Where the living is easy


I moved to the coast almost 15 years ago. Before that, I was living in Tokyo, shoehorned into a small apartment in a building complex full of other folks just like me. I don't mean Americans like me, but I mean that we were all there being part of the system. Being from Cleveland, OH, where space is plentiful, and most houses have a green lawn in the backyard, living in an apartment complex was tough. I don't know if it was because I was a foreigner or because the person living below had ears there that were extra sharp, but she always came upstairs to ring the doorbell and complain. It might have been noisy because both of my kids at the time were small. It would have been strange if the children had sat silently in their rooms all day, every day. If that had happened, I would have wondered if there was something wrong with their physical or mental health. Unfortunately, the lady who lived downstairs was the building Superintendent. That role must have filled her with an inflated sense of authority. Quite literally, for the five years that I lived there, she rang the doorbell every day to complain about the noise. When her daily doorbell ringing didn't work, she took to calling the real estate agency. We'd often get a phone call from them warning us to keep the noise down and not pay too much attention to the lady downstairs as she was quite well known for being a troublemaker.


Although the apartment downstairs was the same size as ours, four adults lived in the apartment, judging by the exterior structure. There are only two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a small living room. I don't know how they fit for adults in there. The Superintendent lady told me that I should take better care of my children so that they are not so noisy. She suggested that I put them in front of the television as a way to pacify them. By pacify, I'm sure she meant lobotomize, which is what would have happened if I had sat my children in front of the television every single day all day and denied them regular play. She went so far as to call my wife a terrible mother, which made her very upset. Aside from being a little bit too soft on the children, she was a magnificent mother who made the lunchboxes with care and spent time doing all sorts of creative things to stimulate the children's minds. She never believed it was OK to sit the children in front of the television just to keep them quiet. Because she had put so much effort into taking care of the children, she was pretty offended by the Superintendent's lady's comment. One day she got so frustrated and she couldn't speak. Come on. She could do cry.


One day I decided to take out my soprano saxophone and play it. In my mind, it should have been OK as it was one or two in the afternoon. I honked around on the horn for about an hour then put the instrument away. Later that evening, I got a phone call from the real estate agent. He started with the usual greetings, then said in a reluctant voice, "you were playing an instrument today, weren't you?" I was surprised and excited to tell him about it. I said, "yes, it's a soprano saxophone. I love the sound because it has a kind of magical quality to it." The real estate agent politely listened to me for another two minutes before he interrupted to tell me that playing instruments was a menace to the neighbors and that I should not do it again. I know my saxophone playing is terrible. However, at two in the afternoon for one hour, I thought I should have the right to practice my horn as much as anyone has the right to do anything within the building. If it had been two in the morning, that would have been a different story.


One day the lady came up to ring the doorbell and do her daily ritual of complaining. She started to use the phrase "kyoudou seikatsu," which means communal living. In other words, she was trying to tell me that it was a shared space where everyone was living. Therefore, we all had to live together and respect each other's needs. I thought that was awesome because it was my chance to ask her to allow me to practice my saxophone once in a while, let the kids be free, and by the evening promise to remain silent. After all, the communal living should have also included my needs since I was a tenant in the building. She looked surprised and shook her head back and forth violently, saying, "no, no, no! That's not what I mean." what she wanted was for me to submit entirely so that it wasn't communal living but all living for her. None of the other neighbors complained, only her. I felt that demand was unfair and imbalanced, so I ignored it. Since she was unwilling to give me time to be free, I was certainly not willing to be completely and utterly silent the whole day through for her. Of course, I am not a total animal, and I did my best to keep the noise down at night when people were likely to be tired or ready for bed.


There's one small thing that I have to be grateful for to the Superintendent lady, our daily back and forth had turned us into frenemies. In some ways, she had created a sort of micro-community between us. At that time, I had a growing need to be part of some kind of community. I was starting to feel the great distance that Tokyo generates. There are so many people, but they are all far away from each other, both emotionally and geographically. I only knew one or two people out of the hundreds who lived in the apartment complex. If I start to say hello to a random person walking the halls, they would look at me as if I were about to mug them and steal their wallet. After complaining about this, several friends, my DJ gal pal Yuka, suggested that I move out near her by the sea. She often talked fondly about her neighborhood and how many artists live together in harmony and community. I came out once to visit her and ate lunch at a Denny's by the sea. We strolled along the beach, and I saw a fisherman standing on a pier with this line in the water and mount Fuji in the background behind him. He looked pretty similar to this photo you see above which I took yesterday. Pardon the pun, but I was hooked immediately. Soon after, I loaded up the moving truck and came to this quiet and slightly quirky beach town. And I have never had any regrets. I love this place so much, and if I have my way, this is where I will be when I slowly transition from this plane to the next.


(as usual I will go back and edit this later.)

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