Thursday, March 25, 2004


Two years ago today, my mother died. She died of cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I have never really come to terms with it. At least, it doesn't seem like I have. I stayed with her in the hospital through her last days, talking to her, trying to soothe her fears of reaching the end. And her ultimate death saddened me greatly. But I never cried, I never went through some kind of depression or mourning. And I've never been able to figure this out. Is something wrong with me?

When she passed, I merely accepted her death as another process of life that we all go through. Our mortality is something we cannot avoid. But still, it bothers me. Why didn't I cry at her funeral? Why didn't I fall into some kind of mournful depression, at least for a few weeks? Is something wrong with me?

I thought about this virtually everyday for the first year after her death, and off-and-on since. Sometimes for a fleeting few minutes, other times for hours lying in bed. I often find myself attributing my attitude to her first heart attack in 1989. Back then, I was totally unprepared for death. I remember being in the hospital with my siblings, wondering, What the fuck are we going to do if she dies? After two surgeries, I took a leave of absence from school and stayed with her to help her recover--my dad was 77 and in no shape to take care of her. During this time, I had many opportunities to talk with her about about death and it soon became just another topic of conversation. Something that was a part of our lives, something that we couldn't avoid, something we had to accept.

On special days, like today, or her birthday or Christmas, I will leave an offering to her at a kind of mini-shrine at my house. M will make chirashi-zushi, mom's favorite, and I will leave a glass of wine or sake for her--my mother loved to drink, a pastime we often indulged in together. And I often end up talking to her, or at least to her photos. It's kind of wierd. I never talk to her in my heart in other places. Only when I am looking at her photos. Out loud. She probably thinks I'm wierd, as perhaps you do, too.

In a way, I guess she is still alive to me. Perhaps, I am mentally unstable because by talking to her as if she were still alive, I seem to refuse to accept that she is dead. Whatever. I will deal with it in my own way, I suppose.

In any case, in memory of my mother, I would like to relate to you a story that might explain me, or my sense of humor. My friends, my wife, my students often tell me I'm sick, that I am overly sarcastic--to the point of sounding cynical--and have a sense of humor that often seems mean and base. They are right, of course. I hate to point a finger at the dead, but my mother does have to take some of the responsibility, I think.

I was about 7 years old, and our family, along with my uncle--my mother's younger brother--went to an amusement park in Long Beach, CA. I think we called it Long Beach Pike? Yeah, something like that. I don't remember the name exactly. They had games, a carousel, and a wooden roller coaster. And they had a House of Glass that I just had to try. No one wanted to go in except me and they let me... by myself. I walked in with little trouble. As I went deeper into the maze of glass, my parents became blurier and blurrier as sheet upon sheet of glass separated us. But it was not scary. I easily reached the middle of the maze where there were mirrors bent in all kinds of shapes to distort its reflection. One mirror made me look short and fat, another made me look tall and skinny (I could use one in my house now). The mirrors were amusing, but not as fun as it could have been had I been with someone I knew. Bored, I decided to leave. But I couldn't. Going back through the maze was impossible. Every turn I made, I hit a dead-end. I could seem my parents and uncle urging me to go left or right, but I always hit a glass wall. I was slowly beginning to panic. Can I get out of here? Will someone come and get me? I finally turned a corner and about 30 feet away I saw my mother and uncle clearly in front of me, waving for me to "come on down". I made it! I'm safe! Relieved, I gleefully ran down the glass walkway toward their open arms...


I ran right into a glass wall at full speed. I fell backwards on my butt, dazed, wondering what had happened. I propped myself up to look at where my mom and uncle were standing and they were bent over laughing as loud as they please. I'd been had. They had egged me on toward the glass and I fell for it. Ha, ha. Very funny, mom... Grrr, I was ticked. I picked myself up and soon found the exit. I stayed pissed, until they bought me an ice cream cone, the very least they could do since they had had their laugh at my expense.

*sigh* I'm sure a single experience does not a personality make, but it was one of many in my childhood. And because of them, we all grew up with the ability to laugh in virtually any situation. To see the humor in ways that may seem mean-spirited, but is ultimately harmless--except for a bump or two on the noggin.

