment. With Fukuda he’ll demonstrate “Now, after blocking the knife with both hands, you deliver a backhand across the stomach and then push the person’s face with your right and then you do the throwing technique. Got that?” With me, he back hands me across the stomach, smacks me in the face and throws me. If I get things wrong, I get yelled at.

When Fukuda’s not there, unless I’m doing something completely boneheaded, the tone is much more gentle, while the lower level student gets the special treatment.

To this day, I don’t know if this is official policy, or just some kind of the hazed becomes the hazer psychological thing. In general, the teacher’s aren’t abusive in other ways. My sensei went through a faze where he was slapping us on the shoulder or on the head when we made repeated mistakes. I told him if he didn’t stop, I was leaving for good, and he’s never done it sense.  But the sensei’s bring the pain when demonstrating techniques.  I’m on my guard no matter what, especially when we’re using bo staffs and swords, even if I’m number one.




Inspiration So Pure So Smooth So Precious

One of the things ordinary, normal people don’t get about writers is our affinity for notebooks. Not the digital carry it with you and send email kind, but the kind made from wood pulp.

To a normal person, a notebook is a thing used to record things, like notes. For a writer, a notebook is inspiration. It is precious and has magic powers. Like the new running shoes in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Summer Running”–which the narrator is convinced will make him run faster–a notebook contains the purest form of all writing: the things we hope to write before we actually sit down to write them. There are no awkward sentences, no under-developed characters, no plot holes. Everything is perfect–well, at least until the first marks are made on the page.

To understand the effects of this, you have to understand how normal people and writers buy notebooks and then what happens after. A normal person buying a notebook will pay the money, say something like “Thanks, I really needed one of these” and immediately start scribbling notes. A writer buying a notebook will suddenly grow twenty feet tall like Galadriel in the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring and announce “Within these mighty pages are a great novel/epic poem and all that is necessary for me to reveal it is for me to leave white the things that are not a great novel/epic poem and lay marks upon the things that are. All shall love me and despair!”

The normal person behind me then says “Hurry up, moron, some of us have places to be. Oh, and you know Galadriel was a chick, don’t you?”

Basking in the glow, we get our brand new notebooks back to our writing space. There’s then a few moments whilst we arrange the space properly and then break out our pen. That’s when the problems hit. The shinier, more perfect the notebook, the less likely we are to begin writing in it. The ultra-smooth, fountain pen friendly paper of our Apica Premium CD Notebook is too smooth and pure to be ruined by the horrible scrawls we are about to inflict on it. It is the paper for something that people will be studying 300 years from now. It is not for the notes of a crap action novel or the notes for some pathetic blog. It deserves better. Hell, I don’t even have a proper pen for it.

It is precious.

In my case, at this point my internal editor/heckler–her name is Kimberly–starts snickering. (I’ll tell you more about Kimberly in a future post; all you need to know now is that she’s a snarky, ruthless bitch.) She hears the opening line that’s been rolling around in my head and says “Didn’t that meth lord guy say that on Breaking Bad in like season one or was that like Macbeth? It doesn’t matter, it still stinks. You’re not the one who knocks, you’re the one who stinks. And you can’t even smell. (See, I told you what she was like.)

I therefore put the nice, shiny notebook away and drag out some handmade ones that I assembled several years back out of unused handouts and old student evaluations. Kimberly messes with her hair–her hair is always perfect but she always complains she can’t do anything with it–and says “Changing to crappy paper won’t help. It’s just crap on crap. Stinky, stinky, stinky.” She sighs. “And how much time did you waste  making those nasty things when you could have been writing? How many blank notebooks do you have anyway?” My answer to that question is “shut up”. All she needs to know is I now have a moldering stack of old paper held together with rusting staples.

As I’ve been working on this blog I’ve discovered that one of the advantages of computer screens is that there’s nothing particularly tactile about writing on them. You never have that “my words are crap and will despoil these precious pages” moment. (Well, unless you own a Mac, in which case, yes you will.)

