Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, November 20, 2006

Meanwhile, Back at the Bank

Here it is Monday afternoon, and I am at the bank. It is currently lunch break at Ye Olde AcademyTM, and I am desperately trying to get my passport renewed. This is a nice, bureaucratic PITA (you figure it out) that I fortunately have to go through only once every ten years. However, the event horizon is less than two months away, and the winter holidays are looming over me like a shadow. You see, the U.S. Embassy (Sousa-ish fanfare) is nice enough to let me renew the thing by mail, meaning I don't have to make the perilous journey there (again) to do it in person. However, renewal by mail means that I have to send them:

  • My old passport (meaning I won't have it for about a month...and that can be pretty inconvenient...)
  • The application form (fortunately downloaded from the internet) carefully filled out in black ink
  • US$67.00 in the form of an international postal money order, something that involves a trip to the post office, hassling with staff who have no idea which direction is up, and filling out an annoying form that I invariably screw up and have to start over at least twice
  • A prepaid, self-addressed registered mail envelope
  • Two American-style (i.e. different from just about everywhere else in the world, let alone Japan) passport photos (which I had to have specially made since they are completely different from just about everywhere else in the world, let alone Japan).

In other words, it's a costly, time-consuming, and extremely bothersome affair.

It's even worse when you get everything ready to go, and then some nut steals the prepaid registered mail envelope and postal money order out of your car, which is apparently what happened to me. I remember setting the envelope on the car seat (with the money order...and ONLY the money order, thank God...inside) and going into a local shopping mall. (Yes, I locked my BLUE RAV4, and it was still locked afterward.) After that the envelope and its contents turned up missing. I turned my car, my workspaces, my home, and anything within a kilometer radius of any of those upside down trying to find the thing, but no dice. Realizing I didn't really have time to waste, I bit the bullet today and went out to do it all over again. And that's why I here at the bank now.

While I'm waiting in line at the ATM machines the security guard looks at me, smiles widely, and says, "The jazz last Saturday was great!"

I thank him enthusiastically. He's talking about the Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival last Saturday, the third time this event has been staged. Once again the Seishin Flying Eggheads participated, taking their turn at the stage among all those various amateur and professional artists. Between Saturday seminars at the Academy, competing turns for the school vans, and the timetable of the festival itself, we were under more than a little pressure, but somehow everything fell together smoothly. We got the kids and their gear all there and set up with plenty of time to spare. I might also add that the expertise and the professionalism of the stage crew helped a lot.

Not that we didn't have our share of comedy. As we were waiting backstage for our turn to go on, the (outstanding) professional artist who was on at the time decided to stretch his set out a bit. (Pros tend to do that.) I told the kids to blow some warm air through their horns to keep them from cooling off and going out of tune. Our (not too bright) lead tenor saxophonist obediently put her mouthpiece to her lips...and proceeded to pop out a loud *BLATT!* that undoubtedly carried out to the audience. When our turn finally arrived, we worked with the crew, got all set up and ready to go, and waited at readiness. This year's theme was "Jazz & Cinema", so every act was preceded by a movie clip. In our case, they played the opening titles and first scene of The Glenn Miller Story. Then, as the movie faded out, the curtain opened, the stage lights came on...

...and our entire trumpet section bricked the first note of "Pennsylvania 6-5000"...

...but after that our performance went extremely well. The house was packed, and the audience response was fantastic (always a plus), the kids were in the groove, and it just felt good. Even our notoriously weak lead trombonist, to whom the organizer of the Festival specifically asked me not to give a solo (poor guy!>, scored a solid hit with his solo work in "Bewitched". After it was over the trumpets were pretty upset about that opening note, but other than that the kids were really high on themselves, and they damned well should have been.

I only wish the Blue Notes Orchestra performance had gone half as well. As I mentioned before, I sat in as a substitute lead tenor saxophonist, so naturally they gave me lots of solos. I didn't mind that so much as the typically lackluster attitude of the participants in general. Attendance at rehearsals has always been a problem for the Blue Notes, but the fact that several key members almost NEVER came to practice, even during the final rehearsal, was really annoying. The performance showed it all too well, too. The lead trumpet player, who never showed up to rehearse even once, wound up playing two measures off for almost the entire length of one piece, totally off in his own world and unaware of his ridiculous error until the tune ended...whereupon he just stood there laughing. The bassist (came to ten minutes of one rehearsal...totally drunk and unable to play) was lost half the time. The band in general tended to sound shoddy, not together, and out of tune. To make matters worse, they informed the stage crew that our soloists would remain seated(!!?!), so the individual mikes (which is something I really hate) were set up with that in mind. (I just can NOT get into a solo sitting down...!) It probably wouldn't have been quite so irritating but for the fact that, as always, the Blue Notes were the FINAL HEADLINING ACT!!!!! (Then again, the place was half empty by then, so I guess it wasn't as bad as all that.)

Still, jazz is meant to be fun, and we did our best. At least I made the best of my sax solos in "Blues Machine" and "It Don't Mean a Thing" and my clarinet solos in "Moonlight Serenade" and "Sing, Sing, Sing". I felt a bit rusty, and my fingers didn't really seem to want to move, especially in "Sing, Sing, Sing", but I just FELT like playing, so I drew out my solo really long, threw in a few bursts of speed here and there when I hit it right, waltzed around when I didn't, and just enjoyed myself. When it was over I felt pleasantly exhausted and strangely longing for a cigarette...

And now this bank guard is giving me a nice compliment. I guess someone appreciated it.

