In 9th grade, all students at my school were required to take Language Arts. To my dismay, this turned out to be a public speaking class disguised as a writing class, which meant that my easy A was about to become a desperate C. Though friends have pointed out that I can be loud as fuck in public, especially while talking about embarrassing stories, I suddenly lose the ability to be coherent when placed in front of an audience.
I start talking about a mile a minute, sweating all the while as my face either turns as red as a drunkard’s, or as pale as someone about to pass out. My eyes will dart all around the room as if trying to identify who from the crowd is about to get up and shoot me. Whatever latent paranoia I have (which is a LOT) kicks into high gear, and I become convinced the audience is plotting my downfall at all times.
So yeah, public speaking and I don’t really get along.
But sadly, this class forced me to do it on a regular basis. It all culminated on one unfortunate day when we had to read a short story that we had written out loud to the class.
The assignment was to write a “funny” retelling of a classic fairy tale, and we all had to choose different ones. As a somewhat angry and depressed teenager, my idea of “funny” was a dark as shit Goldilocks and the Three Bears that took place in an apocalyptic future where weapons were as common as loose change. The body count in my story was startlingly high, and I was probably only saved from arrest by virtue of this being written before Columbine. My tale ended with both Goldilocks and the bears burning to death after Goldie’s flame thrower showers the house with fire. Goldie manically mutters that the temperature is now “juuuust right” as her hair bursts into flames.
I did not know in advance that we would have to read this out loud.
I heard about the change in the lesson plan during lunch, as students who had the class earlier in the day recounted their classmates’ “hilarious” stories. My only thought was, “I’M FUCKED.” I knew very well that my story was going to be seen as the ravings of a homicidal maniac, and I ran to the computer lab to shit out a different story in the ten minutes remaining before class.
I was unsuccessful.
And thus I found myself perched on a stool at the front of the class, having to read out loud some of the most disturbing shit I had ever written. As the bullets began to fly and blood ran from one end of the bears’ cabin to the other, I started to feel like I was watching a car wreck from afar. Try as I might, I couldn’t stop the brutal scene that was unfolding before me. Soon enough, my anxiety crested and I completely lost it. I began to laugh hysterically, describing the deadly fire between giggles as I gasped for air. I actually started crying as I plowed through the morbid tale, laughing so hard that my words about graphic murder came out as squeaks. I eventually slid off the stool to the floor in a desperate attempt to abort the insanity. The teacher insisted I continue reading from the cold linoleum. He did not much care for me.
In the end, I received a C- on the story (my teacher cited disliking “black humor”), and I gained a reputation for being batshit INSANE for the rest of my freshman year of high school. Fucking fantastic.
The term “calisthenics” brings to my mind an image of old-timey men and women stretching in place. The men have handlebar mustaches and old-fashioned wrestling suits, while the women have feathered hats and floor-length black skirts.
In Japan, or at least in the small fishing village where I lived, calisthenics were a daily occurrence. Shop keepers did them in their stores, fishermen did jumping jacks before boarding their boats, and the schoolchildren stretched and lunged every day before singing the school song and hearing the principal’s announcements.
I, too, was expected to participate. The movements were slow and deliberate, and had been ingrained into the memory of every citizen here since they were old enough to join in. I’d raise my arms when I was supposed to swing, and swing when everyone else threw themselves on the ground to stretch. I frequently hit the people next to me as I flailed my limbs around in a sad attempt to follow along. My students rolled their eyes at me, wondering why I couldn’t seem to get it.
Physical exertion and routines have never been my strong point, which meant that many aspects of Japan didn’t agree with me much. But I continued to try, and the students would giggle at my pathetic efforts. Field day events are frequent in Japanese schools, and the students compete between their teams to be the strongest, fastest, and most nimble. These undōkai (運動会) were the bane of my existence since they always seemed to occur on the hottest day of the season, and the teachers were required to participate.
I’d run around, carrying massive logs in my business-casual slacks, kicking up dust and sweating like a pig. I was sent out to play a sandbag collecting game with everyone over 70 in the village (which was practically the whole town), and I STILL LOST. That’s how bad I am at games in general – a feeble old woman can beat me in a FEAT OF STRENGTH.
And what do you get for winning at these field days? Why, household items such as washcloths, trash bags, and tissues! Believe it or not, some of the housewives present would have cut a bitch to get the last roll of plastic wrap. I gave my box of tissues to a woman who had a fevered look in her eye. I did not want to be stabbed that day.
But back to the calisthenics. Since 1928, Japan has been airing the Rajio Taisō (ラジオ体操), or the “Radio Exercise.” The current version that you can hear daily at 6:30 am and 3:00 pm on NHK was recorded in 1951 by the Japanese government. It features a stern-sounding man yelling numbers while you do the prescribed motions. According to this article, about 20% of the population still does it each day, along with 76.4% of elementary schools in Japan. Even some businesses make their employees do it daily. Here, you can see the bizarrely militaristic ritual in action.
So I have a confession to make. I am a video game nerd.
Now, I know people who have it worse than me. Way worse. But I spent a good portion of my formative years playing video games. My family’s first system was the Atari 2600, whose polished wood veneer hearkened back to the system’s origins in the 1970s. We children hoarded cartridges like squirrels preparing for winter, though my hand-eye coordination at that age meant that my character in Pitfall! fell to his death every single damn time. Pixellated crocodiles and scorpions were poised to devour his corpse, and when I was at the controls, they ate well indeed.
