Archive for February 2010

Cell Phones

February 27, 2010

I wrote this for our English conversation salon at Tamana Library.

The modern American “Romeo and Juliet” movie came out while I was in junior high school. Just a couple years later, cellular phones became popular. I sometimes wonder what would have happened to Romeo and Juliet if they’d had their own phones. If you don’t know the story, I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, so I’ll just say that phones would have been very convenient for many Shakespeare characters. Shakespeare often used mistaken identities, misunderstandings, and coincidental meetings to move his plots forward, especially in his comedies. If the characters could have called each other to work things out, they wouldn’t have had so many problems. To my disappointment, it will be difficult to portray the Bard’s works in modern times from now on. Fortunately, Shakespeare’s strong suits, his beautiful writing and fascinating characters, can never go out of style.

An interesting side effect of cell phones is that we don’t need so many phone booths anymore. My students aren’t allowed to carry cell phones, so the pay phone in our school is used a lot. Also, people traveling to other countries, such as myself, need them sometimes. To my frustration, when I went home for Christmas, I didn’t have an American phone, and when I needed to call my friends one night because I went to the wrong restaurant, there were no pay phones to be found. I’ve heard that England’s famous red phone booths are really dirty and stinky now, because the only people who need to use them are the kind of people you wouldn’t want to talk to.

But in the old days, all kinds of people used phone booths. They were ubiquitous. In the 1950’s in America, many students tried to stuff themselves and their friends inside phone booths for fun. There is a record for the most people inside a phone booth at once. The record is 15 people. The most people to fit inside a booth while someone is placing a call is 12. Sounds uncomfortable, doesn’t it? I’ve included a picture.

Anyway, phone booths are really popular in movies. There are phone booth scenes in comedies and romantic comedies and even dramas. In “The Matrix,” they’re the portal between the real world and the computer world. Eight years ago, there was a movie called “Phone Booth” starring Colin Farrell. A businessman was pinned inside a booth by a man with a sniper rifle, and he had to talk to the mysterious man for 80 minutes. The film was a hit.

I am worried about the possible connection between cell phone use and cancer. Well, I’m not, but my father is, so the fear is in the back of my mind. Some people think the radiation from our powerful phones causes cancer. Even so, I think cell phone use is a modern job requirement so I’ll just accept my phone as a hazard for our era and hope it’s all talk.

A big concern in America as well as Japan is that cell phones separate us from the people who are immediately around us. I often see people at parties draw into corners and text other friends. Some students do it in class. Actors and musicians get really irritated when phones go off during their performances, and rightly so, because they kill the mood: they jar our concentration from the art and bring us back into the real world. Talking on a cell phone, and especially sending a text message, while driving is dangerous. But I think we are becoming more aware of these problems. At my weekend prayer activities with the Catholic Church, we would all put our phones away so nothing could distract us from God.

But all in all, I think cell phones are an incredible invention, and the more people have them, the more productive our economy will be. My current phone has a phone book, a memo pad, and a calendar, and it can send e-mail, so it’s much easier for me to keep my appointments. So I don’t need to keep track of so many files and papers. In elementary school, I was very forgetful, but thanks to my phone, I can take notes right away, so I’m much more responsible and reliable. Also, when I moved to my new house, I didn’t have the Internet for two months, but I could still communicate with my family by sending e-mails from my phone. Cell phone cameras and videos have made it much easier for the common person to send information: we don’t have to rely on newspaper and television companies as much anymore. It’s too bad the great people who came before us could not use cell phones, but I’ll make the most of my own.

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A good day for America and a bad day for me

February 8, 2010

Congratulations to New Orleans! What a wonderful time it is for their community. They can have a parade this Tuesday and Mardi Gras the next, and on top of that they’re getting a new mayor! I’m halfway across the world, but judging from the news stories, this team meant everything to their town, and this season will bring them healing. As a Colts fan, I still want to dive to the bottom of the ocean, but I feel some peace about how the season ended, just as I did in 2007 when our loss helped set up the epic Pats-Giants Super Bowl.

