Friday the Nothing

And I set out happy, happy, happy on a Friday morning. Woke up early and also to a paycheck deposit on my phone. How could that be a bad day? It could not.

I went a little out of my way to get not just one, but TWO juices. Apple juice — just a thirst quencher on what was going to be a hot day (in Portland, anyway). The other—basically breakfast—a strawberry and banana smoothie.

With time to spare I made my walk to the Trimet looking at the rising sun as I passed over the NE 12th Avenue bridge, rubes in automobiles grumbling along underneath me. Things went by after that with the usual commute-mind-muddle. I probably listened to a podcast. I always pass a bread factory and just take that in. I always pass all the high school kids on their way to class at Benson Polytechnic High School. Never know what to think about them; odd things are afoot. I always feel gracious though, because I am no longer in that penitentiary. Maybe I bobbed my head to a drumbeat from some recently acquired music as I walked with a more New Yorker than Portland pace—that’s pep in my get-up.

Commute, commute, walk, commute.

Read the rest over at medium


The weather machine, when Haru shows it to Saito, looks like a complicated lamppost. In that it’s like a lampost, it’s metal and has a large head at the top of it. Beyond that, it has numerous moving parts in the shape of arms that seem to measure the world about it. Barometers and thermometers are all inset into it. Saito watches as it makes its slow weather dance. While at once it is elegant, it is also gangly. It is clockwork. It’s meters shift, and—without warning—it makes music. It sounds out a lyrical, trumpeted fanfare in order to announce what it thinks the weather might be. Icons rise up from its mechanical structure represenations of a sun for clear and sunny weather, a blue heron for drizzle and transitional weather, or a dragon and mist for rainy or stormy weather. Today, Saito watches it release a dragon in the form of a bronze plate, and the machine does so with unbelievable fanfare, so Saito immediately hands the camera to Haru and stands in front of the machine.

The Weather Machine

“It’s been said, by all manner of folks, really throughout forever, that it just rains too much in Portland.” The truck? rumbles across the Hawthorne bridge. “The thing that folks just don’t realize is that the weather machine here in town is broken. And what I mean to say, is that it is not simply engaged in controlling the weather—that much is obvious, I think. It’s just that the weather machine here has made up its own mind about the weather. Everyone wants the sun, I suppose. But can you really have sun all the time? I don’t think so. No sir, I think one needs a good melancholy now and then.”

“Of course, you’re from Japan—I imagine that all you weather machines are just quite fancy—I suppose, digital, maybe. Ours is mechanical, you see. It’s a bit queer. It certainly doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do—hence, all the rain. Mind you, I’ve become quite acclimated to the weather. Throw me a sunny day, and I don’t know what to do. What in the world is that burning orb in the sky that’s baking my skin? You know?”

Saito smiles.

Saito Wants to Make

This place, insofar as Haru showing him the cultivated details of this unusual city, seemed a particular misstep. Why would Haru bring him now to some industrial anomaly? Haru had not done him wrong thus far, so trust was necessary. Sito figured that the demonstration of this sad display of malfunctioning machines must have some value he was missing. He examined the machines closely. Haru was talking at a clip, so surely there was something for him to gain. Then, all at once it hit him. These machines, the most basic of consumer items, or perhaps even the highlight of a human workforce attempting to use machines to make life more comfortable—certainly less dirty—this was somehow the base of the loss of humanity in the kind of class warfare, the replacement of quality for quantity, that even Miko had become mesmerized by. Here we’re all the machines that at once were cheap and now were garbage, put in a single place to remind us that the engagement of consumerism is a cycle that never ends. There are always newer machines to replace the machines that did a job in the first place.

This march of consumer technology, all an attempt to make life easier, all the while consuming the patrons because there is always a better machine to be bought through dedication and work. There is a reason to work harder and that reason is to gain access to the next machine, whatever it may be. The next machine reduces work in some sense, yes, but then new work appears. For instance, the work of sweeping drifts away because there is a new machine that just sucks the dirt away. The new work becomes the act of emptying the machine. Sito thought, a truly good vacuum would empty itself. Sito stoops down close to a large machine, a tank vacuum cleaner, weirdly decorated with gold flecks on a royal blue backdrop.

