This time of year people across Japan are having parties. They're called bonenkai. They are the end of year parties you have with your workmates to celebrate, to de-stress, to be stupid or silly or gay. Not dissimilar to Christmas (or "holiday") parties we have on this side of the world, drinking is central to the whole game.
From a family of eaters rather than drinkers (ie. Jewish), I was skeptical and rather judgmental when I first saw the extent to which the Japanese salaryman would drink. In time though I came to feel the utter need each December to gorge myself on Japanese pub food and drink more draft Japanese lager (Kirin, if I had a choice) than I knew would be good for my head come breakfast the following day.
When we eat so much and drink so heavy, when we smoke, all these things, they are escape. Escape from difficulty, escape from ordinary, from boring. It seems most of our vices and addictions are about escaping the moment or, at least, making it more bearable. I'm always wishing I could drop a vice or two. The moral voice reminding me that what I'm doing is Wrong Wrong Wrong.
Vice can be anything: it can be cocaine and it can be coffee; it can be sex and it can be video games. I manage to have a small handful of vices, lucky me, but now more than two years returned from the Land of the Rising Sun to the Land of the Overeating, food takes the, yup, cake. As per every December in the history of my life, I have already gained a good five pounds, eating far too much of all I shouldn't. If it's filled with fat and sugar, or with fat and salt, or best of all with fat, sugar and salt (salted caramels anyone? or Starbucks' Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate?!) I'm in; I'm game. Carrots, apples, salad - these are all difficult things for me to swalllow at a time of year when all I want is greasy crap served with a big fat coke.
But I'm reminded of a teenage moment. My friend Allen and I. We were eighteen, maybe twenty. It doesn't matter. Just that we were not finished being teenagers and happy to stay up through much of the night talking about things that seemed terribly important at the time.
I'd been smoking in a daily and strictly habitual way since I was fifteen and had gotten Allen started that year or a year later (a real winning role model, I know). At least by then, say twenty, Allen had already quit, or so I thought, until that night when he pulled out a pack of cigarettes, DuMauriers, I'm sure. He'd started up again, he said sheepish like a little boy. I, a then smoker who, like all engagers in addictions of every kind, was gleeful at his return to my particular sphere of the dark side.
We were sitting outside the 7-11, our backs against the store, our butts on the cement, our feet pointing toward the empty parking space in front of us. There may have been slurpees involved. I don't get a visual of the snacking details, though a big bag of chips and many litres of pop would be fair guesses. What I do know was that we were smoking and talking and talking and smoking like we'd be young not-quite thugs (not close, let's be honest) forever.
At some point, probably after me droning on about girls for three hours, I asked Al,
-So what is it about smoking? Why the hell do we do this to ourselves?
-It's a social lubricant, he said. It makes it easy for people to get together, to bond.
I thought that was brilliant and share it with you now because it's December 12th. The days keep getting shorter, the nights longer, the wind colder. The first three times I tried writing this post I kept going at it with the preachy approach, all soapbox like. About the way we escape too much these days with all our distractions and how sometimes we just need to face (kick at) the darkness. But it sounded preachy, not to mention that I fail at this continually. Darkness facing, I mean.Cake is just so much sweeter.
Feeling sure you have at least one vice you'd be willing to cop to, here's hoping you have a friend to share it with. Happy winter solstice all (and much love, if a little bitter envy, to my cousins in South Africa and Australia about to being their long hot summers). Cheers, kampai and le'chaim.