I miss my mom...

Monday, March 22, 2004

Spring Break is over :(

Another DVD I rented was a Japanese science fiction flick that got a lot of play in Japan. Returner turned out to be much better than I had anticipated. It was supposedly produced in an attempt to avoid the serious, artistic films such as Maboroshi or AfterLife, and create something that resembles the US blockbuster, action flick, so popular in Japan. It's not great by any means, but my expectations were so low that it turned out to be quite entertaining. The movie is influenced by films that should be familiar to most of us. *Warning! Warning! Possible spoilers dectected* It is the future and the world being destoyed by aliens in fast photon-shooting ships (reminiscent of Independence Day). For good measure, some ships are disguised as regular planes to infiltrate humans holed up in Tibet, then transform into shrimp-bent baddies (remember The Transformers?). They decide that the only way to save themselves is to travel to the past and prevent the war from happening in the first place (Terminator). The time machine is incomplete but someone has to go, and a ragamuffin young girl is the last chance as the aliens enter the cave where humanity makes its last stand. She travels into the past and falls right in the middle of a fight between a Miyamoto (Kaneshiro) who is seeking revenge on a Chinese/Japanese mobster-connection thug named Mizoguchi (Kishitani). Miyamoto kicks but in regular and slow motion, and Mizoguchi escapes. In the process, however, Miyamoto accidentally shoots the girl, Milly, and they hook up. She tries to explain to him that she's from the future, but he'll have none of it, so she proves it with her slow-time-down-watch that makes her rund in super speed while everything else seem to be stopped (Matrix). After Miyamoto becomes a believer, they go to the reserach center where the first alien is being kept, the alien suspecte of starting this whole war in the future. But when they finally get to this small creature with huge eyes, all he (it?) want to do is "go home" and tries to connect with these kind humans (E.T.). Get the picture?

This movie has gotten a load of bad press, and because of its derivative nature, it is perhaps understandable. But there are two big things that they do not understand. Yeah, right, the O-man's the only one who can see the light, hahaha, I'm so full of it. The Japanese--first in classical poetry, then in others genres from drama to narratives--make an art of "borrowing" from other sources. This is not meant to plagerize but to celebrate the past and to expand the meaning of present. In Returner, the connection is obvious to E.T., so while we have this warm and fuzzy image of ET in our mind, we are watching another alien being kept away from its mothership, and understand the wrath that could befall mankind if a Mizoguchi finds an alien rather than Elliott. This makes for a more complex viewing of the film, one that should make us think about different possibilities rather than deride the copying. And indeed, copying from an obvious source is crucial, as Fujiwara Teika once wrote. If the reference was obscure, what effect would it have? In the West, this technique is usually reserved for spoofs such as MAD Magazine or The Simpsons. But in Japan, it is an artistic technique.

The other thing these critics are missing is the comic book aspect. Many of them made reference to anime, but this is definitely a comic book movie. Many of the scenes are "frozen" as if they were a cell straight out of a manga (J comic books). There is one scene in which Miyamoto is shot in the street and the rain is falling down on him. The shot is taken from above with streams of rain falling down at an angle for a 3D effect toward the prone figure on the ground. And what is a movie but a 2D photograph in motion. This is classic comic book technique to provide depth perception--a technique begun by Tezuka Osamu in the 50s and adopted by US comic book artists much later.

Anyway, I'm not trying to sell the movie. It wasn't THAT good. But it can be better appreciated than the critics would lead you to believe. If you have a lazy weekend someday, it might be fun to watch.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Spring Break: Last day

Okay, it's still the weekend, but I have to start work--real work--since school's starting up again. So yesterday, Friday, was my last day of spring break. And again, I did nothing except my usual fooling around on the computer and getting stuff prepared for my literature seminar on poetry. Right now we're dealing with translation and how context can change the meanings of words.

