Burn………Baby……….Burn

WARNING: The following presentation discusses a form of wood finishing which involves the use of an open flame, a torch to be more specific. Please be familiar with your particular device and read all cautions and warnings for said device. The Sting Of The Scorpion Blog nor myself will not be held responsible for any errors in your judgement. The information provided in this post is educational under the assumption that the person attempting this particular technique has a certain degree of common sense. Therefore, if YOU fuck it up YOU yourself is responsible for fucking it up, not me or this blog. One needs to be aware of the dangers involved when using an open flame. In the end, practice first, practice again, and be extremely fucking careful. Again, I will not be held responsible for YOUR errors or victories. The following information is based on my personal experience and knowledge. Got it?

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When I lived in Japan I was very lucky to have stumbled upon an older gentleman who was willing to teach me a wood finishing technique called Yaki-Matsu (burnt pine). Since then I have practiced and somewhat perfected my own personal version of this wood finishing technique. I cannot stress enough, seriously, that this can turn into a disaster in a blink of an eye since wood burns, but with a little practice one can tame the flame to make a very unique look on anything made of wood. Also, let me just state that I have 30 plus years experience in woodworking and cabinetry. Therefore, I hate to call this a DIY style post. My intent is to share a technique of wood finishing that others can try on small to large projects. Before you try any of this at home be sure you are aware of what you are doing and be responsible enough to know your personal limits and skills.

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In reality this post won’t be an all inclusive do it yourself post on how to burn the grain of the wood to get this special look. Basically, I’m just answering all the questions in advance since it might be hard to grasp the concept and design of my project personally. As one can see from the pictures, my project was to create an island space in a rustic nature to blend in with the cedar woodwork in my sister’s 100+ year old farm house. Also, before all of y’all self appointed experts try to get in my ass for not doing it your way just feel free to hold those opinions. Like any “tradition”, I have taken this technique and made it my own. Trust me, I’ve ruined more than one piece of wood over the years. As mentioned, my sister wanted something unique, not the typical look, not something out of the box, and something that had a ” wow factor”. Overall, it was a very tall order to fill, and not to mention that this has been a time consuming project to say the absolute very least. So let’s begin the highlight reel.

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Where y’all see an island used to be a wall with a pass through hole in it. First step, demo the wall and support the second floor. Then to create bar height seating as well as an island that is kitchen counter height. The secondary purpose of the island was for storage. Once the construction portion was complete it was time to talk finishing it all off. I chose to “antique” and distress everything except for the two cedar posts and the actual counter and bar surfaces. Antiquing this much area, to include the ceiling features took a great deal of time. I remind everyone that everything you see was created, from the tongue and groove beaded boards to all the trim, the cabinet doors, and so forth. I left my treatment of the top a secret, a surprise that was either going to make or break this project. By now I can assume that many of y’all have Googled the term “Yaki-Matsu” so I can simply tell y’all it is a technique in which the grain of the wood is kissed with the open flame of a torch. I chose this instead of staining or leaving it natural because of its true uniqueness, as no two boards look the same. When the time came to mount the wood I used square headed barn nails that I liberated from a 147 year old barn we tore down last summer. Yes, I have hundreds and hundreds of feet of barn lumber and no it is not for sale. At the time of these pictures I had not applied the varathane yet. After burning the one all that needs to be done is rubbing the wood down with a dry, clean, soft cloth.

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I will post more pictures when I’m 100% done. Hell, the purpose of this post was to let some concerned individuals know what I’ve been up to because they think I have quit blogging or that I’m dead. So far I have around 200 hours invested into it, I probably have at least 20 to go. Just know this, as a final warning, one will come across occasions when using the torch in the house becomes necessary to touch up edges and so forth, remember that most things in our houses don’t react well with open flames, I’m just saying. I guess as I look back over what has been written I can see this wasn’t much of a tutorial at all, which is fitting because I such giving instructions for the most part. If nothing else maybe y’all learned that there is yet another way to beautifully treat wood without stain or paint. I suppose, in the end, I’ll just share some pictures with y’all and call it good.

Just Playing With My Pachinko Balls

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Say it, pachinko, say it real slow so it just rolls off your tongue, pachinko. Now your asking, what’s pachinko (パチンコ) and why am I saying it? The overly simple description pachinko is that it’s a Japanese vertical pinball game. The rules are simple, shiny silver balls are fired from the top before cascading down through series of pins tumbling downward, most balls would disappear while a few may got into special holes that activates slot machines. The goal of the game is to gain more balls which can be exchanged for prizes. The operation of the game is actually really mechanical leaving the player with very little to do except defining the speed and rate the balls are fired upwards into play. It truly is a game of luck.

What does any of this have to do with me personally? Good question. I’m very glad you asked. Before I lived in Japan I had never seen a pachinko machine or pachinko parlor. Unless you count the pachinko game they would play on occasion on The Price Is Right way back when. However, the exterior of the pachinko parlors around where I lived reminded me of times I had visited Reno and Las Vegas which meant one of two things, casino or strip club. I had driven by a few pachinko parlors for the first year or so of living in northern Japan and never had an interest in finding out what was really going on inside these always packed 24/7 buildings. Biggest reason was money, we were poor and didn’t have spare money to go and gamble away.

