Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Laying My Grandmother to Rest

This morning, I learned that my grandmother passed away.

She died June 10, 2011.

I last saw her in the late 1990s, I don't remember exactly when.

The only thing that Fujiko did well was survive.  She didn't know how to love.  She didn't know to comfort.  She only knew how to lie, cheat, and play you along for a fool.  Everyone thought she was just a sweet old Japanese lady who was lost in a complicated Western society, but she was much more smart than that. She survived growing up with the Japanese incarnation of Satan.  She survived the Allied Bombing of Tokyo.  She survived sex slavery and domestic slavery for 50 years.  And dying at age 93 is a testament to her skills.

"Stee-vuh" she would cry into my telephone answering machine.  "E-muh-gen-cee!!  E-muh-gen-cee!  I need-a help!!"

Her Japanese accent was still so thick even in her 80s.

I never answered the phone in those days, electing to let the answering machine answer it.  My grandmother knew that of me, and did her best get me to pick up the phone.

And it's always same thing.  

"I got a letter from Cleveland."

Cleveland, Ohio was where the Defense Department administered its retirees.  It was so important for her to know what was going on with Cleveland because her husband's Air Force retirement was largely all that supported her.  

Donald Lee Plato wasn't my grandfather, but her second husband.  It was in the late 1940s in post-war Japan that Fujiko met Donald.  Donald was in the Air Force, stationed in Tokyo.  In the early 1940s, Fujiko had run a beauty salon in Tokyo.  It was actually her father's beauty salon, he bought it so that she could have a job to do.  He collected the money and gave her a stipend to support herself and her two daughters.

The father of her two daughters, my real grandfather, was fighting in the Japanese Army, somewhere out in Manchuria.

But in 1945, the Allies rendered her beauty salon into rubble.

So without a job, Fujiko turned back to her father, who was actually very wealthy from a successful career as an architect.  So, he turned her into a prostitute and pimped her out to American soldiers in Tokyo.  He collected the money, and gave her a stipend to support herself and her two daughters.

When his brother found out about this, he intervened.  He was a high ranking official in the Tokyo Police Department.  He gave her a job as an informant, spying on illegal drug activity.  He told her where to go, who to watch, and what to report.  

Around 1949, about four years after the end of WWII, her husband came back from Manchuria.  But he was badly injured, suffering some kind of sickness, and afflicted with PTSD.  He slept all day, and was unable to do anything for himself.  But by then, Fujiko had already divorced him.  Because he never sent a word back all the years he was away, she assumed he was killed in action, and convinced the Court to annul the marriage.  But she took him back in and supported him with the money she earned as an informant.

Eventually, a gang of thugs caught on to her spying activities, and beat the hell out of her.  They wrapped her body in a bamboo rug, and tossed her into the Arakawa River to die.

When she freed herself from the rug, and reported back to her Uncle (the one who gave her the job), he told her that she could no longer stay in Japan, or else risk being caught by the gang and being killed for certain.

So, she looked up Donald, whom she had sold herself for sex numerous times in her prostitution days.  He agreed to marry her and take her back to the States.  The caveat was that she had to serve him as a domestic slave, which she agreed to.

Fujiko took her two daughters to her father, and left them with him, and then left Japan with Donald.

My mother grew up with her grandfather, who was perhaps the Japanese incarnation of Satan.  The man had already beaten Fujiko her entire life, then pimped her out.  And now he had his hands on my mother and her younger sister.  Despite his wealth, he never provided my mother and her sister with food and clothing.  They tended his little farm, grew their own food, and sewed their own clothes.  My mother never forgave her mother her leaving her with him.

My grandmother's first marriage. Her father standing above-right with the bow-tie. He arranged this marriage to ensure his surname would carry on.  Fujiko was his first-born, and he didn't have any sons.  Fujiko's husband (seated to her right) was required to take her surname.
At 16, my mother ran away from home and survived on the streets of Yokohama. It wasn't until she was 24 that she married my father, a sailor in the US Navy.