This week is also M's Spring "break". I told her not to cook this week, which would kinda explain the frequency of our visits to Glory Day's, our local watering hole. It's a sports bar near my train station that is relatively inexpensive. The food is typical bar food: nachos, bufallo wings, burgers, salads. But that's not why we go. It's always for the b-e-e-r. We are true lushes. But sasugani--can someone give me a translation for this? This is such a convenient J word that means "as one would expect given the subject's predilictions, talents, tendencies, or natural human reactions vis-a-vis the topic at hand"... Anyway, sasugani we were kind of beered-out after three straight nights of heavy guzzling. I'm not as young as I once was, and I was woozy for most of the day. So we stayed in to watch DVDs I had rented and was pleasantly surprised...

Six Feet Under I am not a fan of pay TV. I paid for cable previoiusly, I now pay for satellite. How much more do these guys want me to pay? Don't I deserve HBO or Showtime by now? Well, I could live without movies that I can rent from Blockbuster's. But I really started to get pissed off when shows produced by these companies weree receiving a Emmy nominations and awards. How could they allow awards for best drama or comedy go to programming is only available with additional premium subscriptions. So eveyone was talking about the Sopranos and Sex in the City. Big deal. I'm a mule when it comes to paying extra for something that I believe should be free... like Xanga. But I had heard too much about Six Feet Under and so decided to rent the DVD. I was quite impressed and amused by this program about a family that is not dysfunctional by today's standards, butruns a business that would make most people feel dysfunctional: a morgue. There was a bit too much sex, for a TV show, and the gay brother actively kissing his lover caught me by surprise. But the story was interesting and engaging. We saw the pilot and the first two episodes, and I think I'll have to rent the rest soon. It wasn't good enough for me to call my satellite provider and order HBO, but I will see them on DVD.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Spring Break: Day 2 to 4

Ok, again in the tradition of Japanese Elementary school students, I've neglected to keep up the daily journal. Hahahaha. Gotta keep it real, y'know? Anyway, here's how its been.

Day Two Mondays lecture at G-town was okay. Nothing special. Since my friend wasn't there to, it felt like my own course and so I was a little more tense than usual... Hmmm, I gave the exact same lecture a month ago and it went really well. I don't know what the difference is... Today, I took my Unagi-kun to the dentist. If you're wondering, unagi mean eel. I call him that because he doesn't have much of a chin, kinda like an eel. hehehehe. I don't call him that, of course, just here on Xanga. For those of you who don't know, he's my stepson. He is also half Korean, grandparents are from what is now North Korea. Went to Glory Days for a beer.

Day Three Took M to the DMV to take her road test and she passed on the first try. While I would never tell this to her face, I can't believe she passed. She drove in Japan which might suggest what kind of driver she is... Went to Glory Days again. Came home and watched 21 Grams. Really confusing.

Day Four Just stayed home and putted around. Didn't accomplish much... Watched 21 Grams once more before returning it to Blockbuster. Now that I knew what it was about, it made more sense. the movie goes back and forth in time. Actually that's not exactly right. It goes randomly through a number of temporal jumps, and a lot of scenes didn't make sense the night before. Of course, it might have been because I was drunk... Stanford won its game in the first round of NCAA tourney. Go Cardinal... Yeah, there's no "s" at the end of Cardinal because the Stanford team is not a bird but a color... I wonder if that's a reference to the school's previous "mascot" the Indians... Anyway, since you really can't make a color into a mascot, the Stanford uses the Tree, a stupid looking sequoia, which is a redwood which may explain the cardinal color as well, but I'm not so sure...

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Spring Break: Day One

Ok, in the tradition of Japanese Elementary education, I decided to keep a daily journal of my days. Of course, being the O-man, I can't help but insert my own opinion on a variety of topics as they present themselves to me... So what's the difference? Hmm... I'm not sure. Anyway:

Today is the first day of Spring Break and I have a few things I want to take care of, specifically prepare a paper for publication. So today, I will... go to work... Yes, stupid me, I am guest lecturing at G-town University for a friend who is in China. So I will be wasting a whole day better spent on grading--I have 50 papers and 16 midtems (@_@;)--but that's okay since I will be talking about my favorite topic: Japanese poetry.

