Then I got to New York’s JFK International airport. I was herded along with other weary travelers to immigration, puffy-chested security officers coldly glaring at us as if we were criminals or soldiers captured in a war. An immigration officer signaled for me to approach the desk and held out her palm to indicate she wanted my documents. I presented my passport and she scanned it with her cold eyes for a moment before asking me how long I’ve been gone and what I was doing there. I was given an “okay, go,” as she slapped my passport onto the counter for me to gather, and I walked on to baggage claim then to customs. I approached the customs desk and stopped at the giant red line where giant red letters on the floor told me to stop. A man ahead of me approached the customs officer. The officer looked past the passenger and locked eyes with me, then held out his chubby palm, indicating for me to wait. Funny, because I thought I was perfectly stationary and obeying the instructions by standing on a big red line along with my luggage, because the big red line with big red letters instructed me to do so. When the other passenger was dismissed, the rotund attendant, perhaps in his twenties and with a tattooed sleeve and cool guy beard hiding the absence of his neck and personality, gave a single firm wave, urgently snapping his hand at the wrist to call me forward. I approached him, my passport in hand, and as I held it up to him (open to the photo page to save him the hassle) he aggressively snatched it out of my hand and glared at it, not saying a word and never making eye contact with me. He then snapped my documents back towards me, and whipped his hand to the left, with an index finger pointed at the exit. “Welcome to fucking America. Jesus Christ,” I said to him.
I’m spoiled. And I shouldn’t be. There’s something wrong with that. And it makes me sick to think that the measure by which I have realized this is the result of a culture of aggression and I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-anything-or-anyone-but-me American attitude as compared with the behavior of millions of warm, friendly, pleasant people on a strip of Islands in the Pacific. The fact that there exists such universal misery and anger – I don’t know what else to call it because I think that’s what it is – just makes me sad. How did I offend by going through JFK airport? Am I not a patron, a customer using a service for which I have paid handsomely, therefore helping to fund the continuation of these facilities and the jobs of meathead security guards and notoriously incompetent TSA staff? So why then all the attitude? Was everyone having a bad day that afternoon? Well boo fucking hoo. It’s no excuse to treat me or anyone else like shit. The world is not out to get you. I’m blown away how poorly we’re treated in the States when for the most part people have it pretty damn good. And on this topic, I’m happy to be back in Japan, a place where kindness and respect reign supreme. On that note, lemme tell you what I’ve been up to:
As my friends and family know, I spent a few weeks back home to pay a visit to as many people as I could see. My dearest friend Joe graciously picked me up at Hell the airport and we spent together my first few days back on American soil. Dinner at a Mexican restaurant was in order. I have not yet seen a Mexican restaurant in Japan (although I hear they do exist) so I was eager to get my hands and mouth on a cheesy, rice-and-bean-filled, sauce-soaked pillow of flour tortilla goodness. And it happened, and continued to happen throughout my visit. In fact lots of food adventures happened. Pizza happened. Vietnamese food happened. Thai happened. Neptune Diner happened. (Now there’s a place where the prices are still on par with the average worker’s salary, where they don’t pretend that putting a sprig of parsley on a plate and neatly arranging eggs and toast warrants charging twelve bucks; thanks for that, Neptune) American Bar and Grill happened and happened and happened again. It may seem trivial. Oh wow Marshall, you ate food, probably because you got hungry at some moment and wanted to eat. Well yeah I did. But when you’ve been away for a long time from some things you like, love, crave, desire, you appreciate them even more when you finally have them.
I made a point to see my family as soon as I was back in town. My brother kindly let me borrow his ever-reliable turd of a car. I parked in the driveway and as I walked up to my parents’ door my dad came out onto the porch to greet me. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him the entire year. Hand resting on his belly, he motioned across the property to his new toy. “You see that backhoe there? I tell you, I don’t know how I got a damn thing done around here without that for the past thirty years.” I acknowledged it and said I noticed some of the work he must have been doing. “I see you’re building a wall over there. What’s that all about?” His response: “Well, I have that backhoe now, I can do it!” My father, recently retired and now busier than ever, can now move massive amounts of dirt around his property with less effort than ever before. And that is every reason to play in mud, I guess. It’s good to see you, pops.