It catches Sito’s attention because it reminds him, or maybe he personifies the machine. Its obvious face is like a friend he would have wanted to create. While staring at the machine he was waiting for it to bleep or bloop to life. Sito’s entranced by the little blue sparkly machine and in the meantime he is aware that Haru is talking fast about something to do with this wall of machines, and considering the theory of cultivation that Haru had put forth earlier, this must be some demonstration of what had gone wrong with the cultivation of man’s machines. This is something that Sito had given a great deal of thought to, given his work with his company. Always there was a concern about new product, new features, new options, none of which Sito felt was necessary. He was unique among his colleagues for saying “No.” Always they wanted to deliver the next reason for you to buy anything. Anything at all. Sito was always concerned with effect. He was concerned with function, and he believed that form followed function. “They,”—at least Miko—had decided that the social contract had to do with status, and nothing to do with creation.

Vacuum Cleaner History

A Portlander and a Japanese man walk into a ramshackle vacuum cleaner store, even this much was obvious to Saito. Hal is saying, “It’s ten-thirty, so it’s still to early to visit the Weather machine, but I believe I have something that will satisfy your curiosity, indeed, good sir. For you see, I have once or twice been privy to show around a tourist of a different sort than you. You, sir, are from a different country, but these individuals were from a different time.” Hal takes pause to look at his compatriot and the impact of the statement doesn’t seem to have taken effect. “They were time travelers,” and with this Hall makes a grand gesture. Saito smiles and the Shopkeep, behind a massive counter covered in papers, a register, and various vacuum cleaner parts, raises his eyebrow, but other than that, pays no attention.

Hal and Saito make their way to the back wall of the shop where sits a massive wall of shelves and many, many vacuum cleaners, from the modern to the classic, to downright unique examples of first vacuum cleaners, machines made of smoothed wood and engravings. Hal leans in to Saito conspiratorially and whispers, “What I was made privy to, by these travelers I mentioned, was that the machinery that eventually tries to enslave humanity, well, a key piece of that machine lies here. Now, of course, they would not share with me what particular part or element, if you will, was the very unique thing that they were seeking. Allowing me to have that information would likely change the timeline, I think—I don’t pretend to understand these matters—maybe cause them to never be born or some such nonsense, I suppose? But, I can tell you this: that critical piece of machinery lies here in this humble store. Now, isn’t that something?”

Saito nods and smiles.

“I have to say, you take news of the eventual enslavement of humanity with quite a good attitude. Then again… I suppose your people are somewhat used to the concept of empire and emperor, so perhaps it’s for the best that while this terrible thing has not yet come to pass. No, we should merely reflect upon it.” Hal reflects on the wall that is the demonstration of the brief history of vacuum cleaners. I suppose I could burn the whole place down—” at this Hal realizes the volume of his voice and glances toward the shopkeep, who is paying no mind. Relieved, Hal returns to his thought. “If I did the deed, who’s to say that any good would come of it? Perhaps I do and it’s the fire that transmutes the metal into the key piece. Is there any way to know?”

Saito is closely examining a tank vacuum cleaner, a reflective and sparkly blue cylinder on loose black plastic wheels. Hal observes and adds, “Could be that one. Could be.”

Saito and the Hole in the Ground

It isn’t long before Haru brings the two of them to some side-street alongside a boulevard. It seems odd to get out of the truck? where they are, but then again, Saito trusts Haru’s excitment. Haru is on about something—something clearly exciting. Right at Southwest Naito Parkway and Southwest Taylor Street, right in the middle of a major thoroughfare, Haru starts talking about a concrete hole in the ground, with great aplam. There are gorgeous plants to be sure, but nothing of significance that Saito can see. It is a very small garden; in the middle of a parkway. Haru is gesticulating wildly and reaches down into the garden and picks up some imaginary object from it, and shakes it, right in front of Saito’s face. Still, Saito can see that Haru is very invested in the description of this small place—it was important to Haru—maybe others? What Saito did was, he took out his camera and took a picture of the hole in the ground, and also a magnificient picture of Haru seemingly choking nothing at all.