Speaking of which, I think I may be in the midst of creating a monster, but much like Victor von Frankenstein, I am drunk in the beauty of the creation... and the resulting hangover may explain why I've missed a couple of days here. Oh well. Anyway, gotta get ready and go to G-town...

Sunday, March 14, 2004

The Militarization of Japan?

I study Japan. But I am not very familiar with its international relation, except to the extent of which I had studied it in school and what I've read in the news media. I certainly can do more to understand its relationship with its neighboring countries, specifically the Koreas--North and South--and China. I have read on different occasions--as I'm sure many of you have--that there is a general disturst of Japan in East Asia and its ever growing military role overseas. There are grumbles from China that Japan harbors a desire to expand its military influence in the region.

Well, allow me to offer some additional information. One of the interesting aspects of Japan is its ability to sell things through public ads, Japan spends millions--if not billions--of dollars on advertising research and campaigns to reach a certain market. As with any culture, the ads are designed to connect with the target audience in an attempt to have them "buy" a product. Well, there is a large video billboard in Shibuya, Tokyo for the Japan Marine Self-Defense Force. The name of the organization might be misleading. It is not a National Guard or a Coast Guard. The JMSDF maintains an impressive fleet of ships--and submarines--that would make the Navy of many countries proud. The technology is there, as you might well imagine. But is there an overwhelming nationalistic desire to expand Japan's influence through its military?

A student of mine--I don't want to use his name, so I'll give you his initials, R.O.Y.--clued me into a recruiting commercial for the JMSDF. And he laughed rhetorically, "How could anyone think that Japan is trying to expand its militaritary presence in the region?" Well, I watched the video billboard aimed at attracting young urban Japanese men and women to serve in the defense of their homeland. And I must admit, I had to laugh with him. I showed the clip to M, and she just said, "How embarassing!"

Well, I think maybe you should consider this billboard the next time you hear discussions of Japan's militaristic expansion. Is it some sort of sinister plot to lull other countries? Is it a way to garner interest, only to indoctorate the Japanese youth once they enter the JMSDF? Is this simply a reflection of the direction in which Japan and its youth is going--cute entertainment?Below is a link to a page I threw together that will show you the US Navy recruit ad--for perspective--and a link to the Japanese ad--given J technology, they still don't know the Interent, and the video may take some time to load... but its good for a laugh.

The Query: Given the fact that this ad is aimed specifically at young Japanese men and women to serve in the Marine Self-Defense Force (Navy), what do you think is JMSDF's impression of the young people of Japan? Are they targeting people who are hardcore, take-no-prisoner types of recruits? Or do they think they will garner more interest by presenting themselves as possible back-up dancers for Saijo Hideki's version of the Village People's "YMCA"? Please take a look and give me your thoughts of this... um... er... recruiting commercial.

* * * Compare the two marine/navy branches now * * *

Friday, March 12, 2004


Mattblue asked about Reed, the guy who tried to cheer me up with his chicken story when my first dog, Kyu-chan, died. Well, Reed died about 5-6 years ago. I didn't go to his funeral; I heard about his death from a mutual friend.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s like any other kid from any other generation. There were the cool kids, and there were the uncool kids. Well, I was one of the uncool kids--this is why it cracks me up when Sammy and Paiky try to re-assure me that I'm cool. Hahahah, Yeah, like, "Right." * Anyway, the cool guys at my all-Japanese Catholic parochial school lived on the Westside. The Eastside was where all the phoofy parents moved to escape the urbanization (read: growing black population) of the Westside. The hardcore Buddhaheads lived in the Crenshaw district. But Reed was from the uber-cool area. He didn't live on the Eastside or the Westside. He lived in South Central, right in the middle of Watts. If memory serves me correctly, it was near Vernon and Broadway. Man, he invited me over once when we were in the second or third grade and I thought I had landed in a foreign country. I had never seen any area like it. I mean, was from East L.A. where all the Chicanos lived, so I was no virgin to minority central. But this was a bit different.

