During Dark and Daylight: The Story of a Tokyo Denny’s

Last summer, while barreling over Russia and the Pacific Ocean on a return trip from South Korea, I was engrossed in After Dark by Haruki Murkami. With a clock counting the hours between 1:00 AM and 6:00 AM at the beginning of each chapter and typical Murakami surrealism, I regret that I’ll never be able to read this book for the first time ever again. Like all good things, After Dark begins in a Denny’s, like my own Japanese adventure in the infant days of 2013.

I don’t know if we were hungry, jet-lagged, eager to get out or a combination of all three. But, in the cold New Year’s Day, Alley and I bundled up and made our way around the corner. In all it’s familiar glow was the blockish-sign with hazy red, suspended in the neon darkness that was Tokyo. After eight hours waiting in the airport, subsisting on thin wheat cookies, I was in relief.

You see, I don’t travel to places to try the food. I just don’t. I like the sights, the sounds, and the culture. But, I don’t particularly care for an authentic culinary experience. I’m the world-traveled American, who at the end of the day, just wants the comfort of Taco Bell. On this New Year’s Day, as per usual, I wasn’t leaning towards a bento box or authentic sushi. I wanted to familiar, and that familiar was a Denny’s.

Our meal began with ordering drinks – rich, savory Coca-Cola. In the States, a soda at a sit-down establishment may cost you up to $3.50, with free refills. In Japan, the world is different. You can order a Coke, but it’s just one Coke. It will cost you around $6. Yes, $6. Or, if you’re a high-roller, you can order unlimited Cokes for $12. What did we do? Order unlimited Cokes. I was thirsty and Coca-Cola in Asia has a magnificent taste.

I scanned the menu, smattered with Japanese characters and pictures. No English. Traditional pancakes faded into spaghetti with raw egg on top, strange salads, and other pastas. I love pasta, and I was ravenous. I didn’t want a burger, but rather the dish with fettuccine noodles and white sauce topped with steamed crab meat caught my eye. We ordered, and I took in the view.

In one corner, a Japanese woman in a mint green kimono sat with her two children. This was not a flimsy, tourist kimono, but an authentic kimono. Her hair was tied up in a bun, and she ate with chopsticks while her children fought over french fries. I tried not to stare, but among the chrome and the neon, there was this traditionally dressed woman with a serene aura eating in a trademark American restaurant.

Even further down the row of booths sat a legitimate sumo wrestler. A group of teenagers bustled in, heads buried in phones and thumbs texting away wildly. I watched the cooks in the kitchen slide french toast and burgers and raw squid in salad into the window, waiting for the servers.

Everything that one would image you’d see in Japan, I saw in the Denny’s. Our food finally came, I savored the thick sauce and chewy crab meat. I drank the most expensive Coke I’ve ever purchased. I struggled to wrap the long noodles around the cheaply made chopsticks.

Unlike Mari, the main character and Denny’s patron in After Dark, my evening did not spiral into a mystical journey across Tokyo’s seedy underworld. It ended with me tucked into my bunk bed at the hostel, only for us to arise and return to the same Denny’s. While I can barely tell you the other meals I ate in Tokyo, I can tell you about going to Denny’s. And I can tell you about the woman in the kimono and the endless stream of Coca-Cola, punctuated with a foreign chatter.

Book Review: Approval Junkie by Faith Salie

What’s the wildest thing you’ve done to win approval? Go without eating? Wear less makeup? Undergo an exorcism?

If you’re anything like Faith Salie, of NPR’s Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me and author of Approval Junkie, you’ll relate well to this hilariously serious collection of essays. Salie spent most of her life wanting to please others, and ultimately, herself. She talks about winning her high school’s beauty pageant and the meticulous planning it took to snag the crown, Aqua Net hair and all. Or, baking a cake: She could just go buy one, but did she? Hell no. That’s the price you pay to win approval.

Or, perhaps you’ve spent your years wanting the approval of a spouse. Faith surely did. She abided by her ex-husband’s (known as WASBAND) bizarre rules and wishes. Throughout the pages of Approval Junkie, you’ll find similarities with your own life: especially if you are a woman.

Approval Junkie is highly recommended for those who have done just about anything for a gold star or a comforting word.  You’ll find that ultimately, the only person you have to please is yourself.

Lola: A Review

Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love is a journey to a world that few of us will ever know. In the heart of Los Angeles, gangs rule portions of the city. With drugs, crime, and family ties deeply entrenched, Love takes us into the mind of the titular character: Lola. Described as a loyal girlfriend of a drug lord, Lola is the picture of a typical girl. She supports her boyfriend in the Crenshaw Six, and plays the role wonderfully. However, what many do not know is that Lola is the leader of the gang, and the boys are merely her backup. Lola is a story for those who crave difference and suspense.

Book Review: Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

Things We Lost in the Fire takes the reader on a journey to Enriquez’s Argentina, where drug addicts roam in blackouts, kids disappear in the streets and in houses, and women set themselves on fire to protest abuse. The reading is magical and enchanting. The way Enriquez weaves stories and plot lines makes the reader feel as if he or she is not really in Argentine, but a different world on a different globe. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates literature and feeling adventerous.

Book Review: Human Acts by Han Kang

From the author of The Vegetarian, Han Kang’s Human Acts is a riveting tale of one young boy: Dong-ho. Killed in the riots in 1980s South Korea, Dong-ho’s life echoes between the lives of a prisoner, journalist, and his own mother. We hear from a corpse searching for his friend, a journalist hoping to avoid censorship, and a factor worker desperately seeking justice. For anyone interested in rising stories and intertwined lives, Human Acts is a must read.

 

Goals

For a Type A personality as myself, happiness is a to-do list. Even more happiness is a to-do list with completed tasks. For 2017, here are a few goals I have formulated:

  1. On December 26th, my boyfriend of 14 months asked me to marry him. I said yes! My goal? Read five books about marriage and relationships. So far, I’ve read two this year. So far: Things I’d Wish I’d Know Before I Got Married by Gary Chapman and Lists to Love by For Busy Wives by Mark and Susan Merrill. Suggestions appreciated for any future reads.
  2. Attend Eucharistic Adoration at least once a month. For non-Catholics unfamiliar with the practice, click HERE for more information from Our Sunday Visitor.
  3. Pursue peace: Often, I am wracked with thoughts of everything that can go wrong. I’ve been convicted that worry is a sin. It means that ultimately, I do not trust God to take care of my needs. Little-by-little, I’m pursuing peace from worry.
  4. Lose 40 pounds.
  5. Hit the gym 3-4 times per week.
  6. Continue daily readings from the Abide in my Word Mass readings for 2017.
  7. Blog once a week. We’ll see how this goes.

Wonder.

If you told me, say, five years ago that on December 26th, 2016, I would become engaged to a New England Catholic man of East Asian descent, I wouldn’t have believed you. Strange how life works. Stay happy, y’all.