Kimberly just laughs at that. “I’ll be here whatever you choose, you loser. I’m precious that way.”


Slogging and Blathering and Assessing

Today’s post, unless I’ve miscounted, is post number 37 which means I’m 10% finished with this daily project. Since I’m coming down off a minor migraine, I’ve decided to assess what’s happened thus far and where I hope things will go from here.

I went in to this project with very little plan and I was worried about having enough interesting ideas. (Ha Ha Ha. Too late, DL, looks to me like you’ve already run out. That’s funny. Ha ha. I get it. Now shut up.) My friend Steve was much wiser in that respect, and his new daily poetry project looks interesting, too. On the other hand, having no plan gives me a much broader range of topics. But when you can go anywhere, where do you go first?

I keep a notebook of possible topics, but prefer to blather on about whatever strikes my interest on the day–hence haircuts and lots of stuff about marking exams. I want to keep a good portion of the possibles list as “I Got Nothin'” back-up topics.

I also decided by the end of the first week to limit myself to one hour of writing for each post. One of the reasons I haven’t done anything like this before–and also why I’m dubious about daily diaries–is the time spent on things that don’t necessarily pay. The consequences of the time limit have been mixed. Although it forces me to write quickly–I don’t count any prior notes or scribbled lines toward the time limit– I feel a number of the entries just kind of stopped without a satisfying concluding punch–The Corpse of Peace, for example.

I’ve also been worried about balancing the mix of serious, funny, seriously funny, falsely profound and downright tragic, but that might be a result of deciding how honest to get with all of this. I also don’t want this to be another version of the barely breathing The Crazy Japan Times, although I may start cross-posting some stuff over there.

I do have an eye toward readership–the blog’s been doing reasonably well thanks to Brad Dowdy of The Pen Addict including one of my posts in his regular Ink Links. (Note: that’s NOT the Ink Links my post is in.) I’ll probably add a tip jar one of these days, although that possibility changes depending on what day it is.

I also want to work on a couple connected series of posts, one about Albania and the Peace Corps, one about university and why I am a grad-school dropout and one tentatively involving “Daddyhood”. (Once again, though, I’m saving those for the “No, really, I got nothin’. Really, I don’t.” days

Thanks to everyone who’s commented, either on a post or on Facebook. I hope you’ll share these with others. I also hope I manage to keep your interest the rest of the way, despite cheating posts such as this.



Ask Me No Questions and I’ll Tell You No Lies

A dirty little secret of being a teacher overseas is that you are one part educator, one part bald-faced liar. Well, you don’t start out that way; it’s just that you quickly learn that lying is part of the job.

More specifically, it’s a defense mechanism. When I was in Albania, a fairly common conversation would proceed something like this:

Albanian–Tell me how much is kilogram of meat in America?
Me–What’s a kilogram?

Well, that was an EARLY conversation. A few months later the conversation was more like:

Albanian–Tell me how much is kilogram of meat in America?
Me–What kind of meat?
Albanian–Beef steak.
Me–What kind of beef steak? There are different cuts.
Albanian–Just average kind.
Me–Well, in Kansas the cheapest kind was–
Albanian–No, New York City.

Substitute “kilogram of meat” with “liter of milk”, or “pack of cigarettes” or “car” or “house” and you start to get the idea of what we were going through. Eventually, we just gave up and started lying.

Therefore, by the end of the first year, the conversation went more like.

Albanian–Tell me how much is kilogram of meat in America?
Me–Twenty dollars.
Albanian–It is expensive, I think. How much is kilogram of chicken?
Me–Sixteen dollars.
Albanian–I see. How much is pack of cigarettes?
Me–Seventeen dollars and twenty-seven cents.
Albanian–(Lighting cheap Partizani Cigarette). America is bad place.

I justified it by telling myself that somewhere, somehow those things were actually those prices.