Of course, being with Reed, I wasn't afraid of anything. Reed was the largest dude in our class. He was always taller and bigger than any of us. Not fatter, but bulkier. I remember going to the corner store with him to buy some soda pop, Bubble-Up as I recall. And it was an adventure. African-Americans--we called them colored back then--of every size and age. It was exciting.

"Hey there, Reed. You practicing with your friend here?" the old white-haired store owner asked him, as he glanced at me over his horn-rimmed glasses.

"No, he just came over to play," he responded.

On the way back to Reed's house, I had to ask, "Practice what?"


Of course, in the third grade, playing the guitar didn't make him cool... yet. It was just a distraction to him and his friends. We would have baseball practice for our church league and Reed would always come late.

"Hey, man. We finished running drills, already. Where you been?"

"Guitar practice"

The dude was always practicing classical guitar, which is what made him even better on electric. And by the 6th grade, that made him ultra uber-cool.

From then until about 11th grade, we grew apart. Reed got to hang out with the cool crowd, the Westsiders to whom he would teach easy guitar chords and riffs to songs like Cream's "Sunshine of your love" or Steppenwolfe's "Born to be wild". I got to hang with guys with names like Meldon and Kim who taught me how to play chess and play the characters from The Man From Uncle (can you say Illya Kuryakin?).

However, at 17, when I found myself in a budding rock/dance band, they asked me if I knew a bass player. I was not the best keyboard player around, but I could raise my stature in the eyes of my cohorts by providing a solid bass player. Reed.

Well, we rocked together for a short while, I elevated myself to the world of cool, as fleeting as it may have been. After the band broke up, we went our separate ways again. And after high school, I only saw him twice in J-town. He was glowing about having been named salesman of the month for a beer distributing company, not a mean feat in a town with a ton of beer salesmen. But I had heard that Reed had gotten into worse things than I. We had all done our share of pharmeceuticals in the band, but apparently, Reed went hardcore, and after experiencing problems with his first marriage, he was on a downward spiral. He had apparently cleaned up his act by the mid-90s, but by then his body was a wreck and he passed soon after due to a number of medical complications. He was in his early 40s.

I will miss his guitar...

* I didn't reach cool until I started to work part time and then hooked up with some people to start a band. Ref. NLUTE

This is so different from my other queries, but have you lost anyone to drugs? For me, Reed wasn't the only one.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Sylvia the Cat

The cat we owned the longest was a Siamese named Sylvia. Yes, again my mother named her. We got her from free from a friend of a friend in spring of 1966 and she disappeared in 1982. As you probably know, cats don't die at home. If they know they are going to die, they will leave the home and die elsewhere. I waited about three weeks in the hopes she would return. She had disappeared for days at a time over the years, but that was when she was much younger. At 16 years old, she was a pretty old cat with worn out teeth and graying hair--yes, animals gray, too. I was so sad, and I swore I would never own another pet. The death of a loved pet is painful, and I don't want to go through that again...

Anyway, she was and always will be my favorite. She was a feisty cat. She would never do what you wanted her to do. But she was smart and we never had a problem with her. We never had a sand box; we had a small window open with a loose screen. She would use her claw to lift it and she'd go in and out of the house as she pleased. She would never piss or crap in the house, unless someone mistakenly closed the window shut. I think she hated a smelly house as much as we did. She often slept on my bed, on the covers between my leg. Since I toss and turn a bit, she was never there when I woke up in the morning, but I must have moved more of my lower body when I slept, because I would sometimes wake up with her head resting on my arm, purring. I think she liked the way I petted her, too. I would stroke her beneath the chin, and behind the ear. What she really liked, I think, was when I would massage her toes. If you have a cat, you know that they have those dark padded toes. Sylvia wouldn't budge when I would lightly pinch them between my fingers as I wathced TV. I guess she was pretty spoiled...

But she really showed how spoiled she was when it came to food (we were truly kindred spirits). She would eat Kal-Kan cat food and nothing else. Once we bought the wrong brand and she refused to eat it. We thought if we just left it out, starvation would take over and she would give in... Fat chance, she went out and caught a sparrow, brought it back into the house and placed it into her dish. Not to eat. She just left it there... and it was kinda of half alive to boot. Ugh! But my mom said, No way. This cat will eat what we bought or eat nothing!

