Some people can strap on a pair of skis and learn to shuss down a hill with only a few minor spills that everybody can sit around and joke about later. Tim’s one of those people. He got on a snowboard and was shooting down the steeper slopes by mid-afternoon. My Darling B, I suspect, is not one of those people, although I feel it’s largely my fault. I said I’d help her learn, but I’m not a ski instructor, not by a long shot.

B hadn’t been skiing since the last time she was here, back in 1985 or something like that. She went with John and some of his buddies; their method of instruction was to take her to the top of the mountain and leave her to make her way down. I guess some people can learn like that; what B learned was that she didn’t want to ski with John and his buddies any more.

I wanted more than anything for her to enjoy it this time. We went to Moya, a resort about two hours from Misawa. It was our first family ski trip, and our first with the Mogul Mashers, a club on base. The trip started with bagels, doughnuts and juice on the bus ride out, and after a day on the slopes we had a wine and cheese party in the lodge. On the way home, we stopped at a local hot bath to clean up and soak. Pretty nice.

B and I started out on the bunny slope, which is where I found out that, while I can sort of figure out what to do by watching other people, and conduct experiments on myself, I’m not very good at explaining any of what little I’ve learned. I could explain how to snowplow, but she pretty much had to figure out the rest for herself. By about eleven thirty she had built up enough self-confidence to try the shortest, easiest run. The results were spectacular. She tumbled like a dervish, skis and poles flying everywhere.

I spent the early afternoon with Tim and Sean on the hills, and checked back with B on the bunny hill between runs. She was doing so well that she went back up the lift for another try at the hills, and ended up walking part of the way back down after her skis popped off again.

Sean has a snow board, and he won’t hesitate to tell you every one of the million reasons he think it’s the very best way to travel downhill on snow. We were thinking that, because he had so much praise for snowboards, he would have plenty to teach Tim, but Tim picked it up on his own while Sean was trying to get his gloves on just right. When it comes to snowboarding, Sean’s long on theory, but short on practice.

I haven’t been skiing since I went to Keystone in Colorado many, many moons ago with some guys from work, and that was only the second time in my life. It’s a good thing I spent so much time on the bunny hill with B in the morning this time around; if I’d gone straight up the slopes, I’m pretty sure I would’ve killed myself. The next day my muscles were aching in places where I didn’t have muscles.

The onsen is a Japanese tradition, a bath house where we went to clean up and relax after skiing. There was a big communal hot tub in a steamy room, and all around the wall there were wash basins and stools where we could scrub ourselves to get good and clean. The water was so hot I couldn’t stay in too long; a friend of mine told me to put a cool washrag on my head so I could stay in longer, so there I sat with a folded washcloth plopped on my head. I think all it did was keep me in the water long enough to get hard-boiled, and provide comic relief for the rest of the bathers.

I know you’re going to ask, so I’d point out that the women’s baths are separated from the men’s by a wall high enough for privacy. No peeking at the women at all, unless you count the little girl one of the guys brought in with him. Now there’s something you wouldn’t see anywhere in America.


I’ve probably mentioned to you that I work in poorly-heated rooms. Turns out I was wrong. The place where I work doesn’t, in fact, have any heat at all. None. The building was designed back when computing equipment generated so much heat you could barbecue ribs over them, so the builders installed Godzilla-sized air-conditioning units that ran full-blast, day and night, even in the winter. Now all of that equipment has been replaced by desk-top computers, which are warm, but not nearly warm enough to thaw your fingers after they’ve gone blue and numb, something that happens to me regularly at work.

In every refrigerated place I’ve worked, we’ve complained about the cold, not necessarily because the kind of people I work with are complainers – they are, but it’s more because we’re expected to type a lot, which gets hard to do when you can’t feel your fingertips. The complaints start out as grumbles at first, but by mid-winter we’re openly bitching to whoever will listen. Shortly after that, The Powers That Be whip out the thermometers. It always turns out to be about 64 degrees Fahrenheit, which sounds like a balmy spring day, but even though everybody realizes that we don’t work out in the sunshine, The Powers That Be seem to be using a line of reasoning that goes something like this: “32 is freezing. 64 is twice that number! Heck, that’s practically hot!”