Saito knows that Haru was using this microcosm as a metaphor for the city. If Haru understood Japanese custom, then he would understand the importance of attention to detail in even the smallest of endeavors. So here was this hodgepodge of flora, carefully cordoned off from the surrounding traffic—which Saito also noticed, consisting mostly of bicycles at the moment—and Haru was telling him—well, Saito couldn’t be sure, of course, but he felt what Haru was telling him—that in Portland, even such a minute element of the landscape is given great attention. Like the trees in the neighborhoods, like the eclectic architecture of the houses, like the bicycles passing them by even now, this was a place where people concerned themselves with their effect on the world and the world’s affect on them.

Saito was not jaded by any stretch of the imagination, but he had become complacent to all the news about the dangers of humanity’s impact on the world. To Saito, it seemed inevitable. There was no turning back the clock. There was no such thing as a zero-anything footprint. Humans changed the world the moment they arrived. They cultivated some plants and not others; they wiped out some species and not others, simply for food. Of course there was an impact on the ecology, even the atmosphere. What humans could do was plan the impact a little better. The solution to any problem began with the recognition of the presence of the problem. So Saito was not jaded, he just felt that people who wanted to reverse the impact of humanity were wishful thinkers.

Haru, forcing him to pay attention to this minor detail of the city seemed to be communicating exactly that. And Saito was grateful. It was something that had gone missing with Miko. She had become—not obsessed—Saito was not sure of the exact word—overtly concerned with the sea of status. Saito had concerns about quality of life and Miko had developed concerns about status in life, concerns about what the neighbors thought. Saito’s work, their home, their shared time together, the money he made; it all had become, for her, he thought, a means to an end, and not the reason d’être.

In that moment, Haru had stopped talking and the two of them, squatting in the middle of the Parkway, had a moment of silence and meditation. Saito knew then that because he understood the problem with he and Miko, that the relationship could be salvaged. It could be negotiated. He would have to tell her why he had been so sullen the last few months. She might listen. He knew she loved him deeply and maybe this preoccupation with presentation would be something she would see through if he told her how unhappy it made him. She might not, of course. Once, she had not been concerned with those sorts of things. Maybe she would again. Saito, in the midst of that thought, felt connected with Haru, felt thanks for Haru giving him something he could relate to, something he would not have known to seek out, and he pat Haru on the back, as they squatted together in the middle of the Parkway and said, “Arigato, Haru dese.” Then, Saito holds the camera out to implore Haru to take a photo of the moment.

Let’s Go to the Park!

Saito, surprised to see Haru at the door—briefly questions their financial arrangement—but clearly Haru was there for him. Glad to have rested very well; he’d awakened early (pleasantly unaffected by jetlag) and packed any tool he thought might be useful, re-combining his belongings from his rolling suitcase into a backpack that he had brought to make it easier to hike about. All morning, he felt an urgent need to get out and lose himself in novelty. Then, to his surprise, there is Haru, and so Saito shouts his name, like a high five on game day.

Once in the truck? Saito gets out his index cards with locations carefully translated into a Western alphabet with the help of Google. But when Haru gets in the truck? Saito realizes that what he truly wants is to just see life in this place; probably nothing that he could find in all his Wikipedia searches; things he wouldn’t have known to search for. Hal is talking and Saito can’t understand him, starting the truck? and Haru doesn’t ask for an ‘address’, so Saito puts the cards away and lets Haru do the driving. In fact, he thinks that would make a nice slogan: Let Haru do the Driving. In fact, he thought 春は運転をやらせます.

And he is tickled with the idea that he can see a whole ad campaign for Haru appear before his mind’s eye.

