Maitlin and the Moon

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Me at around a year old, with my dad.

When I was a baby, one of the only ways to get me sleep was to drive me in the car. At least that’s how the story goes. My dad said he would take me in the truck and drive the long circle of 35th to Sand Point Way and back around to 90th. If I wasn’t asleep when he came back to the house he’d make the loop again. It was a treacherous way to get a baby to sleep, especially as this was the early 80’s, before detachable car seats, when the whole endeavor could unravel if I woke back up while being moved from the car to the bed. I, of course have no memory of this, but I know the route. I’ve had the early Seattle houses where I lived pointed out to me by both my parents: the apartment on 15th just off University Avenue where I was born, the married student housing near U Village where my sister was, and the Wedgewood house we moved to next. This one I do have memories of, it was up the street from a Catholic school with a playground we dubbed “The wiggly bridge”. When I was just past the age of needing to be driven to sleep, my dad and I would walk down there in the evenings, stopping at the tree by the parish residence to construct “cakes” out of leaves and grass.

I don’t know if the driving bedtime rituals were the inspiration behind the story of “Maitlin and the Moon” but it’s hard to imagine they were completely unrelated. “Maitlin and the Moon” was the first in a long, long, series of bedtime stories that my dad told me and my sister nearly every night for years and years. It was the only one I remember being repeated more than once, and the only one in which my sister’s alias, Balin, was not present. Once Balin came on the scene the stories changed nightly, the ongoing adventures of Maitlin and Balin lasting through at least two more houses. The only one of the later stories I remember details of was the one he told to prepare us for the move to Japan. In this story, Maitlin and Balin take a ship to a faraway land inhabited by people with straight black hair and white teeth. I think there may have also been more than one featuring adults slipping on banana peels, during a phase where my sister and I considered this to be the height of comedy.

Because this was my reality growing up, I didn’t realize until much later how absolutely remarkable the ritual was. To have a father who not only sat with his daughters every night when they went to sleep, first between our two futons, and later in the narrow hallway between our separate rooms, but sat there telling original stories night after night, about two little girls with slightly more exciting lives, but with names that rhymed with ours.

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My sister, my dad, and me on the porch of the Ballard house.

Maitlin and the Moon

I know at some point my dad wrote this story down, but I can’t find it, so this is my best recollection of how it went. I think that sometimes he made it longer by having the trip to the moon and back repeated several times before the curtains were closed all the way.

One night when Maitlin’s dad put her to sleep during the full moon, he closed the curtains, but not all the way. After he left the room a moonbeam came in through the window and tickled Maitlin’s cheek, waking her up. She crawled up the moonbeam, and when she reached the moon she curled up into a little ball and fell back asleep on the moon’s broad face. A little while later her dad came in to check on her, but the bed was empty. He saw the open curtain and understood. He went outside and started up the truck, then he drove it in circles faster and faster until it lifted up off the ground and he drove it all the way to moon, and parked. There on face of the moon he found Maitlin fast asleep. He picked her up carefully, buckled her into her car seat, drove back down to earth, carried her to her bed, and tucked her in. Then he made sure the curtains were closed all the way so that no more moonbeams could come inside.

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Sugiyama’s Desk

My dad, my mom, me, and my sister on vacation just outside of Kobe

From 1990 to 1997 my family lived in Kobe, Japan. My dad got a job teaching at a branch campus of Edmonds Community College and my mom, my sister and I were all along for the ride. My experience of Kobe was very different from his. I was a dreamy eight year old, rather indignant at being moved in the middle of the school year to a country where no one could pronounce my name. “It’s hard for Japanese people to make those sounds.” My dad explained. “CAITlin. CAITlin. What’s so hard about it?” I crankily replied. I eventually came to terms with being called “Ke-to-rin”, I took karate and tea ceremony and came to enjoy many parts of my Kobe years, all though I held on fiercely to my American identity, and I never got used to being told by adults what a fantastic experience I was being given and how they hoped I appreciated it.

Me practicing tea ceremony

My dad, on the other hand, loved Japan and threw himself wholeheartedly into learning the language and culture. He made kanji cards on little one ring binders and carried them around everywhere, constantly quizzing himself. He learned the art of wearing a business suit, he made friends with the Japanese staff at the college, played tennis and sang karaoke with them at a little bar called Licky Tomato. Not all the American staff at the college were as enamored with the country or as dedicated and hardworking as he was, so he was promoted quickly. During the later years he was Dean of Students and on the front lines of dealing with the corruption and mismanagement the branch campus faced from both its American president back home, and its Japanese sponsor.

