[Editor's note: After a one-month intermission, Andrew Struthers' "Americanface" returns to The Tyee today. If you haven't been following the series, it's fast and easy to catch up here. Those of you who are eager for more, please take note. We used to offer, Monday through Thursday, 90-second episodes of Struthers' weirdly compelling digital tale, and then roll all those into one compendium on Fridays. But we noticed that most of you preferred to watch the Friday compendium. So Andrew has decided to roll out the rest of his story in six-minute segments once a week -- on Mondays now, instead of Fridays. The daily shorter bits, we're dropping from here on out. Hey, it's called experimental filmmaking for a reason! So, tune in Mondays for your latest installment of "Americanface, Act Two," starting today. And enjoy the accompanying text Struthers' provides to go with each segment.]
It may seem strange and kinky that Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi, who are brother and sister, are also husband and wife. Not only that, they begat the human race. Western visitors feel they can legitimately ask, Are these Gods? Or hillbillies?
And yet our own biblical forbears, Abraham and Sarah, who begat the line of David, from which sprung Jesus, are also brother and sister -- although, as Abraham points out in Genesis 20:12, "She is the daughter of my father, but not of my mother."
Cold comfort. And those two aren't even mythical.
There's nothing creepier than learning the truth about one's own culture. But a person's own culture tends to be invisible, like water to a fish. This is why we spend so much time recoiling in horror from the ways of others.
I knew one salaryman who was about to be sent to Australia to sell filing cabinets when the pre-trip medical revealed his newborn daughter had a congenital heart defect -- and not just because it doomed her to a life of infirmity. Turns out his company's medical insurance plan wouldn't cover her treatment outside of Japan. That meant he had to live alone in Oz for five years while his wife and child stayed home.
His only option was to refuse, and that would mean a desk by the window. What would you do?
Maurice Wilson was of that breed of British gentlemen who pushed everything to the limit, and beyond. Although born into a stiff upper class these characters enjoyed considerable freedom from every kind of cultural norm, because it was understood they included in their number men like Shipton, Shackleton and Scott.
Scott was a nettle in my Scottish childhood. In the first place he was English, which seemed wrong. Secondly, his doomed 1912 assault on the South Pole, overshadowed by Amundsen's success and ending with every degradation short of cannibalism, was drummed into our little heads as the logical endgame of the hero's journey in this post-Empire world. Scott of the Antarctic, like the War Debt, was used as a sort of proof that our lives would amount to nothing, regardless of how we strived. This sort of psychic cannibalism is rife in a culture in decline.
The Japanese have a word for eccentrics like Yuichiro Miura, the man who skied down Everest: kichigai -- crazy spirit.
I asked Mr. Shin, owner of the Guest House Kyoto, if I was kichigai. He said, "Yes, but -- um -- but there are two kinds of kichigai. First kind, like you, all of the time he make a joke. The other kind, maybe he burn down your house."
At this point I was hoping I was the former and fearing I was the latter. Shin seemed fairly certain I was the right sort of kichigai. And he seemed to know the score -- although the idea of someone burning down his house was an obsession. And with good reason. Not only is Kyoto made of wood, but he was host to a gaggle of gaijin who drank freely from the beer machine around the corner then passed out on the tatami, sometimes leaving the kerosene heater cranked all night.
One winter morning my fellow Canuck, certified good-kind-of-kichigai Kris Walmsly, who could catch a chocolate in his teeth no matter how high you flung it, hanged his shirt over the kerosene heater to dry and left the room. I think he asked one of the other denizens to keep an eye on it, but then something unexpected occurred and they left too.
When Shin arrived, the place was deserted except for Kris's shirt, now fully ablaze and dancing like a fire demon above the untended stove. It must have scarred Shin deeply because a few days later he showed up during breakfast with the charred shirt in a dry cleaner's bag. He held it up like Exhibit A at a murder trial and said, "I only say once, and I never mention it again. Is not a joke. It really happen."
And he was true to his word. He never mentioned it again. But Kris certainly did. I guess I wasn't the only one who worried he was the wrong kind of kichigai.
DARKENING OF THE LIGHT
I realize now that there was never any chance that I was in fact creating my own reality around me. That's called dreaming. But at the time it seemed like a definite possibility that life was a kind of waking dream.
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