In 1972, my mother took citizenship classes in San Diego.  I was six years old then.  By some strange twist of fate, her mother was attending the same citizenship class.  The instructor called out role, and she heard him say, "Fujiko".  She turned to look, and saw an older Japanese woman, who looked something like the photo of her mother.

I remember when Fujiko, Donald, and their four-year old daughter Susan, came to visit us for the first time.

Susan and I were playing in my bedroom, and I don't know why, but as a six year old, I felt a sudden urge to kiss her, and planted one.  She jumped up from the bed, ran into the living room to tell everyone that I had kissed her.  I was so embarrassed.

When I was seven, my mom and her mom had the biggest fight ever.  It was my birthday party.  Fujiko was drunk as could be, cussing and swearing in front of the other kids.  My mom bitched her out and then kicked her out.  It was just the opportunity my mom needed to really get all the anger out.  Another couple of years went by before we saw my grandmother again.

In the 1990s, Donald suffered a stroke that left him a quadriplegic.  He lay in a rolling bed in their living room.  He was now at Fujiko's mercy.  And Fujiko showed no mercy.  Yelling at him, hitting him, ignoring him, humiliating him, she gave back everything she owed him after decades of domestic slavery.

One day, at my mother's request, I visited them.  She only wanted me to help her get her finances in order.  Fujiko brought out a cardboard box filled Donald's sex paraphernalia.  There were photos of him and his girlfriends.  There were sex toys.  She picked up a sex toy and held it in the air so that Donald could see it, and he shook his head in anger, but was incapable of moving or saying anything.

"He like sucka" she said.  "He want me to do sucka.  But I no do sucka.  That's soooo bad.  So, he have girlfriend who do sucka."

She shook her head, and pointed the sex toy at him with an angry look.

I felt sorry for her.  This was a woman who never had anyone love her.  Even her daughters hated her for abandoning them in Japan.  Her husband treated her like trash.  The daughter they had together, Susan, hated her too.  As a result, she didn't know how to love.  

The only thing that could make her cry was the memory of her own mother.  Four-year old Fujiko had innocently remarked to her father that "I have two daddy's!"  It turns out her mother was having sex with another man.  Immediately, her father divorced her mother, and took her and her younger sister away, never to see her mother again.  She didn't even have a photo of her mother.  Fujiko spent the rest of her life blaming herself for that divorce.

I remember her crying on my shoulder when she told me about her mom.  And I, with my loneliness and emptiness of growing up, didn't have ability to comfort her.

Fujiko ended up using me too.  She wanted me to review paperwork from Cleveland, and advise how to proceed.  I gave her advice, but she wouldn't take it.  She'd only compare it to advice given to her by several other people, and then take a consensus.  It made me feel insignificant.

And I never felt close to her anyway.  My mother largely kept me away from her because of her inability to forgive her.  I wish I could find something positive to say about my grandmother, but all that I can come up with is that she was a product of her environment.

On the highways I travel through the United States and see old decaying buildings covered with vines, and find her memory.  Rusted signs of obsolete soft drinks remind me of times when I was a kid that she'd offer me a can of Bubble-Up or a Nesbitt Grape Soda.  I pass by and wonder if my grandmother is hiding inside the musty, dusty chambers of abandoned gas stations.  She never seemed like the type to spread her wings and soar into the clouds.  She'd only hide behind a facade and make you feel sorry for her.

I stopped visiting my grandmother somewhere in the late 1990s and subsequently lost contact with her.

It was a couple years ago that my mom and I were talking about her.

"She's probably dead by now", I told her.

It turns out I was right.


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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Miss the West

Highway 108, California, June 2011, over the Sierra Nevadas
Seeing photographs that Mike posted of his ride through Idaho and Oregon sent a strange emotion in me that I had never felt before. The pines, the oaks, the 14,000 foot mountain ranges, and with nary a civilization in sight, suddenly felt like home to me.