So Sylvia got serious.

The next day--Sylvia's third day on strike--my mother was getting ready to go to work and hurriedly put her shoes on... Her left foot wouldn't go in all the way, something was stuffed inside. She took out her foot, picked up the shoe and reached in. She felt something clammy and pulled out... a salamander. Kyaaah! My mother screamed so loud, I, I, I didn't know what to think! How the heck did a salamander get into your shoe, mom? I picked up the dead salamander my mom dropped on the floor and recognized Sylvia's tell-tale teeth marks around the body. Damn, I have never figured out how Sylvia knew which shoe to put it in.

Later that day, Sylvia was sleeping on top of the TV purring as loudly as she pleased after gorging herself on a can of her beloved Kal-Kan cat food.

Hahaha. I loved that cat. I hope she's with mom now...

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Owning pets...

I hate to own pets. It's not that I dislike animals. In fact, I really kinda like them. They are the only ones that will give you unconditional love. You could be in the worst mood, but they will always look up to you as if you were the most important person in the world. Of course, if you're a dog, then the "owner" IS the most important person in the world. At least until I see a dog flipping burgers at a McDonalds, that is. But if a person with long hair has to wear a hat or hair net, what's a dog gonna wear? *shudder*

At our house, when I was a kid, we had a variety of pets. My first pet, a dog, was named Kyu-chan, after Sakamoto Kyu, the singer of "Sukiyaki" (Jp: Ue wo muite aruko...). Don't ask: My mom named her. We had her for about a year when one day she ran out into the street and was hit by a car. I was in the 4th grade and devastated. I went to school and started to cry everytime I thought about her. A classmate of mine, Reed--God rest his soul--tried to cheer me up by telling me his chicken died recently too. Oh? Did you bury her? I asked. She was dinner... Hahahah! I kid you not! I couldn't make this up if I tried. I've had the funniest conversations in my day. But, at the time, his comment made me cry even more.

We've had rabbits, and hamsters and tropical fish. But my favorite pet was a cat. Cats can be stuck up, and nonchalant, and they will never fetch. But there is something about their sense of independence, their pride that I just love. And they are smart creatures. No, they won't pound their paws four times to answer what 2 + 2 equals. It won't even meow loud if an intruder were lurking--in that, you can't beat a dog. But still, they can live pretty independently, and they know exactly what they want.

What kind of pets have you owned?

Lazy Saturday, random dream

Well, it's lazy and random mostly cuz I'm recovering from a hangover...

  • Somedays I will have had 3 pints and have a splitting headache, and on other nights down 6 to 8 pints and wake up woozy, like today...
  • After visiting a number of places, I'm glad to learn that I am not the only one who is addicted to Xanga...
  • It's raining off and on. At this particular moment the sun is shining through the clouds even as the rain beats down furiously on my bedroom window.
  • Thanks for all the advice. I guess I'll just resign myself to having a simple Xanga page. I'm not so much into "cool" anyway. My time has passed. "Cool" is for the young and the adventurous, not the middle-aged and the conservative. One sign that I am getting old: It took me 5 minutes to figure out that CSS meant Cascading Style Sheet...

Last Night's Dream

(with some embellishment.)

I walk into a classroom. White, sterile. One florescent light overhead. Large windows on two walls, one in front, one to the right. On the left is a whiteboard. Desks--about 12--are lined up against the wall on the right, in front of the window. I turn around in the room to orient myself, only to find that the desks are now lined up in the middle of the room in four rows three across facing the window. And students are sitting there taking notes.

"...each group must take one chapter of the story and give a presentation," I announce. "But first we must take our final."

All the students groan as I pass out the exam. They open up their Bluebooks and start scribbling answers to questions that I have yet to form...

I go to the whiteboard and write the sequence of presentations by the groups. Some students respond immeditately.

"But this is our final exam, right? Do we have to come for the rest of the semester?"