I wish I could say things had improved in the age of the internet and the smartphone, but even here in Japan teachers field questions such as “How much it cost to have wedding in America?” I always say “ten thousand dollars” and then watch while they start to do the math in their heads “102.23 times 10,000 equals” pulls out smartphone, uses calculator “Ahh, that is cheap I think.” I don’t tell them they can just head over to the Little White Chapel in Vegas and be married and out for a lot less. I also don’t say look it up.

Part of what gets to you is it isn’t always a way to lead into a broader conversation; you really are expected to be a kind of living breathing Wikipedia, and it gets old fairly quickly.

Luckily, no one’s ever looked up and called me on it. If they do, though, I’m ready for it.

“Well, I haven’t been home in a while. Things may have changed a bit.”

I try to be a good person. Really I do, but only as necessary.

Cut, Shaved and Therapized

I’d planned to go get a haircut today, but various events intervened: neighbors, the threat of rain, kids coming home from school with report cards and a dazed and confused teenager (but I repeat myself) who can’t read a map.

This, however, has me thinking about haircuts and my favorite places to get a haircut. In the USA, your choices are barber shops and stylists. Barber shops are primarily about sports, wisdom and life lessons–as one barber told me when he heard I was in Air Force ROTC: stupid, brain dead and moronic is no way to go through life, son. (Something like that. I can’t remember if he’d been a Marine or a soldier). Stylists shampoo your hair and then teach you about the transience of life and physical possessions by sculpting your hair into a shape you will never, ever, no matter how hard you try, be able to replicate on your own.

Albania, though, was an experience. For about 50 cents (if you were really splurging) you got a disturbingly fast dry haircut followed by a shave with a straight razor. That was followed by the application of a burning aftershave that was apparently the acidic by product of some sort of chemical weapons test and then the barber rubbed some sort of lotion on your face as part of a face and scalp massage. After days of extreme culture shock, it was better than drinking (well, it was cheaper than drinking) and better than visiting the Peace Corps nurse for counseling. Even the women in the Peace Corps were interested in getting a haircut at a men-only local place.

In Japan, as of late, you have a choice: therapy or a haircut.

Therapy: When I was in Nou-machi, my barber was Barber Ishii, an older woman of no determinable age whose hobby was taiko drumming. A haircut and shave from her involved first a pile of hot towels on your face for several minutes, followed by hot shaving cream and then a shave and a short face massage. Then came the haircut itself and then a shoulder and scalp massage. That’s when the taiko drumming skills and strong arms took over. By the time you’re done, the world is a great place and all your problems are just insignificant little things you don’t even need to ponder. All this for about 35 dollars, complimentary cup of coffee included. (And, usually, because I was a regular, free food of some sort to take home.)

Haircut: The last several years, the more expensive stylists have been competing with “Ten Dollar/Ten Minute” barber shops that promise a haircut cheap and fast. (In some stations, you can even get a haircut while you’re waiting for the train.) You get to give a few basic directions and the barbers go to town. If you time it right, you can sneak in a few extra minutes, and if you don’t like the results–they usually leave your hair too long, I suspect to keep you coming back regularly–they will take extra time and fix it. All that for 1,000 yen. I switched to them, partly because younger stylists have dropped the massage portion of the haircut but kept the price the same.

Still, whenever I get back to Nou-machi, if it’s not a national holiday, I head down to Barber Ishii for a haircut and some therapy.

All Your Summers Are Belong to Us

Because the girls are finishing up school tomorrow, I’m in the mood to ramble about Japanese schools and a few of the odd differences between Japan and the USA.

First, a few boring details: Japan operates on a year-round school system with the school year starting in early April. The Spring/Summer term runs until the end of July. There is then a six weekish long summer “vacation” (more on that later). Autumn term runs from early September until December 27th or so, then there’s a ten dayish break for the new year. The winter term runs from early January until the end of March. Students and teachers then have about two weeks to prepare for the next school year–which for some teachers involves moving to new schools in new cities.

Elementary school is very laid back–although the students get way ahead in math compared to their Western counterparts by using rote memorization of times tables, speed drills and other techniques Western educators have proven don’t work.

