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Sayonara part 3- final goodbye
Actually, make that a 'see you later'; Japan is not irredeemable and I'll be back.
Here I am at Haneda airport waiting for my flight and I have good news. I saw three unmasked people on the way up! OK, that’s not many and considering all the people I saw since leaving home, the obedience-o-meter is still around 99.5. Still, it’s better than last Sunday at the mall. There, I must have seen between 500 and 1,000 shoppers, and not one adult was unmasked. Only the under 2 crowd, and a fraction of 2 to 4s were breathing freely.
But there’s hope. As Mike commented last post, the return to normal will begin when people who want normal start acting that way, and some people are.
When I told Akiyama-san, my brother-in-arms in the anti-covid struggle here in Hamamatsu, that I was returning to the states, he said, “What, after just getting back? When are you leaving?”
-Next Wednesday! That’s less than a week!
Akiyama wasted no time, grabbing his phone, and announced on the LINE group there would be a party on Saturday, to see me off. We had a great time and parties like these, without masks or distancing or alcohol squirters at the door, will be part of a return to normal here in Japan. As Dr. Mark McDonald (whom I’ll be interviewing soon) might say, “We must normalize fearless gatherings.” When I was in Montana my daughter sent pictures of her club gathering for a classic, summertime barbecue by the river. Wonderful to see teens and young 20s smiling and laughing, showing their faces.
In other good news, here’s a poster on a bulletin board in front of a local bar/restaurant where lots of us foreigners like to gather:
At This Establishment
Masks are not required (because it's a restaurant)
Gel Goop-- Is up to you
Distancing-- Is up to you
Two of the three non-maskers on the way to the airport were the kind of refuseniks you might expect,
an older guy who can’t be bothered with the irritant of the face diaper. The cool thing was, I think he purposely sat by me on the bullet train, finding another rebel in a sea of conformity! I didn’t see anyone else on the train or platform without the veil. He could have sat anywhere, as there were plenty of empty seats, but he plopped down beside me. Birds of a feather...
A younger, 'cool' dude with sunglasses, tattoos and a French beret. The resistance casts its net wide. Yes, even the neck-tatted are welcome.
The third refusenik surprised me. She was a gorgeous, 19 to 23 yr. old. This category is rarely unmasked in public. Maybe, being so hot, she's used to just doing whatever she wants. Maybe she was tired of not being able to show off her cute face. “I'm going to be Christmas cake* before I can drive the boys wild again with my smile! The heck with it. Off with this thing!”
*(a Japanese saying. As in, “Who wants Christmas Cake after the 25th?”)
I wasn't brave enough to ask her for a say-cheese picture, so I snapped a shot while heading away, and only got a shot from behind.
Does it matter that this freedom fighter happens to be one of the beautiful people? Would it be the same if she was just an average looking refusenick? I don't know, but I'm not complaining. There might be some other young girls out there saying to themselves, “I wanna be like her!”, her good looks heightening the appeal. Then again, I wonder if some conformist girls out there, fearful and obedient, resent her for her standing out, like the locals who took to hating the beautiful widow in Zorba the Greek.
At the airport, once again there was only one person who asked me about the mask. She was the health-check marm who politely asked about vaccination, contact information in the US, and other covid-related nonsense.
She looked at my passport photo and said, “OK, Could you please... [take off your mask]...Eh. Oh. So, you do not have a mask?”
-No, I can't wear one. I have AFIB.
She stared at me blankly, so I said it again in Japanese. “I've got an uneven heartbeat - irregular atrial fibrilation.”
Do you have a doctor's note?
“No, I don't.”
She made a little move toward the ticketing agent area, as if to go talk to a superior, I gathered, but instead she stopped herself, gave me my passport, boarding pass and contact info card back and said, “You'll need to show these to the ticketing agent,” as if she'd made an executive decision in response to my showing up without a mask, ordering me to do something I was about to do anyway.
“Thank you!” I said.
OK, I know some of you hard core rebels scoff at the idea of having to make an excuse for not wearing the mask. I hear you! We don't need any stinking excuse. A 'no' will do just fine. But give me time; I'll get there. Give me a little credit for being the only one at the mall and the airport without the muzzle. Nobody's perfect and I'm not a full-on, bad-ass resistor yet. I'll do my best at keeping the mask off, and in the meantime, work on the no-excuse approach to achieve the '10' for execution.
