Category Archives: Scarecrow Goes to Japan

The Sporting Life

Chaos in Print

I’ve never been a big fan of skiing. Now, it’s not because I have an aversion to all things physical. I’m sure most people will look at me and say, “Oh, of course he doesn’t like skiing! Look at him!” Most will equate a lack of a sporting life with a fear of trying new things. Now, it’s not that I’ve never tried skiing. I have gone skiing. It was a very popular pastime in my hometown. Every winter, there’d be at least two or three class trips to the local ski hill, Lake Eden. Most of my classmates regarded Warren Miller with the same kind of reverence I have for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Naturally, I’d go along on these class trips, take a few skiing lessons, and do a few runs on the bunny hill. Every time, I’d walk away from the ski hill saying, “Know what? I really don’t care for this.” For me, not skiing isn’t a fear to try new things. It’s just simply acknowledging what I don’t like. So, when a few coworkers asked me if I wanted to go skiing with them, I naturally said, “Of course!”

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A Complete Episode Guide to Visionaries

Chaos in Print

Well, Chuck just went and did the nicest thing he’s ever done for me. Nicer than buying me my URL, nicer than convincing me to work in Japan, and nicer just simply tolerating me. He just got himself high speed Internet, and I told him of a wonderful thing called the Kazaa network. Chuck’s been using that to get all kinds of obscure cartoons and watch them over and over. He also got himself a CD burner for Christmas. So, then, what did he do? He went on the network, downloaded every episode of Visionaries, burned them to CD and sent them to me! How nice is that? Now that I’ve watched every episode several dozen times, I’ve decided to let you in on the world of Visionaries! Once you review my feature Visionaries 101, come back here and read up on all 13 adventures of the Spectral Knights! These 13 adventures left me craving for more. This is truly one of the forgotten classics of the 1980s. Without further ado, here is…the guide!

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Go Native

Chaos in Print

Like all people, the Japanese will be amused and delighted to hear the gaijin say something in their language. But when you start to get fluent, you will meet the opposite reaction with strangers. Somehow they feel it is an intrusion on their privacy when they meet a gaijin who speaks fluently. In fact, they really don’t know how to react. – From the company-required reading Culture Shock! Japan.

As I have previously stated, I really don’t intend to learn Japanese, despite the fact that I am living in Japan. It’s not so much that I don’t care, it’s that I’m too lazy. I’ve never really had a knack for learning languages. And besides, when I factor in the amount of social interaction I do outside of my English-speaking workplace, it seems to be an unnecessary expenditure of resources. I could spend my time in a classroom somewhere, hunched over Japanese texts, or I can get outside and look around. So far, I’ve been able to battle off the taunts of “blood-sucking parasite” and “apathetic bastard.” But, recently one label has been applied to my attitude that I feel I must respond to. That label is “culturally insensitive.”

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What I Like About Japan #3: Trains

Chaos in Print

I’ve loved trains since I was a child. Having the CN mainline from Edmonton to Vancouver slicing through your hometown will do that to you. My neighbouring village of Evansburg used to be a stop for Via, as a matter of fact. I remember getting soft ice cream with my family and heading on up to the train station to eat it, mainly because the old train station was such a majestic, old-fashioned rural train station. Being in such a small town, it felt like the train station was a gateway to the world. Then, in about the mid-80s or so, Evansburg no longer demanded such an ornate train station, so it was demolished and replaced with an ATCO trailer. The Evansburg train station survived until the late-90s, when it was finally removed as part of Via’s cutbacks. Sadly, Via has been cutback all across Canada. It’s become little more than a commuter service in the central corridor: that strip of land that runs between Montreal and Toronto. So, if you’re a rail travel aficionado, you’re pretty much screwed if you live in western Canada. Good thing I came to Japan, where rail travel is as popular and convenient as ever.

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Sense of Community

Chaos in Print

Whatever happened to the sense of community? That feeling you get when you are with a group of your peers, and you can just sit back and let it all hang out? The kind where you could walk into a room and know that these people are cut from the same cloth; that you can talk about any subject and know that they are as equally well versed? Well, I’ll tell you what happened. Like all of the good and decent emotions in the world, it’s been co-opted by the big companies in an effort to turn you, you, and yes, even you, into another corporate drone and/or loyal customer. I’ve come to this heart-breaking realization twice recently.

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A View from the Top

Chaos in Print

Author’s Note: OK, last time I attempted something like this, it went over well, but again, I feel I must warn you. While the events outlined did take place, and it led me to make a phone call, only about 5% of this transcribed phone call actually happened. The rest is made-up so as better to tell my day of adventure. It’s called dramatic license, folks, and I’m sure you don’t find it in your average online journal.