I’m very protective of my body heat. It’s a safe bet you probably don’t want to hear about my underwear, but I’m going to mention that, even though I pad my clothes with several layers of polypropylene and wool, it’s barely enough to keep my blood circulating. I was talking to Richard Bennett and mentioned that after I get home from working a mid, I stand in a hot shower for about twenty minutes or I don’t feel human. “But what’s that got to do with the heat?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows.

in the zone

Just don’t even try to get Sean’s attention when his nose is in a book. He was at the kitchen table the other morning, devouring breakfast and a political treatise on the after-effects of fascism in Europe, or similar light reading. Outside, My Darling B, a load of groceries in her arms, tried to get him to open the patio door by rapping sharply on the glass three times. He didn’t even twitch. She rapped a couple more times; no response. She tried shouting, with similar results. It wasn’t until she gave the door a good, solid pounding, swinging her bent arm high over her head, that Sean finally looked around, as if he’d become dimly aware that someone, in a voice on the edge of hearing, was calling his name.

I ran into the same problem when I went to pick up Sean and B and the commissary. Sean was standing out front, because he was supposed to be watching for me, but when I caught sight of him I noticed he stood hunched over a magazine, deep in thought. Uh-oh, I said to myself. I tooted the horn as I drove up, but I should’ve known better. Luck was with me, though, in the form of a parking space close by, so I tooted again as I pulled in. He actually looked up this time, but in the entirely wrong direction, then quickly returned to his magazine.

Honk. Honk. Honk.

I was starting to piss off the other people in the parking lot, so I instead of the horn, I opened my door and shouted his name over the top of the van as loud as I could. His expression was puzzled as he looked around, then changed to recognition when he finally caught sight of me hanging out the side of the van, waving my arms. What I need is a howitzer, or some kind of remotely-controlled live wire down his shorts.


Spent the morning shoring up shelving in a storage shed the Air Force built onto our quarters. The shed is five feet square and about ten feet high, with bare, poured concrete walls up the sides, no shelves, and no way to attach any. How useful is that? It wasn’t hard to fix up, but took a couple hours, after which we piled into the car in search of ramen. The place we usually haunt wasn’t open, so we tried another shop we see every time we go to Shimoda; B usually says, “We ought to try that place some time,” so we finally did. It was a roadside diner kind of place in a porta-kabin, where you belly up to a counter and order one of five or six items. I was so hungry I ordered the large bowl of ramen; the guy served it to me in a bath tub.


I spent a few hours in the kitchen this afternoon, studying for promotion, glancing over my shoulder out the patio door every so often. We have a visitor. Sometimes the boys drop cereal when they take the trash out to the cans on the patio, and a small black-and-white bird, at little larger than a chickadee, comes to peck it up. He’s the only one that’s found the food so far, and we’ve been dropping bread crumbs on purpose these last few days. When B came home from the movies with Tim, they had a huge bucket of bird seed and a feeder, so I helped B figure out how to hang it for our little friend.

The neighborhood was dead quiet at 11:00 this morning when I went out to shovel the walks clear of about two inches of fluffy, new-fallen snow. Was everybody sleeping off the effects of the night before? When I went out again at about two in the afternoon, quite a few more people had come out to shovel their cars out of the snow.

ad nauseum

The Air Force gave me an official e-mail account so it could send me pictures of horribly mutilated and dead people. Used to be, I would’ve had to go to war to see disfigured corpses smeared with gore; now, I can study them over a cup of tea from the comfort of my desk. Thank goodness for technology.

The question you’re naturally asking yourself now, presuming you have the stomach to keep reading this not-very-funny drivel, is: Why would the Air Force send me pictures of bloody death? Am I engaged in some new study of battlefield action? No, this has nothing to do with the Air Force’s official business of blowing up stuff with big bombs. Last night’s e-mail, filled with distressingly detailed close-ups of children horribly injured in road accidents, was sent to everybody at work in the hope that it would somehow discourage excessive drinking over the holidays. I may be wrong, but I suspect those pictures will instead make many people want to drink a whole lot more than usual. I know after seeing them, I sure want to.

This is the fourth time in four months that somebody working for an Air Force safety office has sent me photos like this in the name of making the world better for all of us, bless their hearts. Shortly after arriving here, I had to sit through a safety briefing that bored me numb, then ended with a short film clip of a pedestrian hit by one car, then another, as he crossed the road. The moral of the story, which my mother taught me years ago, was “Look both ways.” If memory serves, Mom somehow got the same message across without the scared-straight video.