One day that all changed, I had been out walking around an area called Green Pole Road which was basically an array of small shops, restaurants, and open farmers market. It had a mix of many things depending on what mood you were in. It was also host to most of the festivals and parades that came through Misawa. Anyway, I heard the noise of the pachinko parlor around the corner ahead of where I was walking. So, I decided to poke my head in and check out what pachinko was. The very first thing that alarms one’s senses is that it is freaking unbelievably loud. I can’t even dream up a way to describe how loud it was, just very loud, trust me I listen to heavy metal cranked up to the max, I know loud. No time to stand in the door tho, I was brushed ahead and seated immediately, seems I was blocking traffic while I was looking for the 4 seconds I stopped.

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I had some Yen so I decided what could it hurt. I was shown how to play and away we went. I was sitting only a matter of 10 minutes when lights, bells, whistles, and a cascade of balls made a noise so deafening that it made my whole body vibrate. Immediately an attendant came by with small plastic tray to be used to fill up with the balls. This went on for a few minutes and then as fast as it began it was over, except I had over 70 plastic trays packed full with shiny chrome balls. Now what? Exactly what I was thinking. Soon enough another attendant pushed through and began stacking the trays of balls into a flatbed dolly. He pulls my arm and was telling me something I couldn’t even hear. So, I just followed him to the cashier. The dumped all of my winnings into a counter, not unlike a machine that will count/sort change, and when it was all done it spit out a ticket with the quantity of balls. How many was it, don’t know exactly, but is was an assload of them for sure.

Then one guy, resembling the way an auctioneer would move his hands fast and talk fast, started showing me everything I could trade my winnings for. Start with a cheap plastic lighter and work your way up to some high dollar houses with every appliance, car, food, drink, tobacco product, known to man up for grabs. I guess I had a look on my face that I was interested in any of the exchange prizes so I was handed my ticket and walked out the front door. Before I could even begin to wonder what just happened another man leads me to the building next door. The reality of it is we went down the alley and stopped at a very nondescript door where we waited for a few moments before the small window opened. The receipt was taken from my hand and handed to someone I could not see, then the window closed. After a few minutes the window opened and the hand shoved out a plastic bag in my direction. The guy outside takes the bag and shoves it inside my jacket and points for me to go.

When I looked in the bag I saw it was full of money, allot of money. How much? Well, when I went to the credit union and did the currency exchange I was given just shy of $6500.00. Oddly enough I had only spent under $25.00 playing the game. After some checking I found out while there was all the cloak and dagger secrecy, gambling for cash is illegal in Japan. But, gambling for prizes is not, nor is selling your receipt (for a cut I found out). That would the first and last time I went to a pachinko parlor to gamble. However, when my parents came over for their visit I did take my dad, he won as well, but only a couple of hundred dollars. Oddly enough I don’t like gambling, I can think of a zillion different things I “should” be doing with my money, like paying bills. So, there you go, a little deeper into my life in Japan. I have many tales to tell about Japan, it was a very fascinating place to live, work, and raise a family.

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Onsen (温泉) In The Land Of The Rising Sun

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I have been asked numerous times to write about my experiences living in Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun. So, I thought I might start a new series here chronicling how things were while living in Misawa Japan. Yes, it was the United States Air Force that brought me to Japan, but I want to talk about living there and not so much working there. The easiest place for me to start this all off is to tell about certain traditions that I chose to be a part of while living in the local economy. We rented a house deep in the heart of farm country, nothing new for me since I grew up in southeast Texas. The great thing about the location of this house was straight out the back door and across the parking lot there was an onsen (温泉) (public hot bath). This was important because the bath tub in the house was the size of a postage stamp. We were informed of what exactly it was and the traditions around the onsen there locally by our realtor.

My (ex)wife decided that going to the onsen was not something she was going to take part in. My wife was never real keen being naked in front of other people, high school gym and sports classes proved that fact to me years before. Which is strange because she was quite the quiet exhibitionist when it was just her and I out in public places. She was a closet tease to say the very least. However, that is yet another story altogether. We had it explained to us that the onsen setting was not unlike group showers in American high schools or in public and private gyms. Fair enough, seems like the Japanese got the whole keeping clean thing under control because most local neighborhoods had an onsen or three. Not to mention the large resorts that were centered around the very ornate onsens inside them. We were lucky, we lived in billeting (on-base hotel) for close to two weeks because of the snowstorms that had blown through. This time allowed our belonging to meet us in Japan and gave us time to purchase the other furniture we needed. All we shipped were our clothes, a television, a vcr, towels and wash cloths, dishes, pots and pans, a hand-me-down couch, and my king-size water bed.

The day arrived where we took possession of our rental house. It was brand new, one of eight houses built-in this courtyard style block. It was a townhouse, like the rest, we all shared a common “drive” which all of the houses faced with a one car car-port to the side. We were the first people to ever live in the house since it was built. It had a layout we were familiar with which was way different from other houses we looked at. On that same day our belongings arrived and were hastily unpacked by 2 very fast men. Also, the other furniture and furnishings we purchased were also delivered and set up. After some unpacking we needed to go back to billeting to gather our belongings and check out. It never crossed my mind, looking back, to grab a quick shower after such a long day. When we got back to the house she was tired so she laid out on the couch for a nap. I looked in our bathroom for the bath tub, I wanted to soak my cold bones for a while. What did I find? Well, the entire bathroom was a shower basically, if that makes any sense, and in the corner there was a tub created out tile set around three feet into the floor. This “tub” measured 30 inches by 30 inches square. No way to lay out in that tub for sure, it wasn’t happening.

