Monday, January 31, 2005

Senryu February


kay, CaptainGaijin, I put the word in bold so you can hurry your way to another site of your choosing. Cuz, here's another senryu post. I'm talking about senryu in class today so as I was jotting down my thoughts, I thought I'd share some of them with you. No tuition necessary, although donations to the Onigiriman Relief Fund are appreciated.

Last year, we had six senryu salons and I was flattered with the everyone's participation. There were a total of 56 different participants--a little less than quarter of my subscribers--but only 16 who participate 3 or more times. Oh well, that's okay. I can't imagine what I'd have done if all participated at once!

Anyway, after a half year of practice, I think we are getting the hang of this, and it is now time to take a step up, to really get into the meat of what senryu really is: A poetry that attempts to capture through a snapshot a satirical or poignant moment that highlights the foibles of man and the society in which he lives. Let's take a brief look at the origins of senryu. According to The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001:

Senryu: a Japanese poem structurally similar to the haiku but primarily concerned with human nature. It is usually humorous or satiric. Used loosely, the term means a poem similar to the haiku that does not meet the criteria for haiku.

Okay, I teach at a college that would never be confused for Columbia, but this definition is far too "loose", even if it admits to it. A senryu is NOT a haiku. The only thing they have in common is the syllable count.

Senryu is said to have come out of haikai--a form of linked verse in which three poets take turns composing poems that are related to only the previous poem. But haikai--originally comical--was "elevated" by Basho as a form that expressed deep human sentiments. There is also the view that the poetry of Basho's late years was the prescursor if senryu--his poetry manifested the attitude of karumi--lightness--which focused on images of humans and the mundane features of their lives.

The bottom line is that no one is really sure where it "came" from...

But, we do know that its name came from a poet who mastered the form of comic--often irreverent--observations of human life: Karai Senryu (1718-90). Senryu--lit. meaning willow river--was a town official in Edo (modern day Tokyo) and a haikai poet, but more famous as a judge for maekuzuke--literally, attaching to the previous verse. In simple terms, the judge, or other noted haikai poet, would provide a 14 (7-7) syllable verse and participants would attach their 17 (5-7-5) syllable verse to complete it. Normally, the tsukeku--attached poem--had to respond to the judges verse, the maeku (previous verse), in a comical, amusingly unexpected way. This meant that many of the verses relied on puns or made fun of people in everyday life, especially the important people. Prizes were awared to those who were selected by the judge as superior.

In 1765, Senryu's disciples published a collection of superior verses called Yanagidaru (willow barrel). What makes this collection significant is that it is the oldest extant collection of tsukeku without the maeku. In other words, the tsukeku had to stand by themselves. Interestingly, it was understood that many of the tsukeku could be edited by the judge, and as a result, most of the verses--even though written by many different people--were often associated with the judge...

And a genre was born.

Now, back to the original issue. What is the difference between haiku and senryu? Basically, haiku focuses on the nature, both natural and human, often expressing both the momentary and the eternal. Each verse must make reference to a season with a seasonal word. It must also have a kireji--cutting word--that separates the two essential parts of the poem.

Perhaps the most famous poem by Basho is:


furuike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto
old-pond (emphatic)
frog  jumps-in
water (attributive) sound

This haiku must have at least a million different translations. But you'll have to live with mine:

Ah, an old pond
a frog jumps in
the sound of water

Strictly and grammatically speaking, it should read: Ah, an old pond--the sound of water into which a frog jumps. The effect of the relative clause--"into which a frog jumps"--gives the Japanese reader the sense of "the sound water makes when a frog jumps in." In any event, the poem provides a seasonal word--frog--suggesting spring. It also conveys the eternal--old pond--and the momentary--sound of water. The effect is to express the universality of nature, both at once absolute and ever changing. The contradiction of this image speaks to the world itself, our world where things seem to be absolute, eternal and yet no so.

In contrast, senryu gets rid of nature. And it gets rid of the eternal, focusing only on the moment, usually a very human moment.

Cutting a fart
but it's not even funny--
one living alone

While funny, this particular anonymous verse reveals the loneliness of the person. If there were others at home with him, cutting the cheese would arouse comment and maybe laughter, but when alone that would not be the case.

The wife is away
so he spends the whole day
looking for things.

A snapshot of the relationship between married couples. Actually, I can really relate to this poem, as I am always asking M where things are, especially in the kitchen.

In any case, the beauty of senryu--to paraphrase Haruo Shirane--is its ability to reveal human weaknesses and failings, and pointing out the contradictions we face in life.

So are you guys ready to write verse that can reveal human weaknesses and failings? Well, if you are particularly sarcastic and cynical--like me--then this should not be a problem. And for those of you cut from gentler, more optimistic cloth, you can at least pretend to be mean and cynical... Hahahahahha.

February's Topic: forget, or any of its adjective or noun forms.

For some basic pointers--such as syllable count, grammatical structure--read this and this. Remember that I will accept only one senryu and in general the first one only. Be sure to submit your senryu to this post. I will leave a link on my front page. Sorry, participation is limited to subscribers only.

If you want to read previous submission, click on "previous senryu" above for quicker access.