A winter safety brief featured pictures of people’s mutilated limbs, blackened by gangrene from frostbite, or chopped into little pieces after operating a snow blower without reading the operator’s manual. So the message I’m getting from the Air Force, over and over ad nauseum, is that people are stupid. Or have misinterpreted?


The whole family trooped down to outdoor rec to get fitted for ski gear. Lots of fun watching the kids clomp around in ski boots. We’re supposed to go skiing next weekend, so we thought we’d better get off our lazy duffs and get ready for it. B bought a set of ski clothes already; I sure hope she likes skiing enough to get plenty of use out of them.


I had to take the DLPT this morning. It was Test C, the one I always seem to get, and by this time I can answer about a dozen of the questions without hearing the audio or reading the text. For about a dozen more, I have to listen or skim for key words. If I’d studied, I probably would’ve kicked ass, but I have to admit I’ve been very bad, so I probably won’t be getting much FLPP this year, if at all.

[11/26/14: DLPT was the “Defense Language Proficiency Test,” a yearly test that was supposed to determine how well I understood the Russian language. There were three or four versions of the test, hence “Test C.” All three or four versions were written maybe a decade or two before I joined the Air Force and never changed; by 2001 I had most of the questions memorized, but not all the answers. FLPP was “Foreign Language Proficiency Pay,” a monthly stipend awarded to anyone who did well on the test. I think I got about fifty bucks a month for knowing the test as well as I did.]

flying saucer

Tim and I went sledding today. Last time we went, we drove out to the “ski hill” on the other side of the base, but this time we tromped a block up the road where, it turns out, there’s a great sledding hill right next to one of the tower apartment blocks. The best run looks like instant suicide when you’re standing at the top, but once you’re shooting down the inside of that first turn, you’re having the time of your life.

And what better way to enjoy a great sledding hill than on a saucer? Santa found one somewhere and left it under our tree, so I had a go and they’re every bit as much fun as I remember them. Right out of the gates I was going sideways, then backwards, and on my third or fourth run I just about flattened a kid. It was dead easy; he wasn’t even looking. I screamed “Heads up!” over and over, but he was too busy yelling at one of his buddies to pay any attention, so I put up my arm to shield my head from what looked like was going to be a whopping body slam, but just brushed him on the way past. Drat.

they don’t take plastic

Not that I think I’m Alan Greenspan or anything, but I may have a good idea why the Japanese economy is in such piss-poor shape: They’ve got, like, no clue when it comes to using credit cards.

It began to dawn on me the first time I went looking for an ATM. I couldn’t do it to save my life. I’m pretty sure there are more ATMs on this base than there are in all of Misawa city. I think I’ve seen one outside a bank, but in all the other places I’m used to seeing them – gas stations, convenience stores, shopping centers (shopping centers!) – just forget it.

So instead I’ve tried to pay for something with plastic. No, just forget that, too. Everybody wants cash. In the few stores that take a card, I had to go to the customer service counter in a back corner of the store, where they have a single card reader and one of those clunky things with the roller that makes an impression of the card on carbon paper. Unfortunately for me, I went through all that without making sure that what I was buying with plastic was something I wanted to keep forever. That’s very important, because getting a refund credited to a card is like asking the clerk to do algebra – he may have learned how to do it many moons ago, but hasn’t solved for x in years.

The one time I’ve asked for a refund, the ordeal lasted more than a half-hour. First, the clerk had to stare at the receipt for five or ten minutes, thoughtfully scratching his head. Then he ran my card through the machine, blooped a few buttons, made what looked like an exact copy of the receipt, and stared at them both. After about five minutes of that, he made a couple phone calls. A second clerk appeared. They both stared hard at the receipts for at least five minutes, saying nothing, before they decided to run my card through the machine again. This time, they made two or three more copies, and compared them all, with much discussion. Eventually they decided one of them looked right, and they gave that one to me with lots of apologies. Barb tried to return something at another store, and had the same experience.

Whenever that happens, I go to the BX and buy a packet of chewing gum or a spiral notebook, and pay for it with my Visa. Takes thirty seconds.