I needed to get cleaned up however, so I told my wife I was going next-door to check the onsen out. It was the 2nd week of January, the temp was about 3 degrees farenheit, the wind was blowing at around 40 mph, and there was close to 4 feet of snow on the ground. I grabbed my wallet, flip-flops, shave kit, my shoes, a towel, walked out back across the parking lot. I had no clue what to do and everything was in Japanese. We lived far enough from the base that they didn’t see too many Americans on purpose. Luckily, the women who was clearing the water and snow from the entrance “showed” me where to remove my shoes, place them in the cubicle, and put on my flip-flops. Then she pointed me in the direction of the lobby. In the lobby there were a multitude of vending machines that sold everything, and when I say everything I mean anything from food, drinks, toiletries, clothes, cars, a date, porn, and tokens to the hot bath of course. I was surprised, the token for the hot bath was the U.S. equivalent to about 65 cents. As soon as my token dropped I heard a grizzly grunt at me who was the man behind me holding his hand out pointing that I should put my token in it. So I did and he then led me the men’s side of the bath house.

It had a typical look to a locker room I guess. Benches to get undressed, sinks and mirrors, and toilet stalls as well. As I was getting undressed I wasn’t sure where to put my belongings so I had to look around like a pervert stalker to see what others were doing. Okay, it’s really simple, place all of it into what looks just like a laundry basket, and then place that into one of the cubicles. I found very fast that I had to get over my trust issues because nothing is secured or locked up. I grabbed my stuff out of my shaving kit and placed it in a small plastic container which I then took with me into the next area, following others as I was unsure of the “process”. Watch and learn right. The next room was the washing area. Reminded me of once when I was in 4H of the washing stations for the livestock. There were three double-sided concrete barriers which had numerous “stations” that included a mirror, a shower head, and the faucet. One sat down on a 6″ tall stool to bath. But watch out, I found out by being smacked in the leg, not to put any body part in the trough that ran at the base of the wall, which served as the drainage that led to a large grate down at the end. Who knew. I had picked a cozy spot right in the middle. I found out later that the desired spots are those at the top of the trough. Lesson learned.

Now, the funny part for you. I’m 6’8″ in the land of the little people, which got me more than one funny or cross look. This place was not built for people my size for sure. Now, it was allot like being at home, I shaved, brushed my teeth, washed my hair, bathed, then rinsed off. I need to mention the water had one temperature, freaking scalding hot. About midway through getting clean a very, very, old man, my guess was he was well over 100 years old, sat next to me. Standing to the rear of him was a young girl, I figured about 16 or 17, completely nude as well, began washing the old man. First thing I noticed is he took out his teeth and handed them to her to clean, which she did with what looked like Lava soap and a brush one would scrub floors with. I’ll admit, she had my attention. I think more so because we were on the all male side of the hot bath so she was quite an unexpected surprise. Perhaps she could see the confusion in my face because she squatted down next to me and began to talk, in great English I might add. She explained she was the great, great grand-daughter of this man, and it was tradition for the youngest to assist the eldest in daily tasks. She also explained that girls up to the age of 19 can assist on the male side and boys up to the age of 13 can assist on the female side. Interesting tidbit of information to say the least.

Nobody, and when I say nobody I mean nobody, paid her any attention whatsoever, except for me it would seem. More out of curiosity than anything really. Here I had only been in Japan for just a few weeks and I already have seen my first live nude Japanese female. I know what you are thinking, and yes she was young, but it was hard not to stare. I got up to go to the first sitting pool which was so hot I sat on the edge with only my legs in it at first, which were turning bright red as I sat there. The girl walked over her grand father to pool I was trying to get the courage to get into and helped him straight in up to his neck. Damn. She then scampered off to do her cleaning. When I forced myself down into the water, which took my breath away, I couldn’t help but to notice she was back. She entered the pool right at my eye level and tended to him. She sat with the old man for a while. I had seen others get out and move to the next pool, so I followed suit.

Now, I only thought the first sitting pool was hot, this one had it topped by at least 500 degrees, but I was able to slither right in because I was already cooking. The men sat in this one for a short period and then moved on. Like a lost puppy I followed them to the next pool. There should have been a sign on this pool, something that reads “Caution. Water Will Melt The Skin From Your Bones. Caution.”, but there was no warning for this Gaijin (外人) (look it up, it was the nickname the Japanese called the servicemen) and I found out the hard way. But, damn, did it feel good after the shock went away. One didn’t sit in this one very long at all. Then, they head to the steam room, a quaint, small room that had a 2 minute egg timer because it was so damn hot. So, in and out it was. I couldn’t breathe, my lungs were on fire, and I wanted to just die right there. Yea, clean up in the sauna please. When I exited the sauna I was basically grabbed by the arm to stop me from walking, I was shown to watch the man in front of me who was in a small “tank” which he was squatted in up over his head in the water. He was out and I was in. One fluid motion until the water covered my head, it took my breath away because it was a temperature just above freezing. Out of there just as fast as I went in. A quick wash off and I was on my way out.