I was largely unaware of all the problems the campus faced at the time, but I could tell how stressed my dad was. As a child I only heard whispers, the fact that the president of Edmonds back in the states had been indicted, the struggle to get a new sponsor in Japan who was actually interested in running a college, rather than a front for his political campaigns. As a child I enjoyed playing in the large stone foyer of the campus, or watching videos in the library, both largely empty of actually community college students.

What little I do know about what went on during the Kobe years I know from Dad’s play. After we left Kobe for Tokyo my dad started writing a novel about the experience, and after we returned to Seattle and after the divorce, he took a class in solo performance, and adapted the themes of the novel into a solo show called Up Your Head! He performed Up Your Head! in the Seattle Fringe Festival back in 2003 and I ended up directing it, one of my few directorial attempts and one of my favorite memories of us working together.

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The poster for Up Your Head!

The play was constructed as a series of monologues. The main character, Marcus, was an American ex-pat working at a Japanese branch campus, there was a Japanese love interest which whom he had theological discussions by way of courtship, there were monologues about the no mixing rule of eastern and western cultural elements within Japan “Sashimi is delicious, don’t eat it with bread”, about Funny English “There is a Japanese baseball team whose slogan is Hit, Foot, Get”, there was the thinly veiled story of the failed campus, and bookending the whole thing, was Sugiyama.

I don’t know if Sugiyama was based on a real person, or just a good story he’d been told back in Japan. I was thinking about blocking, set designs, which songs should go with which scene breaks, so I didn’t think to press him for details about the source material, I just wanted to put on a good show.

It’s one of many things I’ll never get to ask him now. For all that we shared, for all the advice he imparted and superstitions he instilled and personal history he spun into entertaining tales, there are corresponding losses. Big events in my life he will never be a part of, decisions I’ll have to make without his input, and the facts and fictions of even our shared personal history that will forever he left unsorted.

Me and Dad at Himeji Castle

Sugiyama’s Desk

This story is adapted from the script my dad’s solo show UP YOUR HEAD! I have condensed it a little and left out a lot of the Japanese/English doubling that worked much better in performance than it does written.

Japan is a country of ritualized speech. You come to work in the morning and say “Ohayou gozaimasu!”(good morning) and you will always be answered back “Ohayou gozaimasu.” When you leave the office, “Saki ni shitsurei shimasu..” (excuse me while I leave before you) the answer: “O tsukaresama deshita” (Thank you for your hard work). It never changes, and it you’re smart, you can use the ritual as a kind of protection.

One day Sugiyama came into the office and his desk was gone. No desk, just an empty space where it used to be. He knew what it meant, they are letting him go. Undaunted Sugiyama went and stood in the empty space. He took a file from his briefcase and pretended to read. Other people in the office looked at him sideways from behind their hands and computers. Sugiyama stared them down, “Ohayo gozaimassssssssssssssssssu”. What could they do? Ritualized speech, they had to answer: “Ohayo gozaimasu, ohayo gozaimasu”. After two hours his coworker Kato approached timidly and informed Suyama that the boss wants to see him right now. Sugiyama is cool, “I am a little busy right now.” Kato is agitated, “Sugiyama-san! You must come right now!” Sugiyama pulls out a calendar and consults it “Would 2pm be convenient?” Kato rushes off in a state but returns quickly to inform Sugiyama that 2pm is indeed acceptable. At 2pm they are all waiting for him; the Bucho, the Kacho, Kato-san, next to Kato there is box with Sugiyama’s name on it. The boss is casual, “Ah, Sugiyama-san, how long has it been, 20 years? You must be tired, what I wouldn’t do for a rest myself, how I envy you. Well, anything to say?” “Yes,” Sugiyama says, “There is one thing.”

“And what’s that?”

“I regret to inform you that my desk is missing.”

“Ehhh..”

“It is most inconvenient.”

“Ehhh…”

“What do you advise?”

“Ehhh, Kato-san, give him the box!” And they present Sugiyama with the box containing all his possessions, which he accepts like a prize. “Arigatou gozaimasu, I now return to my post. Excuse me.” And he went back and stood in the place where his desk had been until 7pm when he went home. The next day he returned, and the day after that, and they kept paying him, because he hadn’t resigned yet. This went on for six months, and at the end of that time his bosses offered him a years pay with bonuses JUST to go away, and Sugiyama graciously accepted.