Despite my best efforts to convince myself that I no longer have a place to call home, I still feel the West drawing me back to its wide open spaces, it's drier climate, and the smell of fresh air.

It's like that old saying, "You don't know what you have until you lose it."

On the eastern side of the Mississippi River, everything seems to change. People are different. Culture is different.

Even the roadways seem different.

People often referred to me as "the human GPS", because I've been able to memorize routes, turns, and where things are. But in the East, I've failed to do that. I think it's because nothing makes sense out here.

For example, in New Jersey, along Highway 18, you can't make left turns. In order to take a left off the highway, you have to turn right, find the loop that takes you back to Highway 18, and then go across it. You figure the Highway is designed that way to increase traffic flow, yet Highway 18 is still nightmarish traffic jam during the day.

Road signs are poorly marked within the Eastern States. Often, I miss the road I'm supposed to turn down because the street sign is so small, I can't read it until I've passed it by. Road names change far more often in the East than they do in the West. What shows on Google Maps with one name, was already renamed to something else.

And I can't believe how expensive and how numerous toll roads are. Each state has toll booths strategically placed so that you can't avoid them, and it's too much out of the way to go around them. In Baltimore, every bridge and tunnel is tolled, and then they toll the Interstates again when you leave the city.

I thought I had the State of Maryland beat when I avoided the I-95 toll north of the Susquehanna River, by taking the US-40 instead, through Havre De Grace. But nope, they have that tolled up too.

What really irked me about the tolls, is that they charged each motorcycle separately. So for example, the the $8.00 a vehicle toll on the I-95 at the Susquehanna River, was actually $16.00 for the two of us. I mean, both bikes are still four wheels and two people, why can't that be just one toll?

The last time Maryland will ever collect a toll from me.
We paid $64.00 in tolls for four days in Maryland.

When Sash and I rode from Baltimore to New Brunswick, NJ, I tried to avoid the tolls. I looked at the map and plotted a route that avoided toll booths and turnpikes. Unfortunately, it meant going through a lot of stop lights, and rush-hour traffic through Philadelphia. It was a very long ride, and all it did was make Sash's body ache even more, which made me feel ashamed for trying to stick it to the Man.

And I suppose folks in the East are used to it, and that they consider it something to be thankful for.

Yeah, I know that there are toll roads in the west, but they're still mostly privatized highways, not government owned. I don't seem to mind paying a toll as long as my taxes are not already paying for it. And I like the way California handled the Coronado Bay Bridge and the Vincent Thomas Bridge, removing the tolls after they earned enough money to offset their construction.

I guess the East has found a way to capitalize on its traffic congestion.

It's like how lawmakers keep wanting increase surcharges on cigarettes. Once you're hooked on that nicotine, politicians can milk you dry, and it's not easy for you to stop smoking.

Now I understand why so many Easterners have moved West.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Who Your Real Friends Are

One thing I've discovered after three months of riding my motorcycle across the country, is that friends are not necessarily who I thought they were.

I mean, we all have friends.

But there are friends who will call you or keep in touch with you somehow no matter where you are.  Even if they can't be with you physically, they still want to stay touch with you in some form or another. 

So before I left San Diego, I had friends that I rode with.  We called each other, often to arrange a group ride, or just to get folks together to hang out somewhere.  But now that I'm out of town, indefinitely, I don't get calls from them.  At best, I get comments or Likes on my Facebook posts, and even then it's not often.

To be fair, I don't really call them on the phone either.  Perhaps you get what you give.

But moving away from a permanent residence is a great way to find out who really cares about you.  And maybe by moving away I've discovered that I'm a poor friend.

On the other hand, I've been like this my entire life.  Solitude has been my comfort, as I don't socialize very well.  I find it difficult to engage in conversation, and do better at expressing myself in writing.  Being on the road and never putting down roots seems to feel at home to me for that very reason.