Haru is talking in his very confident American manner, and Saito assumes that Haru is discussing the rich history of this town called Portland. Saito had done at least some homework before abandoning his lovely home in the ________ district of Tokyo. He knew that Portland had once been considered one of the most dangerous ports in the United States in the late 1700s, back when it was little more than a fur-trader haven. Saito feels like it must have been like Mos Eisley, with all manner of scum and villainy, just beyond the steady gaze of a young United States government; protecterate not yet instituted. For the moment though, the largest difference Saito could see between Portland and _________ was how may large old trees there were. Haru was clearly traversing along back-routes to their destination and the houses were massive mansions, architecually unusual, and hugged by trees.

Hal leads Saito across the parkway, his hand gingerly placed on Saito’s forearm. Hal whispers like a nature guide, “Now, we’re early, yes, but to my knowledge, the Leprechaun only comes out right at dawn or at twilight, so I wouldn’t expect to see one of the—” Hal pauses, looks Saito in the eyes, and slows his speech—”little people.” Saito nods vigorously.

Once across the street, they stand in an island in the middle of Southwest Naito Parkway, where a three foot diameter concrete circle sits; Mill Ends Park—the smallest sanctioned park in the United States. Hal squats and Saito follows suit. Glancing about the park, Hal says, “Yeah, they clean up after themselves real well. Too bad. I don’t see too much evidence here. I mean, you got that tiny soda can over there.” Hal points and Saito takes a picture.

“The fellow who founded the park, George—uh—George Miller—yes, he was a journalist in the 1940s and he founded the park by capturing a leprechaun for himself, and—you may not know this—are there Japanese leprachauns?—but if you catch a Leprechaun, they have to grant you a wish. Good old George Miller was a good man and he didn’t make a wish for himself. No sir, he wished for something for someone else—a noble gesture. He wished for there to be a park for the little people and voilá! Here it is—sanctioned by the government and everything.

Let’s Get Started

“Now what I would really like to show you first is the Weather Machine that we have here in Portland, but the truth is, sir, it’s just not terribly exciting until around noon.” Feeling that Saito is on board with the tour, Hal checks in less to see if his fare is following him to the letter. The fact that Saito had hopped in the truck made Hal feel like they had a good spiritual connection, and Hal was confident that—uh—he really needed to figure out the guy’s name—but confident that his patron got the gist. “Regardless, I have a wonderful place to begin our tour. It is one of the only government sanctioned Leprechaun parks anywhere in the world. I suppose there are likely to be a few over yonder in Ireland, sure, but this park is the most westward located if you get my meaning. You, of course, are from further Westward, but so much, I suppose that it just becomes East again.”

“But then who would be shocked that the little people never got over the Pacific? I feel terrible thinking about their journey across the Atlantic as it was—them being so small and having to stowaway among who knows what kind of garbage. And then, and then they make their way across this whole country Oregon-Trail-style?” This gave Hal pause. He wasn’t just there to gab, it was only fair that his companion learn a thing or two, so he turned to Saito and said very slowly, “Or-a-gone,” and then he pointed at the floor of the truck? for emphasis. Saito considered the floor of the truck? and then looked up at Hal and said, “O-ru-gonu.” Hal gave him a thumbs up and Saito gave him thumbs in immediate return. And Hal felt good.

“It’s a helluva thing to think about not just having to hide from injuns but then to also have to worry about foxes and hawks and such. I shudder to think. It’s a wonder that they made it here at all. But such is the fortitude of the Leprachaun people. They are made of tough stuff, I think. Maybe it’s that they’re Irish, maybe it’s that when you’re so small you acclimate to the need to be made of something sturdy. I’ve never met one, mind you. They keep to themselves—who could blame them? But I sure would like to get my hands on one of those wishes.”

“They say that—um—George Miller?—did that himself after coming back from World War II. He grabbed himself a leprechaun and wished for them to have a park. You know World War II? We fought then you know.”

Saito smiles.

“Well, I think it’s quite all right when a man gains a wish and all he does is wish for something for someone else. I think that’s just about the nicest thing one man could do for another.”