What a difference going through security is in Japan, compared to the USA. Often there is no line; the security area is well-staffed and efficient. You don't have to take off your shoes or belt. They don't bark at you like they hate you as much as they hate their job, like the TSA goons. [side note- the TSA guys in Seattle are friendly, and more efficient and courteous than the ones in California. If memory serves, the most goonish are in San Francisco] One annoying development, however, has come to Japan. Now they have the naked body scanners. For years it was only on the states side of cross-Pacific trips that I had to be the oddball to refuse the naked body scan, since in Japan they only used the old metal detectors.
I loathe this process. Refuse and face the blue-glove treatment. It must be in their training manual, where the TSA security-theater actors have to make you feel miserable when you take a pass on the radiation scan-capsule.
»OK, fine. Maybe it doesn't give you cancer and “You'll get a thousand times more radiation in a day at the beach, bla bla”, but I've read and heard a few things about these 'safe' machines. My cousin James takes an occasional trip to Vegas with a nurse friend of his. He rolls his eyes when he talks about Kevin, who opts for the pat-down every time. I'll assume Kevin the nurse knows a bit more about potentially-harmful radiation than James, and take my lumps with the demeaning TSA feel-up/pat-down and pass on the peep-show zapper box, thank you very much. (and the feel up has to be more demeaning for the feeler than the poor feelee; can you imagine having that job?)»
When I saw that I'd have to pass through one of these new zappers here at Haneda airport, I sighed and thought, “Jeesh. Here goes. Maybe nobody refuses the device over here. I might be one in a million. This could be a hassle.”
But I wrong. They were ready for me. My experience with this refusal was a reminder that where America uses the stick, Japan prefers the carrot. America is the 1984 boot on your face, and Japan the Brave New World seamlessly-comfortable pleasantville.
Yoshiko is the petite, 5'2”, young security officer in a sharp uniform, with skirt not pants. I promise I had no thoughts about my experience with Shanghai Suzy, the cute airport security girl in China whose pat-down was downright, ehm, pleasant, when I indicated to Yoshiko that I preferred the pat to the scan. Honest, I simply didn't want the scan. Even if slobbering TSA Bob was on the other end of that radiation zapper, I would have gone for the pat down. Yoshiko was looking at me from the other side of the scanner, beckoning me to come through. I pointed at the machine and did the crossed-hand, ‘da-me’ (nyet) signal.
At this juncture, in America, the TSA guy rolls his eyes and says, “Stand over there!” Then you wait in some corner while about a hundred people go by you the normal way, like cattle through the slaughterhouse chute and into the zapper. Sometimes people look at you like you're some strange curiosity, but most try to avoid eye-contact with the weirdo. Then when you finally are allowed on the other side, Big Bob, with his gut hanging out over his pants, reads you the script.
Bob-We can do this in a private room.
Me-Uh, no thanks, Bob. If we’re going to have an intimate experience, I want witnesses, not a private rendezvous in room 101.
Bob-OK, then. Now, I'm gonna be touching your crotch area with the back of my hand, OK?
Then the ordeal begins and you pray the part where he touches your fun zone goes quickly, while people walking by in the concourse look on with pity.
Well, I'm not going to lie; Yoshiko's pat-down was nice. I know; it's not supposed to be. I'm supposed to feel discomfort, but just as it's hard to not enjoy a good massage, it felt good as her hands ran across my shoulders, and elsewhere. Sue me, already. Look, I tried to muster some of my usual security-theater disgust, but Yoshiko's soft caresses canceled my indignation. See what I mean by Brave New World over 1984? Yoshiko is sweet Soma, and Bob is O’Brien with his hand on the voltage meter. When I put my shoes back on (and they give you slippers, not force you to walk the grimy floor in your socks like back in the states) I said to Yoshiko, “You know, that felt pretty good, like a massage!” Honest words that would get me 3 to 6 at San Quentin for harassment, but Yoshiko giggled and nodded. I'll bet she was smiling behind that plexiglass welder's shield and N-94.
The ticket/passport-check lady at the gate did the same thing as the health-check marm: “Could you take your m...” Oh. Thank you. Enjoy your flight!”
Now I'm on the plane and they announced, “Masks are optional on this flight. Please feel free to continue wearing a mask.” I sit up tall in my seat, do a little rubbernecking and scan the cabin , and as far as I can see, everyone on this flight is 'feeling pretty free', except me.
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Next: In the Belly of the Beast. Report from LA.