Starting in junior high school, students in public schools put on uniforms and boys and girls begin to be physically separated more and everyone begins to study their “roles” in Japanese society. The boys will be the leaders; the women will serve tea and, hopefully, according to the Japanese government, start producing babies in order to keep Japan stocked with future workers whose future taxes will support the aging population. (Keep that in mind when someone tells you the US needs an educational system more like Japan’s.)

Extra-curricular activities are also taken much more seriously. At the beginning of the year, older students recruit 7th graders to join their clubs. The choice is important because once you’re in a club, that’s your club for the rest of the year. It is, for example, not possible to be in the band during football season and then play basketball and then go back to being in the band during track season. Many clubs also meet during the holidays.

I remember being shocked after we moved back to Kansas that football practice at Southeast of Saline High School had started over a week before school started. However, in Japan it’s normal for some clubs–especially sports clubs–to meet nearly every day of the year, including Sundays. My oldest plays the flute in the brass band club and in one year she’s probably already had more practice time than I had in six years of playing the trumpet. (She’s also much better at flute than I ever was at trumpet.) She did get in trouble, though, for missing practice while she was visiting her grandparents in the USA last summer. (She Who Must Be Obeyed wisely keeps me away from the teacher; although I serve as a kind of “bad cop” last resort.)

It’s also standard operating procedure for teachers to give reams of homework during holidays. The students diligently put all this off and finish it in a mad rush at the end of the holiday.

Complicating matters, especially for Junior high school, is the emphasis on entrance exams. In Japan students don’t simply move from the local public junior high to the local public high school. Instead, they prepare for rigorous entrance exams in order to get into the school they want and, hopefully by default, the university they want. Failing to get into an elite high school pretty much ruins any chance a student has of getting into the best universities. As a result, many parents send their kids to evening “cram schools” that prepare the students for the entrance exams. These classes, of course, can’t take place until after clubs let out which results in a lot of students dragging themselves home at 9:30 or 10:00 at night and then having to eat supper, take a bath and do their school homework.

Especially in public schools, many students consider “cram school” to be their real school and the school they go to during the day is their chance to have fun with their friends. Classrooms are therefore usually much more noisy than most Westerners expect them to be and the students a lot more rude to teachers.

I’ve never wanted to be a helicopter parent, but I am always hovering around the edges, ready to swoop in with my crazy Western ideas that holidays are supposed to be a time for the students to relax and recharge.

There Can Be Only One (Twice Each Year)

Since there are no Kansas teams left in March Madness (the National Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Division 1 Basketball Championship), and I am now reduced to shopping around for a new team to follow (Early candidates: Florida, out of respect for an acquaintance; and Louisville, or whoever plays Kentucky if Louisville loses.)

For those not from the USA, March Madness is one of the greatest sports spectacles in the world. There are teams full of young players who are there representing their universities and Kentucky, who’s young players are there auditioning for the professional draft. There are emotions and moral dilemmas (do I cheer for Kansas University if Kansas State and Wichita State have already been eliminated or do I want to watch them bleed? Unfortunately, as they are wont to do, Kansas University has been eliminated early, so we’ll never know what my choice would have been.)

All this madness, though, has got me thinking about Japan’s equivalent of March Madness: the Summer National High School Baseball Championship.

This is event, nicknamed “Koshien” because it is typically played at Hanshin Koshien Stadium near Kobe, takes place every August. After a long series of regional championships, each prefecture sends its best team–Tokyo and Hokkaido each get two teams–for a grand total of 49 teams. They then compete in a single elimination tournament, sponsored by the Asahi Newspaper chain, that’s been taking place since 1915 (with a few years off for things like World War II).

It’s no exaggeration to say that participating in Koshien is a religious experience. Every Japanese boy who plays baseball dreams of playing there. If one player on a team causes trouble before the tournament, the entire team is suspended. In 2006, a FORMER player of a Hokkaido team was caught drinking and smoking and the team was banned from the tournament. Teams wear predominantly white uniforms to represent their purity. There are no “home” and “away” uniforms so it’s common for two teams with nearly identical uniforms play each other which begins to play tricks on the eyes after a while. Players from losing teams tearfully gather bags of soil from the field after their loss to scatter in their home fields. Graduating seniors collect vials of soil to keep as souvenirs.