After getting dressed I felt drained of all of my energy and will to live. I don’t think I have ever been that relaxed in my entire life. When I left the dressing room I was guided over to some tables where I was sat down. Soon after I was brought a cup of warm herbal tea and a bowl of some of the blandest noodle soup I have ever tasted. Come to find out, it was ginseng root soup and they weren’t noodles after all. It was to recharge a person, to put a little wang back in your step before you left. It was relaxing and it does bring the energy back. Come to find out it is all included in the price of admission. So far, I’m liking the onsen just behind my house. It was one hell of an experience and became my daily bad habit. I probably went there almost every single day for close to the five years I was there. When I went back home after my first time I really wanted to talk to my wife about it, but she didn’t show an interest or really care because she wasn’t ever going to try it out for herself.

About a year after my daughter was born my parents came to Japan to visit as their big summer trip. This part of the story I have been forbidden to ever tell my mother because, in my dad’s opinion (because he is old-fashioned), he saw things that he should feel guilty for seeing. Anyway, going to the onsen became my everyday, twice a day, habit because everyday that tiny postage stamp size bath tub got smaller and smaller. My dad made the comment that he wished to retire for the evening and was going to get washed up before bed. The look of horror on his face will remain forever priceless when he entered the bathroom and just as fast came out asking where the shower or tub were. So, I explained to him what I knew, well, not everything, but I explained how things were here. You see, he is 6’4″ @ about 265lbs, which makes it hard for him to squeeze into anything. After a brief discussion, we collected our things to head to the hot bath. I gave him one instruction, which was to just follow my lead and follow what I do so he doesn’t embarrass me.

We made the walk across the parking lot, it was fairly warm this time of year so the walk was pretty leisurely to say the least. We went through the “tourist” mode where I had to explain everything in the lobby to him. After 1 1/2 years I have really gotten good at reading Japanese and knew a handful of phrases to always get me on my way. After getting our tokens we entered the area to change out of our street clothes to get ready. Shortly after sitting down to begin the washing of ourselves I get a nudge on my arm from my dad. When I looked over to him he was 12 different shades of red with embarrassment and was holding his wash cloth over his privates. He was showing me that there were young females in the room so I had to go through the ordeal of explaining the traditions and protocols here. He played it off but I could see he was pretty bothered about it all. I remember my first time and after that it became common place, even routine enough where one doesn’t notice it as standing out any longer. We continued with what my routine had become, it really gets shortened to about a 30 minute trip as time moves on because one gets in and gets out. We did sit and have the tea and soup when we were done, sitting there in silence except for one simple command, “never speak of any of this to my mother, not even at her grave”. Unfortunately for my dad, this was his first and last trip to any of the hot bathes in Japan, he decided he could and would make do with the facilities we offered at the house.

Over the years I frequented a large sampling of onsen in my extended local area, my absolute personal favorite was a resort on the edge of town that was very cool. I didn’t go there too much, 3 or 4 times, because it was a fair drive and much more expensive. I was wondering how to explain the one at the resort because it was out of this world. Minecraft players or those familiar with Minecraft will understand better. Imagine taking the elevator down, getting of said elevator, and entering through some very large opaque glass doors. The changing area looked like all the other ones I had seen, pretty basic, but going into the hot bath area was incredible. Imagine opening a door and being in a very dense forest, looking up you see the tops of the trees and the stars in the sky. This place looked like being outdoors the way it was done up, it looked so real it made you touch the fake trees and the walls just to remind yourself you were a few stories underground. It’s just hard to explain I guess, but it throws all your senses for a loop with the big waterfalls and whatnot.

My (ex)wife never went to an onsen the entire time we were living in Japan, however, my daughter went with me on occasion once she started toddling. I learned allot while I was in Japan, beyond the language difference, beyond the cultural differences, and beyond the cuisine differences. Tradition is complex and deep-rooted, everything, and I mean everything when I say everything, had a meaning of some sort. The people I interacted with where I lived locally became to know me all to well. I would get invited to a stranger’s house a few doors down for snacks or people would bring local cuisine or gifts to my house as gestures of our “friendship”. Fortunately for me, I chose to immerse myself in the culture and get to know as much as I could. The hot baths were just the tip of what I would take away from Japan when I left. Ask my (ex)wife and she would only be able to tell you the tourist places we went to go visit. Its sad, but very true, but then again, she never got over being roughly 6600 miles from her mother the entire time we were there.

So, this was interesting and fun for me. It was nice to take a trip back in time to a place I really enjoyed living on the northern tip of Japan. I look forward to writing more of these specific subject related posts about living in Japan. Who knows, maybe I will expand and just write about everywhere I have been. Well, I can’t write about “everywhere” I have been, but I can give some insight about place x and place y without giving away the actual place or why I was there. Everywhere I traveled in the world was a “challenge” in its own special way. Until we meet again, thank y’all for taking the time to read a little bit about my life in Japan.