Friendships exist in varying degrees like anything else.  The more you put into a friend, the more he or she pays you back.  I'd be happy to put more into the friends I had, except I always had this thought in my head that I was bothering them.  I didn't want to be the guy that people didn't want to have around.  So, I left them alone.

I had thought that my friends would post comments on Road Pickle, or even this blog, Motorcycle Philosophy, but they don't, and I wonder why that is.  Are they also concerned about bothering me? Or did I just not invest much of myself into those friendships?  Or do I have a habit of friending people who don't comment on blogs?

I guess that's an insecurity of mine.

Somehow, it has influenced my decision to make motorcycling a major part of my life.  

Part of the equation is that a couple of years ago I divorced my first wife, shed some of the facades I hid behind, and made myself a little more transparent.  I remarried to a woman who did the same thing.  The friends we used to have were people who liked our old selves.  Now that we're more focused on the being the real people we are inside, much of those people don't like what they see.

But despite the cold, silent demeanor I often put forth, I'm really quite the opposite inside.  I yearn for companionship, for friends that I can open up and share the more intimate sides of me.  I have much to tell to someone interested in making an investment in one another.  But again, my social skills are poor.

I often wonder how many other motorcycle riders are like me.  Is this a characteristic of people who leave everything behind and spend their lives riding across the country?  Am I subconsciously running away from my insecurities, or am I testing my friends to find out who really cares?


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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Desensitized From the Distance

Now that Sash and I have hit the 3-month mark on our motorcycle road trip across the USA, I find my perception of community greatly altered.

That is, we just left Sash's uncle house in Lincoln University, PA, where we stayed for five nights.  Her uncle lamented our departure, and repeated his assurances that we were invited to stay with him again at any time.

"Yeah, we'll definitely be back on our next swing to the East", I said, referring to our plans to make our motorcycle road trip an indefinite, if not permanent, way of living.

But isn't riding your motorcycle across the United States, from one coast to the other, supposed to be a huge endeavor?  Isn't that something riders only do once (maybe twice) in their lifetime?  Yet here I was, telling Sash's uncle that we'll be back soon, right after we ride back to California for a breather.

It's like my sense of geographic neighborhood has changed.  Somehow, my "backyard" just got huge, really huge, in a short span of time.

In fact, just this evening, Sash and I talked about our next nine months of destinations, spitting out names like Montana, Texas, Florida, South Dakota, as if they're just weekend getaways, like the distances between these states are insignificant.  I mean, it used to be that going to Texas was a vacation.  It meant saving up money, asking for time off, and paying the neighbor's kid to pick up newspapers off the driveway.

Now, Texas is just another fix in our road trip addiction.

"What do you feel like mainlining?  Some Indiana?  Some Wyoming?  I hear Oregon will get you really fucked.  Yeah, let's shoot some Oregon!"

I mean, the sense of how far and how long it takes to ride a motorcycle to one of these states is now lost on me.  They're just names now.  They all have motels, they all have bars, and they all have Wi-Fi.  Otherwise, what's really difference between Oklahoma and Pennsylvania?

If anything, riding our motorcycles to another country like Mexico or Canada would generate some excitement, because now we're talking Pesos and Loonies, Spanish and French, Modelo and Molson.

And we'll do those countries in time.

But then what?  Will I be telling a sad-faced Alejandra that we'll be back to see her on our next swing to Chihuahua?  Will Sash and I start tossing up names like Yukon, Nunavut, and Prince Edward Island as if they're in the same backyard as Palm Springs and Bakersfield?

I guess as I get to a point where I become more desensitized of how far away these places are, the unique topography of the land, the accent in the voices, and the nuances in the culture, all becomes static white noise when I walk outside of my motel room.  It's still just sunshine and asphalt, birds and butterflies, barking dogs and honking horns.

Some mornings I wake up, and I try to recall what State I'm in.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Becoming a Brand

road pickle
After reading Sash's recent post about extending our six-month motorcycle road trip into an indefinite period of time, you've probably figured by now that we're just going to ride forever. And you might be right.

