North Korea has the bomb. Most likely they are pointing it a few miles south of my apartment. Recently I’ve had a string of apocalypse dreams. Blinding flash of light, running through burning hulks of concrete and melting steel, silver rivers snaking across pavement. Stuff like that
Recently everyone seems to be getting pregnant. Emails from elder cousins arrive with grainy photographs at the bottom. Swaddled infants cradled in someone’s arms, an x-ray of a white creature curled like a shrimp in the big black pond of someone’s belly. People at the office clutter desks and computer screens with pictures of unconscious infants and toddlers grinning like idiots. Yesterday Mori-san was a sensible systems engineer, read the paper at lunchtime, did laps at the pool after work. Today he has pinned a photo of a shrieking bundle of goo next to his monitor. When it catches his eye he’ll sigh for a moment at this thing that has sprouted out of a dab of his semen. His semen.
My boss’ family came to the office the other day, his lovely wife and the scheming little parasite that calls itself his son. What had this thing, barely two years in this world, what had he done to earn our respect? His mother had brought a ribboned box of department store cookies for these men and women at their desks, but the boy just hobbled around with a goofy grin and babbled ungrammatical sentences in this weird squeaky little voice. Yet the girls in research coo over his little hands and his soft hair, the guys in sales quit the dirty jokes and turn their charm on this snotty little creature. His mother handled him carefully, this little goblin that wiggled out of her flesh and into the world. There he is, a Voyager probe launched from her body, and, if their luck holds, into the future.
Every Thursday night I bike out to a dull and quiet suburban neighborhood to tutor a lovely couple in their fifties in English conversation. She has left her job as the manager of an organic grocery to start an all organic baking business named after a Swedish cartoon character. He is on the board of directors of Japan’s largest organic produce distributor, and is currently organizing a national organic agriculture symposium and looking to import organic olive oil from Jordan. We’ll sit down to dinners of handmade sausages and homegrown vegetables, then discuss our week and read a short story or an essay. They giggle and laugh and tease each other in English fragments cut down to the essentials. Every other sentence will remind them of a song from the 60’s. “All You Need Is Love! John Lennon. My favorite!”
They have two children, both about my age. Their daughter and their son’s girlfriend got pregnant within two weeks of each other. Everyone lost a few nights sleep, then decided to get married. Their daughter is now in her ninth month, and has come home for the last few months of her term, padding around the house with this basketball hidden underneath her shirt. She sits on a sofa in the corner of the room stitching baby clothes while her parents sit at the dining room table, frowning and giggle over strange words like “lilting” and “superstitious”. “Superstitious? Stevie Wonder! It’s a great song! Ja ja ja ja JA ja ja ja!”
Their daughter is still wearing a basketball under her shirt, but their son's wife ejected her volleyball last week. I stopped by on Friday night to drop off a souvenir I'd brought back from a short trip I'd taken to the highlands. They were sitting in the living room flipping through an album of old photographs and drinking from a bottle of Hatsu-Mago sake. They flipped on a music program on public television station and I sat with the thing in my lap, looking at fuzzy photographs, the colors slowly yellowing over twenty-odd years. There were graduation pictures from nursery school, visits to grandma's house and trips to the shrine, little things running around. A picture of their daughter, five years old in the middle of a temple courtyard pulling the hem of her dress right up to the her grinning face. Her mother looked at the picture and collapsed in a fit of giggles. "Kaya, she always... moh!!" She had taken the picture. They poured me a cup of the sake, and we drank to their first grandchild.
"This sake is... from Yamagata. It's name is Hatsu-Mago. The name means..."
"Gah! Jamie, you... moh!"
The other day someone hired two men to sit on folding stools in front of my building and count the pedestrians as they walked by. They were both equipped with a clipboard, a mechanical clicker you depressed with your thumb and a blank stare like the back of a truck. I was off to work, still swallowing the coffee in my mouth, brain straining at the arithmetic I do every morning of current-time + (minutes-to-station,briskly-walking vs. minutes-to-station,flat-out-sprinting) = (train departure time + 50 minutes to get to work?)
If I hadn’t been so preoccupied I would liked to have stopped and asked them a few things. Like, how do you guys divvy up the work? Does one of you count pedestrians going one way and the other the opposite direction or do you guys both just count everyone you see and then they average your numbers together later on? Don’t you guys feel an overwhelming urge to click when the other guy does? Do you wear earplugs to prevent that from happening? What happens if, say, some gangly American walks by you at 8:20 in the morning, then remembers he has left his mobile phone at home, rushes back in front of you to get it, then runs past you again in a frantic effort to make his train? Would you count him once (same guy in five minutes), twice (doublebacked within a few seconds, back again a few minutes later) or three times? How long is a shift for chrissakes? And how much are they paying you to do this? You know, to count of all of us tramping along the pavement. All of us, rushing to work, bumping into each other, having kids, tossing bombs.