Onsen, as defined by Wikipedia:

  • Onsen (温泉?) is a term for hot springs in the Japanese language, though the term is often used to describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsen scattered along its length and breadth. Onsen were traditionally used as public bathing places and today play a central role in directing Japanese domestic tourism. Onsen come in many types and shapes, including outdoor (露天風呂 or 野天風呂, roten-buro or noten-buro?) and indoor baths. Baths may be either public run by a municipality or private (内湯, uchiyu?) often run as part of a hotel, ryokan or bed and breakfast (民宿, minshuku?). Onsen are a central feature of Japanese tourism often found out in the countryside but there are a number of popular establishments still found within major cities. They are a major tourist attraction drawing Japanese couples, families or company groups who want to get away from the hectic life of the city to relax. Japanese often talk of the virtues of “naked communion” (裸の付き合い, hadaka no tsukiai?)[1] for breaking down barriers and getting to know people in the relaxed homey atmosphere of a ryokan with an attached onsen. Japanese television channels often feature special programs about local onsens. The presence of an onsen is often indicated on signs and maps by the symbol ♨ or the kanji, 湯 (yu, meaning “hot water”). Sometimes the simpler hiragana character ゆ (yu) is used, to be understandable to younger children. Traditionally, onsen were located outdoors, although a large number of inns have now built indoor bathing facilities as well. Onsen by definition use naturally hot water from geothermally heated springs. Onsen should be differentiated from sentō, indoor public bath houses where the baths are filled with heated tap water. The legal definition of an onsen includes that its water must contain at least one of 19 designated chemical elements, including radon and metabolic acid and be 25 °C or warmer before being reheated. Stratifications exist for waters of different temperatures. Major onsen resort hotels often feature a wide variety of themed spa baths and artificial waterfalls in the bathing area utaseyu (打たせ湯?). Onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content. A particular onsen may feature several different baths, each with water with a different mineral composition. The outdoor bath tubs are most often made from Japanese cypress, marble or granite, while indoor tubs may be made with tile, acrylic glass or stainless steel. Different onsen also boast about their different waters or mineral compositions, plus what healing properties these may contain. Other services like massages may be offered. People often travel to onsen with work colleagues, friends, couples or their families.