I think about going back home, often. But where is home anyway?

We moved out of our apartment, gave up on the lease. There is no home to go to.

Two-and-a-half months into this road trip, I still feel as if I never left home. All I have with me, the familiar things, my motorcycle, my laptop, and Sash herself, are my home.

Honestly, I think about where we are, geographically, and what comes to mind is how backlogged I am with my work, how long we have left staying in this motel/hotel, and how much Sash makes me feel comfortable. Right now, for example, we're in Norfolk, VA, and it doesn't really matter to me. I could be in Bangor, ME or in Corpus Christie, TX, and I'd still feel the same.

So if I went back to San Diego, what would I do there?

I'd do all the same stuff: my work, ride my motorcycle, hang out at the bar, have sex at night.

Staying in San Diego for years at a time, doesn't change the way I feel inside, or make me more at ease. If anything, it just gives me the same scenery and offers me the same bar to hang out at. I like having a new city to sleep in every week or so, even if I don't go out and see much of it, I like the idea that the few things I have with me seem to be the only things I need.

A few days ago, Sash and I attended a picnic held by a local motorcycle group called Tidewater Bikers. They invited us after the owners of Precision Motorcycles told them that the Road Pickle crew had just left one of their bikes with them for maintenance. When we went to the picnic, one of the women there said, "Oh my God, you're the Road Pickle lady!"

The Road Pickle Lady.

Doesn't that say it all right there?

We could go back to San Diego and just let it all end right there. But thus far, Road Pickle has given Sash and I an identity we've never had. Now, we stand for something within the greater motorcycle community, and during the time other people have reached out to us to say that we've inspired them in some way or another. So why let all that momentum end?

So now, when people ask me where I'm from, do I still say that I'm from San Diego?

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Traveling the Country is an Act of Patriotism

motorcycle road trip
Sash said something to me the other day that really made me think.  It was about taking road trips, such as the six-month trip we're doing now.

"Traveling across the country is an expression of patriotism.  Spending the time and energy to see, hear, and learn about your country is something every person owes to their fellow man."

For example, can any of us take a stand on an issue if we haven't bothered to understand it fully?  Can any of us speak intelligently about our country if we haven't even bothered to visit it and understand it?

There was a time when people only understood their country so far as they were able to ride their horse.  Otherwise, they had to rely on reading a newspaper.  Today, we rely on watching television, checking Facebook, and sending text messages to get the country's pulse.

Yesterday, Sash and I were talking about racism.

The subject came up because we had spent a week in Memphis, where blacks comprise 64% of the population.  We were served food by blacks, we were entertained by blacks, we visited a slave history museum where the tour guides were black, we even went to a barber shop and got our hair cut by blacks.  Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by blacks.

Otherwise, if you just look at YouTube videos of Memphis, you might not understand this.  Oh, you might understand there are lot of blacks in Memphis, but you won't feel the isolation, and you won't feel the eyeballs staring at you, until you are there.

It's not to say, however, Memphis is a bad situation.  It's not.  I found that the blacks there are far more friendly and mannered than in Southern California.  And I think it's that way because in Memphis, blacks feel more at ease.  In Southern California, they feel just like me, isolated and stared at.

You won't understand that until you travel.

And when you consider Memphians are our fellow Americans, then it's patriotic to go there and understand them.

Racism today is not about hatred or disrespect, not like it was a couple hundred years ago.  Today, it's about fear.

It was interesting to note how black Memphis and how white Nashville are, yet the two cities are only 200 miles apart.  It's not to say that these people should do better job of mixing together.  No, they should live where they want to.  But Americans at large should visit both cities and make the attempt to understand the two.  Otherwise, you'll never be able to render an opinion or cast a vote with any lick of sense.

The "melting pot" we were taught in school during the 1970s (I presume kids are still being taught about it today), is never going to be the melting pot we like to think of it as, until we get out of comfort zones and put ourselves in other places of the country.

That's a patriotic duty.


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About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)