September 6, 2020: “The Lonesome Bodybuilder” by Yikiko Motoya, Translated by Asa Yoneda

Hey, there, Story366!

The holiday weekend is all around us and we took advantage by having an absolutely splendid Sunday. Missouri State Parks are really great parks—hands down, the best part of Missouri is its natural beauty and how well it’s governed, how spectacular this park system consistently proves to be.

The State Park people put out a book a few years ago with a page for every park, over a hundred of them, and if you visit them all and get a stamp at the visitor center, you can send the completed book in for all kinds of merch. A family we know here finished last year and got some great stuff, camping gear, T-shirts, and whatnot. We’re about a quarter of the way through, so before pulling out of the driveway, we skimmed to book to see what would make a good day trip and landed on Harry S. Truman’s birthplace, ninety miles away.

To note, lots of the State Park locations we could have chosen are around lakes, and with all this Trump boat nonsense going on, we wanted nothing to do with any water parade or Trump supporters. Not only was the Truman birthplace the right distance and a place we hadn’t visited before, but it’s sounded like the least-likely place a Trump rally might take place.

We were right. The house is unassuming, in Lamar, Missouri, just off the main drag in a town of a couple thousand people. The docent seemed happy to see us, showed us around the visitor center, then walked us across the street to the actual house. It’s a modest house, but in 1884, when Truman was born in one of the downstairs bedrooms, it was probably a mansion: with four bedrooms, a dining room, a sitting room, and their own well, smokehouse, and outhouse out back. The whole tour took about ten minutes—perfect for two boys who had been in the car for too long—and then we were off, stamp in book, history learned, a new experience tallied.

From there, we drove twenty miles west to Pittsburg, Kansas. I interviewed at Pittsburg State one year, and one of the tales they told was of Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s. They are rival fried chicken joints on the outskirts of Pittsburg, pretty much right next to each other. I’ve been wanting to go to these places ever since, and this was our chance. The rivalry runs deep—I think Mary was Annie’s granddaughter and more or less betrayed the family by starting her own joint—a story that has been featured on Food Network shows and in magazine articles.

We chose Chicken Mary’s for sitting and eating—it had more cars in the parking lot—and after we ate there, we drove over to Chicken Annie’s and ordered a couple of pieces to go. We munched those in the parking lot, so we could compare.

The verdict? Both places have really juicy chicken. The Karen said it aloud, but I was thinking it: It tastes broasted instead of fried. The outside is crispy at both places—a little crispier at Chicken Annie’s—but both of their batters lack spice and overall flavor. It’s good chicken, but not great chicken. If someone put a gun to my head, I’d give Annie the nod, for the extra crispiness. Really, though, if you told me there is an underground chicken kitchen between the two buildings and they just make all the chicken for both places, I wouldn’t be shocked at all. Still, I did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and now the mystery of Chicken Mary’s and Chicken Annie’s has been solved.

Today I read from Yikiko Motoya‘s 2015 collection, The Lonely Bodybuilder, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda and released by Soft Skull in 2018 (that’s two translations in a row … translation weekend!). This is definitely my first reading of Motoya’s work, and I’m excited to talk about it now.

The title story is the first story and it’s about an unnamed woman who comes home one day to find her husband watching a boxing match. She acts surprised, just because he hasn’t watched anything like it before, and he’s immediately defensive. When this story starts out, it seems like it’s going to be about him, how inadequate he feels in the shadow of the bulky gladiators on the TV. He’s practically crying, looking to her for affirmation.

The story shifts to her, though, because as her husband is feeling less of a man, she’s admiring the hell out of these male physiques, their attractiveness, their power, their everything. From there, she decides she’s going to become a bodybuilder—combat doesn’t suit her—and joins a gym and hires a trainer.

What could have been a montage of weight-lifting, protein-loading, and grunting is instead passed over—Motoya just skips ahead to when our hero is already huge. She works at a grocery store, giving out samples, and it’s her coworkers who notice first. Her trainer, a much younger man who’s gotten her to this point, does as well,. He even wants her to compete—she’s that big—but she doesn’t know if she’s ready.

The only person who doesn’t notice is her husband. She’s literally doubled in weight and thickness, yet he doesn’t say a word, much less look up from whatever he’s occupied with. She goes to her trainer for solace, and even makes a play at him, only to find the trainer has called her husband, believing that’s what she needs is a reconciliation instead of an affair.

I like this story, as it goes in directions I never saw coming, but also for its themes, wanting something and following through until you get it. Good story, good intro to Motoya’s work.

“Fitting Room” is a magical/absurd story about a department store employee who’s on duty when a woman goes into a fitting room and doesn’t come out. Our service rep asks her if she needs help, then insists after a while, but before long, it’s closing time—the woman still doesn’t come out. Our hero sleeps on a store sofa and wakes up realizing the woman is still in there. Before long, the fitting-room woman has tried on every item in the store, in every size and every color. To fix the problem, she takes the woman, and the fitting room, mobile, pulling her around on a wagon, looking for the perfect outfit.

“Typhoon” is about a little kid who’s standing at a bus stop in a torrential downpour when a man almost gets blown over by his umbrella in the storm, the mechanism turning inside out. This makes the kid laugh, at least until a weird old guy offering cookies and advice intervenes.

I dig the stories in The Lonesome Bodybuilder, Yukiko Motoyo’s collection of tight, weirdish tales. These stories introduced me to interesting characters in interesting predicaments, solved or not solved in pretty fantastic ways. I liked reading this book today and recommend it enthusiastically