Any player with a chance to go professional gets shocking amounts of news coverage and scrutiny and, if they are a pitcher and the team’s ace, may find themselves pitching every pitch of every game. For example, Yu Darvish was forced to throw every pitch in a loss in 2003 and in 1998 we saw Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch an entire 17 inning game (I think he threw 250 pitches). It’s not unusual to see the ace pitcher pitch full games three days in a row.

I don’t even like baseball (which is basically just a bunch of people standing in a field watching two guys play catch) but I like watching Koshien. There really is nothing like it, at least in the USA. March Madness is close, but cheering for A team from Kansas, is not the same as cheering for THE team from Kansas. (Note: The FIFA World Cup has its moments, but is hindered by crappy play in the group stage and lots of flopping about in order to draw penalties.)

There is a spring invitational tournament held at Koshien (and sponsored by the Mainichi Newspaper chain) but it is a distant second to the emotion and spectacle of the summer tournament. The only suspense is if a team can become only the 8th to win both tournaments in the same year.

Unfortunately, after the boys of Koshien are gone, all that’s left on TV is Japanese professional baseball. The only suspense then is which player is going to bolt for the US major leagues. That’s when I start playing free games on the internet and, oh, yeah, writing something every now and then.

Painful Lessons With Lumber and Fists

Since tonight was karate night, it’s time for some blather about studying karate.

One of the problems with studying karate in the USA is that a lot of the teachers take themselves oh so seriously. Instead of practical skills they focus a lot on fake mysticism and cliche buddhist quotes. Imagine going to a gun range to learn how to shoot a pistol and being taught Gun Kata instead of a reload drill and a Weaver stance.

They also let pseudo political attitudes bleed over into the teaching.  For example:

Conservative Dojo: “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of their women.”

Leftist Dojo: “You have hate. You have anger. But you don’t use them.”

??????? Dojo: “Let me test your midichlorians.”

Libertarian Dojo: “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.”

Japan is, in general, much more practical, although you are expected to remember the techniques once they’ve been taught and apply them yourself. For example, back when I started studying karate, we (my friend Charles and I) were taught how to do a punch and then, after a few months, asked to do the board-breaking-thing. This isn’t the kind of thing I was looking forward to doing, but I though I’d give it a shot, especially after seeing the kids in the dojo mess up some half-inch boards. When it was my turn, the teachers took out a seven inch thick board (well, actually it was only one inch thick, but yeah, intimidating nonetheless) and said “Go ahead, break it.” Without offering any real advice. Remember, we’d already been taught the proper punching technique.

In a case like this, an American teacher would give you some mystical bullshit advice like “See the board. Be the board. Soon you will realize that there is no board. There is only you. It is not the board that breaks. It is you.” Now, it turns out, and in defense of American dojos, after my first few attempts to break the board failed, it WAS me that broke, or more specifically, it was me that messed up the middle knuckle on my right hand (the biggest one sticking up when you make a fist). It also, I have to say, made a very impressive sound that gave lots of people sympathy pains. Cut a golf ball in half, paint it purple black and blue and set it over your knuckle and you’ll understand what my hand looked like for the rest of the week. On the other hand, I was able to kick through board with no problems (except on the day of my black belt test–long story.)

At the next practice my sensei was “ahh, well, see that’s what happens when you try to punch the board rather than punching through it. Oh, and don’t slow down as you reach the board, you’ll mess up your hand.) And my reaction was “Thanks. Great advice. If I don’t have to cut off my hand to save my arm, I’ll try all that next time.”

Nothing mystical about it. Just a painful lesson. I did eventually break the board, then I moved to the Tokyo area and got a new sensei and have never been asked to break a board again. Instead, we started fighting in tournaments and I got the opportunity to understand the phrase “seeing stars”. But that’s another story.