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Land Of The Rising Sun

I think that pretty much everyone knows that Japan is known as The Land Of The Rising Sun. There are even the lucky ones who have been given the gift of living there or visiting there sometime in the course of their lives. Which is the case for me, I lived there in the early 90s, and thru my blog over the years I have tried to give my view of how it was to be an American in the United States Air Force living abroad in northern Japan. There were many aspects to living in Japan, from living there, working there, exploring there, learning the lifestyle, learning the culture, learning the language, trying new food, and finding new ways to drink a variety of the alcohols local to Japan. But, before I get into being in Japan I must back track a little bit to my time I spent at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver Colorado since that was the true start to my start in exploring drinking heavily with people I barely knew. Drinking wasn’t new to me, it wasn’t something I had just discovered, it was however, a gift to be one of a handful of people who were 21 and could purchase alcohol and consume it legally. I can’t speak for everyone in the Air Force and how it is individually for other carreerfields, but I can say a large part of the AMMO culture was drinking, and drinking allot. I learned this fact fast at Lowry as the Airman’s Club was always dominated by all the AMMO troops looking to party. It also became real obvious that my new adventure in the Air Force and being a part of the AMMO community meant that if I couldn’t drink my weight in alcohol on a daily basis then I better begin practicing. I was good, but not as good as I was to become in a short period of time. While at Lowry there were three types of AMMO troops who drank, we had the veteran drinkers, the wanna be veteran drinkers, and those who didn’t drink but liked the atmosphere so they became part of the crowd. This particular airman’s club was segregated from the actual NCO club, not because of the rank or social status, but because in the NCO club actual alcohol could be purchased, whereas in the airman’s side of the club the only thing offered were soft drinks, water, and of course 2% beer. If you don’t know what that it just look it up and come back. So, I did my time going to technical school here and worked on my drinking skills since it really seemed to be a secret side of the curriculum as I found out. In the end I learned about all the munitions systems, the ways of how the practical use of munitions play out in peacetime and wartime, and I drank as much as I could get away with.
Soon enough I got my assignment and orders to become stationed at Misawa AB Japan. It was my first choice out of 12 on a wish list so I was quite the happy airman. After a good part of my in-processing to my new base was complete it was time to go to work at my assigned shop, meet everyone, and jump into work feet first. It just happened to be a Thursday which meant it was darts tournament night downtown at a local hole in the wall bar. I had no choice but to go. The new FNG (Fucking New Guy) is supposed to have arrived in country with two skills beyond working with munitions, those were playing darts and drinking heavily. Luckily for me I am skilled at both. I was a bit shocked that this was such a tight club, meaning that wives and girlfriends are forbidden. This was a incredibly hard sell to my wife (now my ex-wife) since she would rather I be at home watching the one channel on the television that was broadcast in English. She didn’t want to do anything or go anywhere unless I was with her. So, it was rough the first time telling her she was going to be my designated driver due to the plans we had. We were borrowing a car since we had not had the time to purchase one yet, those were plans we had for the coming Saturday. She agreed, not happy, but she agreed. I don’t remember what time we got there but I do remember at midnight she came thru the door looking for me which by that time I was so drunk I almost didn’t recognize her, yea, that drunk. To keep the peace at home I went with her. The drive was very cold and silent to say the least. The following day at work I was harassed to the point that it made me pretty angry because I did not want the reputation that my wife ran everything I did. Granted, 3/4 of these guys were not married so they lacked the understanding of marriage and having a wife. Now it is time to get off work and I was informed that Friday nights were dart tournament nights at the NCO club on base. Of course I will be there. I drove home and informed my wife of the plans and even tho she was not happy she agreed. This time I told her I would like to be picked up at 2am since this is when the club closed and I would be waiting outside for her. After a long evening of drinking and making my way up the ranks in darts it was time to go, or so I thought. Apparently there is a standing “after the club closes” party down town at the club we were at the night before. I kindly declined. My wife shows up, I get in and we head home. The only thing I can think of is that she needs some new friends, well, she needs friends since she hasn’t made any at all yet.
First thing Saturday morning we get up to go car shopping. When we opened the door we saw that everything had been blanketed with about 18″ of snow. This was going to make the day interesting. We were out for a few hours and finally found a car we both could settle on. Only one problem, it was a stick (standard) and she didn’t know how to drive a stick or in the snow or where we lived once you get off the main roads. See, we did not buy a new car, it was a few years old which is how they were sold up there. It was cheap in my opinion since it was a 1986 Honda Accord for $1500.00 and it had pretty low kilometers on it since all the driving is pretty local. After getting done she followed me to the person I had borrowed the car from so we could drop it off. It was on base so we also got our sticker for the window for access onto the base. After dropping the car we decided it was going to be time for her first driving instruction. We found a very large and very vacant parking lot and I began with the fundamentals of driving a vehicle with a manual transmission. There was allot to cover since we lived in a hilly part of the country and allot of snow falls here. Let this be the lesson that proves that necessity drives a person’s desire to learn. For the rest of the day and most of Sunday we were driving different places so she could get a good feel for driving the stick shift as well as driving with studded snow tires. She got the hang of it fast and I was very proud of her. To celebrate we decided to go out to eat and immerse ourselves into the foods of Japan. She wasn’t impressed to say the least. However, it was good that she fancied some of the alcoholic drink concoctions they had to offer. We had a long talk over dinner about adjusting to our new lifestyle, mine as being in the Air Force and her as being the Air Force wife. She is having a hard time adjusting since this is the first time she has been out of the state of Texas for any reason, much less now she is living in Japan which is so far from everything she has ever known. After a few more drinks and snacks we decided it was time to go as it was getting late. When we got home, I parked the car in the carport, and we walked up to the front door where she noticed a note taped to it. it read, “Where are you? You are supposed to be at Chief Master Sergeant Franklin’s farewell and retirement party. You need to get there as soon as you get home, it is very important”. I explained that he was the Chief for the Bomb Dump and was retiring next week. They had mentioned it at work but I knew I had plans with my wife so I actually blew it off. I opened the door, we went inside, and as I was changing I told her I would only be gone for a few hours just to show face. She agreed, saying this one she understands. So I left and drove to the retirement party. As you can guess, there was a fair amount of drinking happening. Pretty much everyone there was trashed already except for the water drinkers, the Chief included since he didn’t drink alcohol. Since it was late I had only a few drinks and spent the last hour I was there drinking water as well knowing I had to drive home. Speaking of which, my wife was actually happy to see me since I wasn’t drunk off my ass this time and didn’t wreak of booze.
Within the next couple of weeks the wives of those I worked with who had wives began descending upon my house and cultivating a friendship with my wife. I was happy to see it since she looked and acted as if she was having a better time living here now. In fact, one lived right next door to us and she is who my wife ended spending allot of time with over the years. As I worked with her husband we often carpooled so one of them always had a car. That became important once both of our daughters were born. I found out some time down the road that she was given a crash course in how to be an AMMO wife and stay sane. She was told of what to expect and that she can be on board or she might as well just go home back to Texas. Over the course of the next 4 1/2 years I lived my life around drinking with the guys from work at least 4 nights of the week. It was a damn good thing drinking was so cheap because I wasn’t making to terribly much as far as cash. Also, we grilled out allot with friends from work, mostly the single guys since it was nice for them to eat a home cooked meal at least once a week. Plus, to help out, they could always be depended on bring the alcohol and sometimes even meat to grill. I was stationed  in Japan for almost 5 years and I can only really remember clearly about 1 1/2 years of it. The only reason I remember that much is because it was the time in late 1990 that my daughter was born as well as when I broke my leg in seven places, to include my knee. So, with all the trips to Tokyo (Yokota AB) for surgeries, follow ups, and so forth I wasn’t drinking or going out so much. But, as I began to be able to walk without crutches I did explore the night life of Tokyo quite a bit when I was there. I didn’t drink a great deal, but I did drink, since I was alone and I wanted to be cautious since I had nobody to help me if I ever needed it. Basically, Japan is where I cut my teeth while learning how to drink with the big boys. This would only be the prelude I am afraid, it will continue to grow as a very bad habit I developed over the coming years. I’m not complaining since I had fun all the way, but it would be nice to remember the other things I did in Japan while sober just a little bit better. Soon, I will do more posts about my drinking life in the Air Force from the different places I visited or traveled to for one reason or another. This story has just begun and has a while to go until it is over. So, I leave it here, hope you enjoyed.