Hal Returns for The Adventure

Hal slept in the truck? As he was wont to do. And comfortably. Bright and early the next morning, Hal knocks on the door to the house. The innkeep arrives and says, “Good morning.”

With his hat in his hands and to his chest, Hal says, “If you would please, please let Mr.—uh—” and Hal has a moment to realize his error. He did not remember his patron’s name. “There’s a Japanese man staying with you?”

“Oh. Yes?”

“Please indicate to him that his driver is waiting. You needn’t hurry him; I’ll wait as long as he needs.”

“Sure. Are you with Lyft or Über?”

“What’s that now?”

The innkeep looks at Hal with mild puzzlement, and then smiles and says to Hal, “I’ll let him know.” However, just as the innkeep is about to turn away, Saito arrives on the scene, equipped for the day with a large backpack. “Haru!” he shouts.

Hal looks to the innkeep and the innkeep looks back. “Do you know what that means?” but the innkeep shrugs and says, “I don’t speak Japanese.” Hal turns to see Saito getting into the truck?—he turns to the innkeep again to say, “But then, how did he—” and he sees Saito put on his seatbelt and so waves goodbye to the innkeep and shouts, “I’ll have him back by ten!” He wanted his fellow businessmen to know that he was on the up and up and responsible and all of that.

The innkeep stands in the door for a moment, watching them go and says, “I don’t care.”

Saito is Running Away

The sun is just setting as the pair are crossing (entirely unnecessarily) over the Morrison bridge. Saito rests his head in his hand and stares out the passenger window. He had been in town for maybe thirty minutes and already he spied two dozen things that caught his eye. He contemplates getting Haru to stop the truck? but Haru is still speaking, no doubt telling Saito all he needed to know to make use of the public transportation or maybe some kind of history lesson. Saito doesn’t care. He is here to escape the turmoil at home, and as the bridge passes underneath them, and the water appears lit by sparkeles from a low sun, he truly feels the first sense of relief in a long, long time. He had a week in Portland no intention of missing a second. But for tonight, he just nneds to soak in the novelty, and get some well-deserved rest.

As the sun disappears, he thinks about how it was already arriving in Tokyo, as if Tokyo were merely on the other side of the horizon, as if just over a hill and not across an ocean that swallowed horizons for snacks. He knew that Miko would have already read the note. Did she sigh, did she cry? Without him there to witness it, did a wry sense of relief stretch a smile across her beautiful face? Maybe she thought he was a coward for running away, and he knew there was some cowardice in it, but he also knew that his mind was buckling under—drowning in—even, some kind of pressure. For a moment, he looks at Haru who has a look of anticipation on his face, like he had just finished a joke, so Saito laughs and nodded.

It was good. With no one to speak to, with no one able to speak to him, he would have true isolation; a laboratory in which to experiment with the loneliness that he felt when there was everyone around talking and talking and talking. Haru was talking of course, but to Saito—he smiles to himself at the thought—listening to Haru is no different than listening to a rare bird’s song. And a rare bird Haru is, Saito thinks. He’d certainly seen nothing like Haru on American television. He was dressed in a suit yes, but it looked to be second-hand. His tie was comically large. Saito liked his hat though. Perhaps Haru would help him procure one just like it.

Without further ado, the truck? groans up to an old house in front of a small traffic circle. Saito can see the address numbers on the door, so at least he knew that he had arrived; not that he cared. He reaches into his new Columbia windbreaker and removes a very large wad of cash. Haru immediately enacts some kind of fit. He seems upset. Was he insulted somehow? Haru takes the cash roll from him and divides it up into smaller rolls and gestures at Saito’s leg and then his shoes? Saito can’t follow and slowly shakes his head at Haru, who, clearly disappointed, hands all the money back. Saito thinks it must be a kind of negotiation. He removes two crisp 20 dollar bills and holds them out to Haru. And Haru refuses? Saito offers $60 and again Haru waves him off. So, Saito puts the money back in his jacket and folds his hands and bows and says, “Domo arigato, Haru dese.”