They say nothing motivates a person like the need to complain. Although, come on, money, power, and the promise of adoration from attractive members of the opposite sex seem to be pretty powerful motivators, too, come to think of it. (I’m just saying.) But the need to complain is pretty high up on the list, you gotta admit. And so it is that two full months after leaving Charleston, S.C. for a stay of indeterminate length and rationale in Japan – having at this point expended at least as much creative energy on excuses for not having begun this blog as I’ve burned in jotting down notes and pithy observations – I’m finally pushed over my tipping point by a powerful, primal urge to bitch.
On Friday, four days ago, I was descending the stairs here at my expat friend Mike’s house in Fukui where I’m living – and when I say “stairs,” I need to clarify a little bit, because this is not in any sense your typical staircase. In fact it’s more like a staircase designed by M.C. Escher for the Spanish Inquisition. Two and a half feet wide, unlit, as close to vertical as a staircase can be without being called a ladder, with an 80-degree dogleg at the very bottom, this staircase belongs either in a county fair funhouse or on the shooting set of a torture-porn horror flick. This is the sort of staircase that, when you first encounter it, you share a moment of genuine reckoning with your innermost self, and you picture your bleeding, broken body lying crumpled in a heap at its feet, teeth and bits of brain scattered about. A staircase like this one feels like a living thing, a malevolent spirit comprised of pine slats and cheap wood paneling that feeds on the souls of those who forget to take it as seriously as it demands to be taken.
From the moment I arrived in Fukui and saw this staircase, I took it very seriously. I did not leave a comfy job in America and travel to to the other side of the world to die at the hands of an evil piece of carpentry. But despite this, my vigilance occasionally falters – especially on a Friday afternoon after a week of listening to a crew of sadistic road workers rip apart the sidewalk directly beneath my office window from dawn to dusk (more on this in a moment). Thus distracted and irritated, I took the stairs on that afternoon with a lot less respect than they’re due, and somehow during my descent I managed to crack the back of my heel against one of the wooden steps.
Whether this was the staircase itself sensing my vulnerability and taking advantage of a chance to send me hurtling to my death, or just a moment of physical stupidity on my part, I don’t know. What I do know is that it hurt like a motherfucker, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that I didn’t die shrieking in a headlong tumble to the bottom. Since that moment, though, I’ve been effectively crippled, as I now can’t touch my left foot to the ground without screaming like a little girl. This means that I’ve spent the last four days rooted to a seat in front of my computer in the second-floor office (why, oh, why did I choose the second floor?), able to do little more than whimper, type, left click, and curse the sidewalk construction workers and their horrible equipment.
The jackhammer operator, may his tortured soul burn in hell forever, has obviously made it his mission to drive me insane. But he’s the spirit of kindness compared to his friend the guy who drives the machine that saws through concrete. The machine that saws through concrete is matched in its incredible volume only by the slowness at which it operates – millimeter by cruel millimeter. When the municipal goon who operates it starts cutting, and I look out the window to see him at one end of a small parking lot aimed at the opposite end, which is roughly an hour of unbearable noise away, I’m tempted to throw myself kamikaze-style out of the window onto him and his hateful machine in the hope that, in slicing through me, some bone of mine will lodge in the thing’s gears and silence it. So it’s lucky for him I’m lame at the moment.