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Baye McNeil: ‘Always endeavor to do … what you love to do’

by Elliott Samuels

Staff Writer

Name: Baye McNeil
Age: Stopped counting at 40
Nationality: American
Occupation: Author/freelance
writer/teacher
Likes: Reading, photography, playing and watching basketball, eating my sister’s lasagne, cats and dogs
Dislikes: The words “no” and “can’t”, superficiality, liver, excuses, flying insects


1. What first brought you to Japan? I came to escape from the toxic atmosphere of post-9/11 New York/America. It was literally driving me loco. I had a great time and decided to come live here for a spell. That spell has extended into a decade and, ironically, I still wound up going loco.

2. What’s keeping you here? Once Japan gets its hooks in you, it’s really difficult to get un-hooked. But the most appealing features are the food, the safety, the convenience, the friends I have made and life I have built here.

3. Who in Japan do you most admire? Barry Lancet, author of “Japantown.” He’s combined his gifts as a writer, his insider information about the publishing industry and his knowledge of Japanese culture to write an exceptional best-selling novel. His success story has further inspired me.

4. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? It used to be sumimasen (excuse me) because I found I could use it in almost any situation. Lately, though, it has become a tossup between shoganai (it can’t be helped) and mendokusai (it’s troublesome), for much the same reason.

5. What’s your favorite phrase in any language? Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero (Latin for “seize the day, and put very little trust in tomorrow”), for obvious reasons.

6. Describe your most embarrassing moment. I was being interviewed about my first book, “Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a racist” on a live radio show in the U.S., via Skype. The interviewer asked me what at first seemed to be a rather obvious question — what does “black” mean, in relation to people? — but I spent the next two minutes or so hemming and hawing, babbling and giggling stupidly, utterly unable to answer such an ultimately complex question, one that I really hadn’t given too much thought to in all my years of proudly proclaiming myself to be black.

7. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? My students at a junior high school where I work once asked me to dunk a basketball, like it was the most natural thing. I’m like 180 cm and 40-plus in years. I just looked at them like they were nuts and shot another three-pointer.

8. If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be? I would have loved to have dinner with Nelson Mandela. I think it would be invaluable to learn how he managed to protect his soul from hate, and to use forgiveness to heal the heart of his damaged nation.

9. What do you think about while standing on the train? If I see anyone doing anything interesting, I can entertain myself an entire train ride just composing sentences to best describe and illustrate what I’ve seen and bring the scenario to life. I’ve had some of my greatest thoughts while standing on the train.

10. What song best describes your work ethic? “Optimistic” by The Sounds of Blackness. This song keeps me going when times get tough.

11. Tell us a quick joke. A skeleton walks into a bar and says, “Hey barkeep, let me get an ice cold beer . . . and a mop.”

12. How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator? I’d raise the temperature in the kitchen until it’s unbearable and that refrigerator starts looking like elephant heaven to him.

13. Name three uses of a stapler without staples. A paperweight; an impetus for a teachable moment with my kids someday (“What was it used for?”); bookends.

14. What superhero would you most like to be? Spider-Man. A boy genius with the strength of 20 men? In the inimitable words of the excelsior himself, Stan Lee, ” ‘Nuff said!”

15. If you won ¥1 million in the lottery, what would you do with the money? Pay off some debt and buy a new computer. If it were $1 million, I’d pay off all my debt, buy a house some place in the Caribbean, a condo in Yokohama and a new computer.

16. If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be? “By the Seat of his Pants.”

17. How would you find a needle in a haystack? Set fire to the hay. Hay burns pretty quick so hopefully the needle won’t melt before I find it.

18. Who would win a fight between a lion and tiger? Depends on which spots the other first, or which has eaten most recently.

19. What do you want to be when you grow up? I want to be a great storyteller.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Do what you have to do if you truly have to do it, of course, but always endeavor to be yourself and do what you love to do. That way, you’ll come to the realization sooner that the life you’re living is actually the product of your actions and decisions, and you’ll be much less likely to waste a precious moment of it.

Baye McNeil is the author of “Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist” and “Loco in Yokohama.” He blogs about the joys and challenges of an African-American living abroad at www.locoinyokohama.com.