Ring, ring

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My Poor Attempt at Hollywood Satire

Chaos in Print

Introduction: OK, I’ve been doing some reading online about The Polar Express. It’s the new film from Robert Zemeckis, who gave us Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Contact, and the Back to the Future trilogy. This new film is a family fantasy about some kids on a train bound for the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. Tom Hanks plays the conductor of this train. Now, Zemeckis, he likes to push the limits of moviemaking technology. As I’m sure you’re aware, George Lucas has really pioneered the technique of filming in front of a blue screen, with the sets to be filled in later. Zemeckis is taking this to the next level. He, too, is going to be filming this film completely in front of blue screen, with the sets to be filled in later. But, to assist the animators making the sets, all of the actors will be wearing motion capture suits. The costumes themselves will also be added later with computers. So, Zemeckis will be filming people in blue suits in front of blue screens, with the rest to be filled in later by computer. This just strikes me as odd, somewhat. So, please, come with me as I try to paint the future of Hollywood….

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Fudge Report. I’m Patrick Fudge, and now I’m going to bring you all the news you need to know from Hollywood.

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Long Haired Chicken

Chaos in Print

One of the more difficult things that faces me about life in Japan is that seasonal ritual of getting a haircut. See, I like to get my hair cut freakishly short so that way I can go a good four months without needing a trim. I’ve considered shaving my head, or getting a buzz cut, but usually decide against it for two reasons. Firstly, there’s my sister’s constant taunt: “I’ll laugh if it never grows back.” Secondly, there’s the design of my face. Between my extremely large forehead and my “we-can-get-these-for-free-on-Dad’s-health-plan” geek glasses, a bald head would make me look like some form of cartoon supervillain. So, I at least need a little hair to cover my forehead. Back home, this would pose no problem, but here in Japan, where I face the language barrier at the barber shop, going for a haircut is twice as paranoia-inducing as anything I’ve ever done.

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Chaos in Print

Darn it. Darn it all to heck. “Take the later flight,” they told me. “It’s a whole lot cheaper!” “But will I get back in time to catch the trains?” I asked. “Oh, sure!” they told me. “Your flight gets in at 10:30, and the last train doesn’t leave until 11:45! You’ll have lots of time!” So I jumped at the lower rates. I decided to come home from Sapporo on the late flight. Yup, things would go great as long as I got back to Tokyo at 10:30 pm. But, my flight leaving Sapporo was delayed, and I didn’t leave until 10:30. The 747 touched down at Haneda Airport shortly after midnight. The commuter monorail was shutdown for the night, so I caught the last bus to Tokyo station. I arrived at the station just in time to see the doors close and the attendant lock it up for the night. There was no getting around it. I was homeless on the streets of Tokyo for a night. Darn it. Darn it all to heck.

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Bras & Tutus

Chaos in Print

Did you ever have a dream where there’s all these women wearing nothing but bras and tutus and they’re screaming and pointing at these elephants that are coming over the horizon and picking their noses and their butts at the same time? – Rob Burton

Lately I find that my mind has been turning back to the one person who has probably had the most influence on my life in a creative way. Is it “Weird Al” Yankovic whose music I still listen to and get creative inspiration from? No, but he is the person who introduced me to Weird Al. Is it one of the countless slightly surreal comedy pieces that I find funny? No, but he is the person most responsible for broadening my horizons to them. Is it Batman or some other comic book character? No, but he is the one who was filling me in on origins and comic storylines long before I met Chuck. This man is a childhood friend by the name of Rob Burton.

Rob was a good friend of mine all from kindergarten through grade 6. I think there were points in there where he was even my best friend. We shared many of the same interests in toys, like Transformers and He-Man. Some of my earliest memories are of what a friggin’ genius he was. I remember that, in the third grade, he read The Hobbit and adapted it into an epic, 10-page poem. And it was a real poem, with a good rhythm and words that rhyme and everything! In the third grade! THE THIRD GRADE! In the second grade he built an actual working traffic light. Of course, it was only two feet tall and powered by a 9-volt battery, but it worked. We were in Cub Scouts together, and for the three Cub Car rallies, he built: a perfect scale model Rolls Royce (with popsicle stick running boards), a sports car with working headlights (using a 9-volt battery that doubled as ballast) and a perfect scale model of Ecto-1. Yes, the Ghostbusters car.

I also remember that he could always recite this wonderful nonsense poem about a late-night duel in a graveyard. I still know a line or two of that poem. “They drew their swords and shot each other.” “I know it’s all true, because the blind man saw it all through the knothole in the barbed wire fence.” That was one crazy poem.

I remember having the occasional slumber party at his house. He lived on an acreage in the middle of nowhere, but it was a very cool acreage. I remember getting up very early on Saturday mornings at his house and watching cartoons. The strongest memories I have of cartoons at his place were Pac-Man on Saturday mornings, and, one Saturday, when there was nothing else on, we watched Tom & Jerry on the French Channel. Hell, it was on that TV at his 10th birthday when I saw Transformers: The Movie for the first time. When we got bored with that, we’d play Spider-Man on his Gemini (an Atari-compatible home video game system) or some kind of text-based game on the family’s Commodore PET. And, when all that failed, we’d go to the family library (a little room in the basement with a comfy couch and tons of books) and read old Mad magazines.