You Got to Stop and Watch the Roses Along the Way

Besides my odd pronunciation of “wh-” words, one of my other oddities is that I have no sense of smell. Although some people lose their sense of smell, usually temporarily, I don’t ever remember having smelled anything. I am, and always have been, 100% anosmic.

The causes could be many. It can be caused by head injuries and I took a trip down the stairs and smacked my head pretty hard when I was only two years old or so. Also, I was allergic to pretty much every animal and every form of pollen that flies in the air and sinus inflammation can effect the sense of smell.

The funny part is I didn’t realize this until I was almost in my teens. I used to play along. When people said things like “smell that baking bread” I inhaled and said “Yeah, smell’s great” partly because I didn’t know any better. I did the same when there was a skunk near our house. That, however, was the first time I remember my reaction being significantly less dramatic than everyone else’s and that got me thinking.

Finally, I went to a Boy Scout camp and part of the fun was a game called “What Miserable Disgusting Stink is This You Fools?” (something like that). The object of the game was to identify, by smell alone, the contents of several paper bags. I tried them all and couldn’t detect any scent from any of them. They all smelled the same as the gym we were sleeping in. After a while, and it wasn’t easy, I convinced my mother that I couldn’t smell

Part of the problem is that people who can smell believe you lose your sense of taste when you can’t smell. Because I could taste food, my mother was convinced I had to be able to smell. In fact, from what I’ve read, much of what people consider taste is in fact sense of smell confusing taste. People who could smell who suddenly become anosmic perceive a loss in the sense of taste. For me, perhaps because it’s been so long, no matter how stuffed up I get, food always has flavor. I do not know if it tastes different to me than others, but it always has flavor, and I’ve been told I’m a pretty good cook (By people who can smell, for the record.)

On the other hand, my reaction to entering a restaurant is the same that someone watching a restaurant on TV has. it’s all visual.

There are advantages and disadvantages to having no sense of smell. I’ve never smelled body odor, which makes me great on long trips. My travel mates hand me a shirt and say “do you think I can still wear this? ” I inhale and say “smells great to me.” I have not problem using public toilets or cleaning up after infants. In church I never had to smell a TURPF (Toxic Unattributed Reverberating Pew Fart) although it is, ahem, entirely possible that I delivered a couple, which was, of course, not a nice thing to do but the consequences were not my problem.

It’s not necessary to gussy yourself up with cologne or perfume to impress me. Hell, with me you don’t even need deodorant or a shower.

On the other hand, I’m always worried about the olfactory signals I’m sending out. I’m always overstocked with deodorant–especially in Japan where deodorant is of questionable quality. I also don’t wear cologne and try to get scentless shampoo, conditioner and soap.

I’m not able to smell gas leaks until the gas makes me dizzy and about to pass out so I’m very diligent about making sure the gas is off and the gas lines well maintained. I make sure our gas leak sensor is working. I also can’t smell smoke, although that messes with my eyes and nose, so I keep the batteries in our smoke detectors fresh. I have to be careful about food, especially milk, for which I use a visual check and the TV detective pinky drug taste test.

The worse part is, I can’t stop and smell the roses. I can only watch them. The world around me is basically a movie because a field of roses in front of me and a field of roses on a movie screen smell exactly the same to me. I’ve never smelled baking bread or the air after a rain storm. I don’t know what my own wife and children smell like.

I once tried getting treatment, but nothing took and for various reasons I wasn’t able to continue with a second or third round. Someday, if I can get enough set aside, I’d like to go back in for treatment. Oddly, I can probably earn the money for that by selling myself as a guinea pig to psychologists who study the influence of scent on communications.

Until then, let me just say, you smell marvelous. Then again, so does spoiled milk.

(On a side note: This New York Times video gives you sense of what anosmia is like. My experience is more like the guy who can’t smell popcorn. Unlike what one man says, I CAN distinguish ice cream flavors.)