I hear the Saints were deserving victors: they played very well; they had a great game plan, and they were well-coached. I can only give hearsay because the game kicked off at 8:25 AM Japan Time, coinciding with our morning staff meeting. I checked the box score online. (It says Drew Brees was 32 of 39 for 288 yards, 2 TDs, and no picks, which is incredible.) Before first period, we were winning 3-0 with 7:30 left in the 1st. Before second period, the Saints were trailing 10-3, and they were about to kick a field goal. Before third period, we’d just scored a touchdown to take a 17-13 lead. And after third period, we were on New Orleans’s 15, trailing 31-17. We lost the ball and the game over the course of passing period.

And then I had to survive the rest of the day. It was like getting into a car crash during lunch break, then coming back to work and pretending nothing happened. No one at school knew or cared about American football, so they totally didn’t commiserate. If my favorite baseball team had just lost, they would have shown compassion, but since it was football, even “we lost” sounded like gibberish.

A couple third-quarter kicking decisions indicated the difference between the two coaches to me. Sean Payton caught the Colts by surprise with an onside kick to start the third quarter. It wasn’t as risky as usual because early enough in the game that the Colts could never expect it, but it was just after halftime so he had time to prepare for it. Jim Caldwell called for a 51-yard field goal attempt by a 41-year old kicker who hadn’t made a kick from out there since 2006. By the book, kicking a field goal is the safe decision, but in that case the better choice was to go for it. It wasn’t that Payton was risky and Caldwell was cautious; rather, Payton was aggressive and Caldwell was conventional. According to some articles I’ve read, the Colts’ attack even became predictable over the course of the game, and they abandoned the running game though it was working.

I guess that we as Colts fans finally know what sort of leader we have. He’s really good at training the team; he inspires them to get better each and every day. I heard he silently counts how many penalties his players commit in practice, then tells them afterward so they’ll be more aware the next time. So the Colts have continued to be excellent. But football is a competitive sport, with a team on the other sideline, and Sean Payton was a better competitor, someone adept in attacking the weaknesses of the opponent and making decisions in-game.

Which brings me to our quarterback. An amazing thing about professional sports is that millions of people are watching someone do his job in real time: in nothing else is success or failure decided so quickly, objectively, and publicly. We in Indianapolis identify especially with the Colts and their players. We want to be as professional and prepared as them. So when they fail, we can step out of that character right afterward, but deep down it’s like we failed too. The leader and symbol of the Colts is Peyton Manning. And right now, I feel like I’m as flawed as he is, and every writer who criticizes him this week is also attacking me.

This was the worst possible way the season could have ended for him. I really hate it when writers belittle a professional athlete for being “not clutch enough.” To make it in a highly competitive sport, like the NFL or swimming, you have to have more discipline and mental strength than almost any writer or fan could dream of having. By all accounts, Manning prepares for games and hones his talents more than anyone in the league.

That said, even the best of them can give their all in both preparation and execution and still fail. I’m nowhere near the best of them, and I fail too. Last week I learned that I failed my Japanese test in December. Today, after the game happened to me, we had an English class in front of the other teachers in the junior high school. I wasn’t responsible for planning the class – I saw the plan beforehand, assisted in-class, and contributed a map (we were teaching directions). But in the meeting afterward, we got lacerated, and so did the map. I realized how much more active I could have been in the planning, and how much more I should have thought about this class beforehand, but I’d mostly left it to the other guy. And I felt terrible. One of the teachers even asked, on top of his criticism of the class itself, if I could stop singing so loud when we sing in English because my big American voice echoes into other classrooms. So, that was directly my fault.

After things like that, you want to go back to the scene and redo it right away, in a sharper frame of mind. But I’ll never have another research class, and my next test is in July. Manning won’t even get to play more games until September; his Super Bowl redemption would come a year from today at the earliest.

There’s nothing Manning can do about his character. He’s not Joe Montana, but as far as I know he’s not spiritually broken in some way. He’s won only one title in ten years, but if you’re a top-five team (rather than a clearly dominant one) year after year, a lot of years are going to break badly for you, and you’ll have more high-profile failures than you would if you were only favorites once in a while, like Pittsburgh. So I suspect Manning will react to his failure the same way as I’m reacting to my test: he’ll shut everything out and go back to work. And come to think of it, if I fail Japanese tests because I don’t prepare enough, why am I still typing this?