Skateboarding happened. A lot more than before, too. I’ll thank my good friend Jeremy for that. We went on at least four road trips to hit up some skate parks around the region, from Pittsburgh and York in Pennsylvania to Rehoboth in Delaware to Salisbury and Laurel in Maryland and beyond. I hadn’t skated in over a year, and it came back to me pretty easily. Jeremy was sure to get in plenty of riding time with me while I was visiting. Inspired, I brought a bunch of boards back to Japan with me to share the love. I used every kilogram of luggage allowed by ANA, and the day after I returned to Japan I assembled a new cruiser and rode to my favorite sushi place down the street from me.
Music happened. My former bandmates carried on in my absence, filling the drum void by recruiting a drummer the boys used to play with. And I like it. They sound good. Adam asked if I wanted to put some songs together to play at a show they had at the end of the month. We crafted a five-song set to play on the Friday before I would leave for Japan again. It felt great to be behind the kit with an old friend and amazing songwriter. On the night of the show I saw so many faces I hadn’t seen in so long. Old friends from roller derby, my mama and a close friend of hers, my cousin, friends from local bands and the scene, the regular ABAG crew, and so many others. Being back at ABAG felt good (I had also been there several other times over the month) and it’s always felt like home. It’s come as you are. It’s Cheers with good music and art. It’s good food served by the coolest peeps in Lancaster, hands down.
My old bandmates had double duty that night; two of them are in a new band called Tigerhawks which is really good. Adam of course was playing with me and also with Sherwin. Headlining (although I don’t think he planned to play that spot) was Joe Jack Talcum, my dear friend and longtime musical inspiration. I missed seeing him perform, and he didn’t disappoint. I also managed to attend a few shows while I was home. A friend of mine offered me and some friends backstage passes to see Ween at Festival Pier in Philly, and I also got to see my friends’ excellent band Ton-Taun in Lancaster before I left.
My former roommate and her wife offered to let me stay with them for the duration of my visit. They are great people and great friends, and staying with them felt like home to me, especially on those days when a town so familiar to me didn’t. It’s odd how that works. On one hand, I know that place. I’m familiar with it and I have roots there. But on the other hand, I see how it’s been changing in my absence. New shops are cropping up. More well-lit, cozy spaces for affluent white suburbanites are finding a place here and there. Rents are going up. Demand is going up. The inability for the disadvantaged and marginalized to find and keep a safe and affordable home is going up. And that bothers me a lot. Again I hear people talking about community this and community that. What community are they talking about? All I see are entitled, tattooed, overpriced-coffee-and-craft-brew-drinking millennials strutting about from one renovated, comfortably climate-controlled space to the next. You want to build community in this town? Go South. Go East. See those neighborhoods. Bridge that gap. Help those people rather than build another boutique clothing shop or gourmet donut joint. (Since the gourmet cupcake market is saturated, I guess the natural progression is to capitalize on another utilitarian pastry and disguise it as something worth charging several bucks for, but then again anyone can make a batch of delicious cupcakes for pennies whereas I don’t know shit about frying a donut) Don’t get me wrong; I know commerce is especially important to cities, as is tourism, celebrity sightings, and getting ranked in travel magazines. But I also don’t see the opportunities available for the average Joe to find gainful, meaningful employment to keep up with the fancy layer of poop that’s being spread all over the place.
I tune into the feeling of being in my hometown and assess what that means to me. In many ways it feels always like home, but in many ways it doesn’t. I’m okay with that; it’s just a strange feeling when it happens. I’m doing what I should be doing, and that is creating my own experiences, writing my own story, just like always.