Worms Are For Pussies

Back in the early 90s I had the rare opportunity to live in northern Japan while serving in the United States Air Force. I had considered myself, in the beginning, a decent drinker. Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, Jose Cuervo, and Crown Royal were all my friends whom I knew very well by the time I turned 19. I have a hidden talent that I used to my advantage to win many bets and make a fair amount of money in the process. I have no gag reflex at all and I can breath thru my nose while chugging whatever I am chugging eliminating the need to stop for a breath in the middle. I was born with the talent and honed it in to a fine art by the time I was a teenager. I can remember the first time I drank an entire bottle of Monte Elban Mezcal in front of a group of college kids at a party, worm and all. The looks on their dazzled faces was priceless, but I remember collecting some $300.00 from all the non-believers. Unfortunately, one can never do it in front of the same crowd twice and make any money because nobody wants to take the bet. Lucky for me I got to continue drinking in my style after joining the Air Force since the AMMO careerfield is kinda known for it’s drunken rowdiness all the time. We never needed a reason to drink other than we weren’t working. It didn’t hurt that I could get alcohol for the same price as soda while overseas. Before I get going to far on this post let me explain the picture above. A friend picked this scorpion alcohol up from a street vendor in downtown Misawa. Essentially it is cheap moonshine (riceshine) that is unregulated, unmonitored, and very unsafe to drink from the rumors I heard. Basically the moonshine serves as formaldehyde to the corps inside the bottle which begins to rot as soon as the liquid is poured onto it which poisons the entire contents of the bottle. They say that you have to have big gold plated brass balls to even considering drinking it. You see my bottle still intact even after some 20 years. It goes great sitting up with my shot glass collection.
Over the years I have amassed a sorted collection of things involving scorpions or Scorpio. No reason other than it is a personal fascination of mine personally. There are many things to explore when exploring all things scorpion. The scorpion truly is the most wicked and most understood creature on the planet. Say the word scorpion and people back up and give the oh shit face because fear of the unknown. I used to make a drink called The Scorpion while I was still bartending, a fun mix of gin, dark rum, 151 rum, light rum, vodka, grenadine, orange juice, pineapple juice, pineapple chunks, lemon juice and cherries, and ice. Toss it all into a blender, pour into a tall glass, add an umbrella, and you have The Scorpion. At home, however, it gets a little more adventurous. I have mentioned in the past that I am a huge fan of Mezcal, preferably Scorpion Mezcal Joven since instead of a meal worm at the bottom you get an actual scorpion. On top of that this particular Mezcal is good for doing Scorpion Shots which are not for the casual drinker. My wife finds it amazing that I put the time and effort into finding or creating new ways to be unusual. I think I take that as as a compliment. She thought she would be slick a few years back and buy some 12 Signs Scorpio Pinot Noir. I am not a wine drinker like she is but neither of us actually enjoyed it at all. The bottle was cool so we rinsed it out and on the shelf it went. Goes to show you that some things are indeed a bad idea and that was one f them to say the very least.
When you graduate into different proteins in your shots you will be reminded why worms are for pussies and not the serious drinker. This shot isn’t just for anyone, you have to have a stomach for the Mezcal as well as the scorpion treat that is waiting in the shot glass for you. You would be surprised, I can find these great shot sized scorpions at a local health food place for a rather cheap price. Just remember, it’s just protein and don’t eat the stinger. This is the shot that separates the boys from the men or the sane from the insane or the pussies from the adventurous. This shot isn’t unlike life in the way that it’s full of surprises you won’t soon forget. I look way back into my teenage years and wonder where I would have been if I knew then what I know now about alcohol. Good thing for me, over the years, I have just been able to keep it all just for fun. I have had to learn that just because someone says to drink it doesn’t mean I actually need to drink it. I always will remember the street vendors selling their “whatever” in a bottle and trying to sell it all off as an aphrodisiac or cure all. Certain things just look better on the shelf and serve better to tell a story rather than be consumed. But, I have a standing bet for any brave soul out there. I have $500.00 with your name on it if you chug my bottle of vintage scorpion alcohol. My rules to collect are simple, consume the entire contents of the bottle including the scorpion, no puking it up, no passing out, no trips to the hospital, and no dying. If, after 24 hours your are still in one piece then you can collect your prize.

 
 


Behind The Scenes Of Living In Misawa Japan

Originally Posted 06 September 2011
My earliest traveling after joining the United States Air Force was to Misawa AB Japan. Take a moment and locate that there on the northern tip of Japan. Misawa was nicknamed “The Tip Of The Spear” for some reason, probably due to extreme northern location. My wife (now ex) and I arrived here on 24 December 1989 at 8ish in the morning after a 15 hour flight. After some very quick processing at the terminal, we grabbed our bags, a taxi, and headed to billeting (dorms the military call transient rooms). The first thing we noticed was how freaking cold it was and the second thing how deserted this part of the base looked. Have I ever mentioned I am from Houston Texas? Where the day I left I was swimming in the back yard with a temperature of low 80’s, and now, here, in northern Japan, it was 8 degrees f.? We get to billeting and my sponsor (supervisor who was assigned to get us settled) was waiting to get us set up. We were rather tired, so we napped for a few hours and then walked across the street to Burger King for some dinner. After a delightful meal, we decided to get back to the room and get organized and whatnot.