After getting the cash, I head down another block to the main Kashima post office. There I get a new postal money order (no errors this time, and the staffer knows what he's doing, thank God) and a new prepaid return envelope. Then I pack the form, the photos, the money order, the envelope, and my passport into a big envelope, tape it shut, and ask the postmaster to send it to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo by the "safest and fastest" way. It isn't cheap, but he promises me it will be there first thing the next morning. That should allow enough time before the holiday season...I hope...

Speaking of comedies of error, yesterday (Sunday) was a lulu. I was supposed to swing by Ye Olde AcademyTM, pick up four junior-high clarinetists, and cart them off to a small ensemble contest that was taking place at a performance hall in the middle of nowhere. The only problem was that the paper containing all the information as to where the place was and how to get there had somehow wound up missing. (First the envelope and money order, and this a conspiracy?!?) Not to be done in, I quickly looked up the venue on the internet...and got an incredible runaround. Neither the prefectural music union, the local branch, nor the city where the performance hall was located could agree on anything, so I just grabbed what seemed to be the right address, punched it into my car navigation system, and followed the pink line to the Omitama City General Culture Center.

We arrived a few minutes find no one there.

Sensing immediate doom, I tried to phone Mr. Ogawa and got no response. Then I phoned Mr. Karatsu, who informed me that the contest was in another performance hall elsewhere in the same city. He gave me the correct address, which I then entered into the navi-system. It turned out to be only a few kilometers away, but we were already within a few minutes of our check-in time. I don't know how many traffic laws I broke or how many people I pissed off with my wounded-animal driving, but I got the kids to the proper venue just a couple of minutes late for check-in. I then dumped them off at the door and looked for a parking place.

The story doesn't end there. You see, as it turned out, instead of going to the check-in counter, the girls promptly disappeared somewhere inside that massive building. The main headquarters desperately organized a search party, and we spread out and combed the whole complex before we found the girls already set up and practicing in one of the rehearsal rooms. Fortunately, things were more than ten minutes behind schedule anyway, so everything worked out fine. However, I was a bit too panicked to feel fine any time soon...

I might add just for effect that the girls came in first place!

Any wonder why my digestive system has been out of whack recently? I seriously need a vacation, but that won't be happening anytime soon. Even if I had the time to spare for it, I don't have the passport, so I'm high and dry for the time being.

On second thought, maybe not "dry"...


  • You wet yourself?

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 2:21 AM  

  • alcohol soaked I bet

    Last time I spent the summer in the US, I renewed my passport there by post to washington, rather than here in London because things like that tend to go missing here.

    I must admit, when you lost those girls, I did start thinking of your tetchy digestive system.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 7:51 AM  

  • Passports, immigration papers, visas are a big headache. Can you have dual citizenship - Japan and USA?

    One time I lost my passport the day I was flying so had to cancel, go to Melbourne, pick up a new one - in one day - for a rescheduled flight - the next day. Mid-flight, I noticed an extra zipper on my bag. Yeah - of course, I'd put the passport inside for safe-keeping!

    We had a writers' gig at the local Art Gallery Sunday and a teenage girl played a sax so beautifully as her Dad played guitar and sang a song he wrote about The distance between us' I think it was - connecting with one of the paintings.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 7:17 PM  

  • thank goodness there's an embassy here and they do a good job at getting your passports, visas and such ready on time... in that you are there on time to get the paperwork and such filled out, do the interviews - if you're not american - and such. but for americans, i've heard it's rather easy to get what you need to get done.

    your days have been filled w/ anxiety, tension and stress. i agree, i think you need a long vacation. here's to you getting that passport back in no time and finding a great place to getaway to.... you need it.

    are you thinking of going to the states????

    By Blogger tooners, at 7:55 PM  

  • Snabudon
    No...but I've come pretty close, let me tell you!

    Does London have a bigger problem with theft than American cities? That's hard to believe!

    I'm honored that you remembered my colon! (Hmm...that doesn't sound very good, does it?)

    I'm amazed you were able to get a new passport in one day! American passports are only renewed at one of the (very few) passport centers in the U.S., and it's a bureaucratic process that takes a bit of time. That's why renewal from Japan normally takes three to four weeks.

    I wish I could have heard that performance!

    The embassy here in Japan isn't bad, just anal. They've never failed me. I'm glad that they allow renewal by mail rather than requiring a personal visit. It's just that the requirements are inconvenient here in Japan (i.e. the dollar money order and U.S.-size passport photos) , and it's time consuming.

    I do need to get away, but the ongoing construction work to enlarge my house is taking too much of a bite out of my bank account for me to travel home this year. The same thing kept me high and dry last winter, and I wasn't amused. I just have to bite the bullet and hope homesickness...together with everything else...doesn't give me an ulcer.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:01 PM  

  • well, i hope you don't get an ulcer either. i can understand money stuff... we tend to experience the same here. it's expensive to travel back to the states, and w/ the work we're doing around the house, and the baby and such coming, i can't see going for a while, altho my family expects me to come shortly after the birth. it causes a lot of stress.

    i had forgotten that the japanese embassy allows you to do it all by mail. you're very lucky, but i can imagine how difficult it is to get the pictures and such in the size you need. the american embassy here turns away many ppl because of that same issue. most places don't do the passport pics in the size that the embassy wants. i wish the embassy did things by mail, but... so far i haven't had to deal with them, but i will after the baby is born.

    By Blogger tooners, at 5:14 PM  

  • At least you didn't have to visit the "dark tower". I hate going there.

    Weird that someone got in your car and then left it locked.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:43 AM  

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