"Well, duh! I mean, there's only two weeks left. Besides, the groups will provide information crucial for the final exam," I shoot back.

"But we're taking the final right now!" one student reminds me.

"No wonder I can't answer the question," complains another.

"Don't worry, you'll do fine. I'ts only an exam..." I try to comfort them.

The students just roll their eyes and continue with the exam, turning them in one at a time.

Next class--I don't actually remember leaving the room--only four students show up, those who were supposed to give presentations. In fact, one of the presenters brought the typed presentation of another student who decided the semester was over...

I wonder if this means anything?

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Escalator etiquette

I went to work today as I always do. I take the train into town, and for me it is an easy commute. I lived in Japan for a number of years and now truly appreciate mass transportation: no wear and tear on the car, lower insurance premiums, no headaches of sitting in a car stuck in a two-lane parking lot (route 66). A five minute skip from my house to the station, 25 minutes on the Metro to DC, then a 3 minute walk to my office. Not a hard commute at all.

Now, I usually run a little late, what my friends used to call JST (Japan Standard Time) which means about 20 minutes later than everyone else. As a result, I always end up running to the station and walking up and down the escalators. Which brings me to my point: There is such a thing as escalator etiquette. In DC, anyway. The standard unwritten rule is "stand to the right, pass to the left." When I'm with Mus... uh, I mean, the wifey--geez, now that I think of it, what should I call her now?--anyway, when we're on the escalator, we will usually stand behind each other to allow others to walk up to our left. But when I'm by myself, I am the one passing to the left. Many out-of-towners are unfamiliar with this rule and I usually don't say anything. I just stop behind them unless I'm really late: "Excuse, I'd need to get through." I have had people roll their eyes. "Look, Herman. They're all show-offs, walking up escalators." Or, "Geez, what's his rush?" I wanto ta say something like, Look Harriette, not all of us are on vacation. But I usually think better of it, and just ignore them. Another basic rule is to take the elevator when you are lugging around a large suitcase or stroller or bicycle. Not only does it block the entire width, it is can be dangerous trying to balance something oversized on the steps of the escalator.

But the one rule of etiqutte that everyone must absolutely follow was ignored today, by a middle aged man walking up the escalator in front of me. He obviously didn't realize that one must never, absolutely never fart on the escalator. Walking up the escalator as I usually do, my face is around butt level of the person ahead of me. I get the first whiff... Oh man! Who cut the cheese! But I'm caught in no-man's land. I want to avoid this malodorous chunk of air--man! my nose hair was curling--but I can't step to the right, as the people who are not walking upstairs are standing on every step. I can't just stop because there are others walking up behind me. Even worse, I can't help but think that the person behind me probably thinks I cut the cheese! I wanted to turn around and appeal, It's not me! Ugh, I hate it when people are so inconsiderate...

Wednesday, March 03, 2004


Haiku is often thought of as being deep and universal. While it can be read that wya, it can be seen to be very light hearted in many instances. This is a short verse by the Edo haiku poet KOBAYASHI Issa.

やれうつな はえが手をすり足をする

oh don't hit fly hands rub feet rub

"Oh no! Don't swat me!"
The fly rubs together
its palms and soles

The image of this poem is simple. The poet observes a fly as it rubs its hand together, as flies are wont to do. Issa, however, applies human characteristics to this action. He imagines the fly rubbing its hands--plams together--begging for mercy: Oh no! Don't swat and kill me! The translation is rather mundane, if you ask me. Now that I've explained the gist of the haiku, is there a better way to translate this? It should be light, amusing, and direct. Nothing fancy shmancy.