The next morning, Christmas day, we woke to 41 inches of snow that fell over night in one of the heaviest snowstorms in 100 years. Vehicle movement on base was limited to emergency vehicles and snow removal equipment. No exploring today. However, the following day, my sponsor shows up at 7 am and greets us with some Burger King breakfast. We ate and then ventured out to find a car and a place to live. We found out, quickly, cash (Yen) is king in these parts. First, we got a car, a 2 y/o Honda Accord, $2000.00. Next, we went to a realtor and she rented us this cool 6 room condo style house for $800.00 a month. Both before noon, how cool was that. So, now life begins here at the tip of the spear, we got settled, and life was pretty good.

I was not aware of the vending machine population here. One can buy everything, yes everything, out of a vending machine. Anything from a drink to real estate and everything in between. Which was cool, I have a “bank” of vending machines 20 ft from my front door. Speaking of front doors, we had bowls just inside our front door where all your bills were paid. Couriers would leave a bill in one, you put your money out, and later he/she would come back to retrieve it. We never had to go anywhere to pay bills. Ok, we lived in a rafter large house for 2 people, we had a giant bathroom (1). But this bathroom had a tub about the size of a legal notepad, it was so small I never once attempted to get into it. At 6’8″, I need just a little leg room. At that point, I realized I was in the land of the little people. I say that in a very kind way and not meant to be a bash on them as a people, but the Japanese in general are very small people, not trying to be derogatory by no means.

When we first moved in this house, I had noticed this business that operated 24/7 that was directly behind our house. We would see people walking in robes and slippers as well as getting out of their cars the same way. I was surprised and happy to find out it was a public bath house. In simple terms, it is a place to bath, relax, and get a steam. Afterwards, one could get a snack also. These ranged from very basic to the styling of a major resort. I lived in the country, so this one was rather large, but on the simple functional side of things. There were also ones for women, ones for men, coed, and family. The one behind my house was a family style one. Which means that both sexes bathed together, as a family unit. People of all ages, from infant to the elderly would be here. Plus, it was very cheap, about 75 cents a visit. I would normally go to bathe twice a day, no different a habit than being back in Texas. At first it was a little weird, but then became “normal” and part of the everyday way.

Even tho gambling isn’t legal here, like many places, they found ways to get around all that. I stayed away from most of it, with the exception of pachinko parlors. The noisiest places on the face of the planet. Pachinko is an upright style pinball machine in the most basic of terms to describe it. Google it, then you will get it. Anyway, you put money in, and if you win, you get these steal bearings in return to collect. Collect for what? Prizes, cigarettes, coupons, food, and a whole slough of crap you don’t want. Or, after a few times going and they don’t think you are the law, you can make your way out back and give a code and the slot in the door opens. You give the guy your ticket, he gives you back a handful of cash. Always something to keep in mind.

There are many fine places to eat, even out here in the country. Being from the gulf coast, I really love seafood. I thought I had a grip on the whole seafood thing. Wrong, way wrong answer. I don’t know jack about seafood. When you want seafood here, its a little bit different. I will eat almost anything. I do, however, draw the line when my food is looking back at me, then blinks. I have heard of fresh, but never so fresh they kill it at your table right in front of you. As cool as that seems boys and girls, the first time always makes you a little squeamish. I ate more unidentifiable things while in Japan than I had ever even known imaginable, and I have a very vivid imagination. Sushi bars were my favorite. I tried to go to a different one at least three times a week. The food was cheap, they prepared it in front of me, and it tasted fantastic!

Out where we lived, as well as allover Japan, there were establishments called “Love Motels”. Not unlike the little motel on the edge of most towns where people thought they were getting away with something but the whole town knows, yea, that kind of place. A very popular destination for the married men of Japan. I don’t know if I would call it socially acceptable, but it was common for the men to have mistresses and these motels are their meeting places. They are very business like places, not unlike driving up to a drive thru at McDonald’s. There is a menu, mix and match, customize or go for the prepackaged deals, your choice. Select, pay, pull into your private stall/garage. My ex and I had to try it out, used the Texas room. In fact, my oldest daughter was conceived that very night. Do a little research on these for yourselves, to much to put right here, right now.

In Japan, we saw so many festivals that it would make some peoples head spin. There is a festival to celebrate just about any occasion you might be able to imagine. We went to so many festivals that they all started running together. I had my favorites that we would go to every year. Up north where I was, there are many local festivals. I will do a post or two another time with my favorites.

We had a great time in Japan. I saw so much that I never knew even knew existed, and now they are things I wish I could still be a part of today. Living in Japan is way different than being a tourist there. When one immerses oneself in the culture, we get to see the real side of where you really are. I highly recommend living in another country, it opens your eyes. I only touched on a few things here today, about 10% of what we actually did. Living there was cultural shock, but the shock helped us expand our minds and let us appreciate another culture.