I later graduated to the NES in 1985, where I continued to fail with alarming regularity. We were such early adopters that our system didn’t even come with Duck Hunt, and instead was packaged only with Super Mario Bros. I was miserable at classics like the aforementioned Mario Bros. (including 2 & 3), Punch-Out!!, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Mega Man. But I was surprisingly decent at Balloon Fight, Bubble Bobble, Dr. Mario, Donkey Kong, and Donkey Kong Jr. I think I was just too young for most of the other games. To give you an idea of my age, one of my favorite games on the NES was Sesame Street A-B-C & 1-2-3, which I remember being shockingly difficult at the time. Later, I eventually was able to play Tiny Toon Adventures and DuckTales over and over again, but I also rented terrible titles from Blockbuster like Mario Is Missing. Even though I played that awful game only once back in 1993 at age 10, I still remember how crappy it was.
But my older sister was a whiz at the NES, and I would spend hours watching her play since I couldn’t play myself without instantly dying. How did she do it? We also got a single Game Boy, which caused much strife between us siblings. The battery life was abysmal, and the graphics were only black and white, but that thing made car trips infinitely more bearable.
We purchased a SNES in 1991, which I proceeded to dominate. I’d beg my parents to rent me new games from Blockbuster every week, and I eventually hit my video game stride. I fondly remember games like ClayFighter, The Lion King, EarthBound (still one of my faves), The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (ditto), Mario Paint (a console game that bizarrely came with a mouse), Pilotwings, Secret of Mana (THE BEST), SimAnt (yeah, I was into role-playing as an insect), Star Fox (fuck you, Slippy), Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, Yoshi’s Island, Super Mario RPG, Donkey Kong Country, Super Metroid, and Earthworm Jim (I loved this so much I even submitted fan art to Nintendo Power magazine. Yes, my sister had a subscription.). I remember playing stinkers like Bass Masters Classic (UGH, what was I thinking?!), Cool Spot, The Great Waldo Search, and E.V.O.: Search for Eden (an admittedly terrible game that I nonetheless loved so much that I bought it with my allowance). I was never really into sports or fighting games, mostly because none of my friends played video games. What fun are those games against a computer?
My brother meanwhile had bought a Sega Genesis, and I recall playing Ecco the Dolphin on his system and thinking it was the stupidest game I had ever seen. He would go on to buy the PlayStation, while my sister and I stayed loyal to Nintendo and bought an N64. I plowed through Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Mario Kart 64, Pilotwings 64, Star Fox 64 (Slippy, damn you!), and Super Mario 64.
After this era, I mostly stopped playing video games, only picking up them up again after becoming addicted to rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. Nowadays, I have a Wii, Nintendo DS, and an Xbox 360. I still play Zelda, Metroid, and Super Mario Bros. on the Wii, and Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption on the Xbox. I’ve shouted at a Nintendog on the DS (not my proudest moment), enjoyed the writing of the Phoenix Wright series, and even tried Pokemon briefly before realizing it was just too damn time-consuming.
Well, now that I’ve thoroughly embarrassed myself, what are some of your favorite games from back in the day? Make me feel less alone as a girl gamer – please?
Adolescence is a tough time for a girl.
Since I was too embarrassed to ask my mom to go bra shopping, I went without until a group of friends cornered me at a middle school dance and informed me that “it was time.” Evidently, my burgeoning bosoms were downright distracting, and required restraint. Check out all that alliteration there. Aw, yeah.
Anyway, I finally managed to work up the courage to ask for a bra, to which my mom responded with a mild shrug. “Sure, we’ll go to the mall this weekend.” But then came the mortifying selection process, which involved my mom running around a crowded department store and holding training bras up to my chest.
For any guys reading, a training bra is an elastic piece of fabric with no underwire. It’s essentially useless unless you’re a AA cup, but it’s main function is to simply get you used to wearing an scratchy new piece of clothing on your chest. Until you grow accustomed to the sensation of a bra, it’s incredibly uncomfortable. You futz with it constantly, waiting until the end of the day when you can rip the accursed thing off your body. Later come underwire bras, which are typically even worse. It took years of shopping before I managed to finally locate comfortable bras, though they cost $50 a pop.
Anyway, though I finally had a few training bras to cover my offending boobs, I still felt extremely self-conscious when changing for gym class. I tried to perfect the tried-and-true “show nothing” method of changing, which involved twisting yourself into a pretzel under your shirt to put on new clothes while showing absolutely no undergarments whatsoever. But pubescent girls are always checking out each other’s underwear, apparently, since I was called out on my raggedy white training bras on a regular basis. I was reluctant to repeat the department store walk of shame again with my mom, and so just kept wearing what I had.
Eventually, I hit on the idea of ordering “bras” from J Crew under the guise of bathing suits. They had several underwire bikini options, which I somehow felt was less embarrassing than asking my mom to order me things from Victoria’s Secret. My new bikini bathing suit never saw the light of day at a pool or beach. Instead, I wore it as underwear every gym day.
At first, I got compliments from the other girls on my new purple bra. But soon, as I wore it day in and day out, people became concerned. Was this the only bra I owned? Finally, someone realized that the fabric was pretty unusual for a bra, and they recognized it as a bathing suit. I had been caught! I retired the suit immediately, worried that the gossip mill would spread around my shameful secret.
The next week I finally just asked my mom for new bras, which turned out to be no problem at all. Ugh, I have no desire to ever go back to that overly self-conscious time.