That’s where he gave me the gift of “Weird Al” Yankovic. It was at one of those slumber parties where he put a scratchy vinyl copy of Dare to be Stupid on the record player. I was a fan from day one. Rob brought down the house that year at my school’s annual Air Guitar competition with his live stage version of Like a Surgeon. Once I got a tape player, he loaned me a cassette copy of Dare to be Stupid for me to copy. Now, the album ends with this song called One More Minute, in which Weird Al ends the song by letting out an anguished cry. Since that anguished cry sounded so much like Rob’s laugh, for the longest time I thought the Weird Al’s anguished cry was actually Rob’s laugh ruining the song.

He even had a very cool family. He had two older brothers and one little brother. His eldest brother would always violently defend his Star Wars action figures and keep us from playing with them. His mother was a bit of hippie. She was always saying to me, “Mrs. Burton is my mother-in-law. Call me by my first name.” She made great cookies and had a pottery wheel in the basement. And his father. You’re going to think I’m making this up, but his father was a diabetic skydiving telephone repairman. Yes, you heard me right. He worked for AGT (Alberta’s phone company before Telus bought it), skydiving was his hobby, and he was living with diabetes. He and my father were Scoutmasters together and man, did they make Beaver Scouts fun!

But sadly, it was his father’s affiliation with AGT that soon brought these days of childhood merriment to an end. As the sixth grade drew to a close, the order came that his father had been transferred to St. Albert. True, it was a city that was just one hour away, but it seemed very far away. A huge farewell party was thrown for him and his family at the community hall. I was the only one man enough to cry. And then…he was gone. But still an influence. For you see, he did leave me his St. Albert address.

That following fall, I sent my first letter to him. We wrote back and forth for most of junior high. He told me a lot of fascinating things in those letters. In one of those letters I asked him, “So, who is this Batman villain called Two-Face?” He replied by sending me an old Batman comic he had lying around detailing the origin of Two-Face. I still have that comic. He even told me that his school was selected to do experiments with some tomato seeds that were left on a satellite as part of an experiment. Naturally, they planted the seeds to see what would happen. They grew bigger than any other tomato. So then, in this letter, Rob started (practically) presenting a paper on how radiation in space affected certain cells and certain chromosomes in the seeds and all I could do was sit back and go, “Wow.”

Of course, Rob and his family came out to visit many times. Rob would hook-up with me and some other friends of ours and we’d roam the streets of Entwistle like some kind of gang. Since junior high had begun, I had begun turning into a Trekkie. I was constantly amazing Rob as I’d spout out obscure facts about Star Trek continuity that just made him look at me and exclaim, “You’ve got to be the biggest Trekkie I know.” I also remember that one of the radio stations I listened to at the time had begun playing Always Look On the Bright Side of Life. One time, in our gang, I began singing it out loud. Rob looked at me with a big grin and asked, “Have you begun watching Monty Python?” I looked at him and said, “Monty Python? Who’s that?” So, he began running through Monty Python sketches at a rapid fire pace, and I promised him that I’d check out some Monty Python at my earliest opportunity. Of course, my earliest opportunity turned out to be university.

But, Rob’s visits soon became infrequent. I never went to St. Albert to visit him, although I asked my parents to take me quite a few times. The letters soon became spaced further and further apart until, finally, they just stopped. By the time the ninth grade began, we had officially drifted apart. I didn’t hear from him again until about, o, grade 11 or so. The family was having dinner on the deck one evening, when two young gentlemen on their bicycles pulled up. They got off of their bikes and came into our yard. It was Rob and a high school friend of his. For their summer vacation, they were attempting to cycle to Vancouver. So we talked for a bit. Actually, my mother talked with him for a bit. I was just kind of stunned into silence at seeing him before me. But, after visiting with my parents for about half an hour or so, he and his friend rode off, and I left so many things unsaid.

The last time I ever heard any news on him was about two years ago. I was hanging out with some friends in West Edmonton Mall, when I wanted to stop in at a tie store and buy a bow tie. (Why I wanted the bow tie is a whole other column.) And who was working as a clerk in the shop but…Rob’s older brother. The one who violently defended his Star Wars action figures. So, we chatted for a bit, and I asked about Rob. Turns out, circa Y2K, Rob was still in St. Albert, working as a substitute teacher.

There are still many questions I want to ask Rob. I would love to just sit down with him and catch up with him someday. How much of him is still the childhood friend I remember? Does he still cling to the things that he introduced me to? Does he look forward to every new Weird Al album as much as I do? I never even found out if he liked UHF. Being one of my first influences in sci-fi and comics, did he like the movie version of X-Men and Spider-Man? How about the new Star Wars films? Am I still the biggest Trekkie he ever knew? Is he still able to recite Monty Python sketches backwards and forwards? And maybe I’d ask him some more personal questions. Is he married now? Has he found his path in life? And just…how is he? He was truly one of the larger influences in my formative years, and wherever he is now, thank you, Rob, and I hope you’re doing well.