Note: Japanese is an SOV (subject-object-verb) language unlike English which is SVO. A crude example: "I eat bread." In Japanese, the sequence of words would be "I bread eat." Althought there is a lot more going on, that's one way of understanding the structure at its most simplistic level.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Oscar funk

Once upon a time, I went to a lot of movies. But not lately. The movies of recent years are interesting but not outstanding. At least in my little mind. Back in the 70s, when I first became seriously interested in movies, I went to see flicks like The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Annie Hall, Deer Hunter, Apocolypse Now, The French Connection, Patton. The 80s had its share of good movies as well: Chariots of Fire, Ghandi, The Color Purple, The Killing Fields, The Right Stuff, The Big Chill. There were of course the fluff pieces like Rocky and The Goodbye Girl. But they were pretty good too. What attracted me to these movies was the human craft--the actors who perform with their heart and their minds to create a piece of art. Now I enjoy CG a lot. Certainly it is a necessary part of many movies. But when it becomes the vehicle of a movie, then it loses some of its impact on me. Star Wars and Close Encounters were certainly great movies, but it never bothered me that they never won an oscar in the major categories. I think Alec Guiness was the only one nominated for Star Wars, but that was probably because of who he was rather than what he did. Close Encounters was not nominated for Best Picture but it did get at least a Supporting Actress nod--Melinda Dillon. But as movies relied more and more on effects to tell their stories, it is not surprising that they rarely received acting nominations--ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and more recently Babe (the talking pig!) being good examples. Of course, despite the great story telling, without the human element--the outstanding acting--as the driving force to carry the film, they never received a Best Picture award.
Until this year.
Kudos to Lord of the Rings. It won in every category it was nominated for. And this is great for storytelling that relies more on special effects than acting, as the members of the academy voted it as Best Picture but did not hand out a single nomination to any of the actors. This is fine I suppose, and I wouldn't have given it a second thought had this occured in any of the past eight years. What gets me is that this is not the best film of the year. Maybe the best trilogy in the past few years, but that's not the category: Best picture of the Year. Why should the other movies be compared to a trilogy? It was a wonderful movie, to be sure, and I couldn't wait to see it, but personally, The Last Samurai or Pirates of the Carribean were just as good, and In America was probably better. Certainly, Mystic River and Lost In Translation were. Seabicuit is the other odd one. It too was a good movie but I didn't think it was worthy of a best picture nomination. Be that as it may, with the clean sweep by LOTR, I'm afraid the other great movies of the year--and I think there is no mistaking that this was a pretty damn good year for movies--will soon be forgotten. Certainly well crafted, well performed, but small flicks like Lost In Translation will disappear from the public consciousness in a year or two. Probably less. Quick, in 2001 Gladiator won Best Picture. Who were the other nominees? Answer below...
In any case, I'm sure I'm in the minority, but I am Old School. I am sad that LOTR dominated the Oscars. And I had wished that a movie in which superior acting was a major factor had won. Although I do think Gollum--he's so precious--was overlooked by the academy for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
List of Best Pictures with acting nominations for the past 12 years.B=Best, M=Actor, F=Actress, S=Supporting, *=winner of category.
2004 Lord of the Rings: No nominees...
2003 Chicago: BF Renee Zellwegger; BSF *C.Z. Jones, Queen Latifah; BSM John Reilly.
2002 A Beautiful Mind: BM Russel Crowe; BSF *Jennifer Connelly.
2001 Gladiator: BM *Russell Crowe; BSM Joaquin Phoenix.
2000 American Beauty: BM *Kevin Spacey; BF Annette Bening.
1999 Shakespear in Love: BF *Gwyneth Paltrow; BSF *Judi Dench.
1998 Titanic: BF Kate Winslet; BSF Glori Stuart.
1997 The English Patient: BM Ralph Fiennes; BF Kristin Scott Thomas; BSF *Juliette Binoche.
1996 Braveheart: No nominees; although Best Director winner was male lead, Mel Gibson.
1995 Forrest Gump: BM *Tom Hanks; BSM Gary Sinise.
1994 Schindler's List: BM Liam Neeson; BSM Ralph Fiennes.
1993 Unforgiven: BM Clint Eastwood; BSM *Gene Hackman.
1992 Silence of the Lamb: BM *Anthony Hopkins; BF *Jodie Foster.
In 2001, the other movies nominated were Erin Brockovich, Chocolat, Traffic, and Wo hu cang long. How many did you get? I only remembered Erin Brockovich, only because I don't really like Julia Roberts...