Good luck.

Meetin' Up


ave you ever wondered who leaves comments on your site? I'm sure that all of you have friends who leave comments, but there are also those whom you have never met, right? Now, don't you wonder from time to time who they are? What they're really like? And don't you sometimes get the hankerin' to meet them in the flesh?

Well, I have only met one so far, Ender. She was a person I met through other students who were studying in Japan. She ultimately matriculated to the school where I teach, and came to take a Japanese placement exam from me. When I saw her e-mail address, I thought, "Now where have I seen this name before?" Hahhahah. It was her. But she came to my site because she had met some of my students, so while it was fun to meet her, it was not that unusual.

The other day, I went to school and entered my office when I found the following note on the floor.

Again, I'm thinking, :"Where have I heard this name before?" Okay, I may sound stupid, but haven't you ever met someone out of context and not immediately recognize the name or face? Well, I have, many times. And this time was no exception. After staring at the message for 5 minutes it finally sunk in. It's SunJun. Hahhahahah. Damn! I wish I had been in when he came. I definitely would have liked to have met him. But unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Oh well. Maybe next time....

But on Saturday, I finally did meet someone, although it seems I sorta missed someone was well. But I'll write about it later. For now, it's time to sleep. I had a busy weekend, a long flight, and I'm exhausted...

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Senryu Tsubame 2004


he top scorer last year was a young Korean man living in St. Louis. I think he's an engineer of somekind, something that just blows my mind. How can an engineer have the sensitivity of a poet? Hahahhaha. Just kidding, of course. Anyway, SunJun has placed first twice. His poetry is rarely contrived. He is straight forward--in Japanese, sunao 素直--presenting images that also convey a great understanding of the moment. The following on the topic "waiting" is a good example.

Stomach in tight knots,
white corsage in trembling hands,
Waiting at her door

Who can forget the nervousness of a first date or that great high school event, the senior prom. The verse captures the moment of picking up his date and those few moments of waiting at the door, so long and yet too short. The corsage is a great image to use, as it conveys to the reader to precise occasion and setting.

Right on the heels of SunJun is msbLiss. Her senryu often capture the moment in an insightful way, as she did with the topic, "air conditioner".

thighs fused to vinyl
even the cat is panting
U-haul's AC dead

The image is great, and illustrates our dependence on a cool environment in our modern world. The U-haul underscores modernity, reflecting how we often must move around in this busy world--the cat particularly reflects pulling up roots and moving to a new place. And the thighs fused to the vinyl seat? Doesn't that almost put you right there?

In third place is Sammy. He has consistently submitted senryu that place him somewhere in the top. Whenever I read his submissions, I get the sense that his words are directly from his own experiences, a snapshot of his own life.

Diploma in hand,
Under the gaze of parents,
Tears fall from their eyes

This is a nice moment in time when parents shed tears when they see their baby graduating. Of course, the tears could be shed for a number of reasons: joy at seeing success, sadness at seeing the child take another step toward independence, or relief that they will finally be able to afford that second honeymoon to Tahiti. But only Sammy would know?

Okay, so there you have it. I'm not sure if I will continue doing these senryu salons. They are fun for some, but not for all, apparently. Today, a former student of mine IMed me, saying that when he comes here and sees the word senryu, he automatically goes to another site. Oh well, can't please all the people all the time. Personally, I enjoy doing them, but it is time consuming, and I have enough things to grade for class as it is... We'll see...

Friday, January 28, 2005

Senryu Standings 2004


ere are the final standings for all subscribers who participated in 2004. The score is based on a 5 point system. 5 for 天 Ten, 4 for 地 Chi, 3 for 人 Jin, 2 for 三客 Sankyaku and 1 for all other participating subscribers.

Now, as you should all know, it is not about the winning. It never is. The purpose of art--and life in general--is to participate. And as participants, you experience something different, making yourself all the more unique and special--even if you are just dabbling. I believe this in my heart. When I went to Japan, I studied at Nihon University. There, I met a professor who researched Edo Period senryu. I told him my father practiced senryu poetry and that even I had tried my hand in it. He looked at me and said in a tone that I suppose he meant to be polite, "I don't really read amateur poetry." My pride was not so much hurt as I was disturbed by this attitude. Isn't particpating in any fashion the first step to learning? And even if you don't make it your life's work, did you not at least learn something new, and maybe something about yourself? And that alone has value?

I swore that I would never be that kind of teacher. I enjoy sharing my experience--what I know, what I have learned--with my students, hoping the assignments I give them, the readings they do, the projects they are "forced" to do, will expand their horizons even a little, making them more open, more experienced, more accepting and ultimately better people. I want them to enter my world, even if for a taste, in the hopes that they too will grow into adults who will be willing to let others into their own worlds. No judgments, no discrimination.

And this is why I hold these "salons", modest as they are. I want you to taste a little bit of my world, and I hope to share in what you have to offer.

Anyway, here is a list of scores of all participants this year, led by SunJun and msbLiss. Tomorrow, I will talk a little bit about their poetry.

imahima 41 121dec9
detachable 21julyaugsept25
LaMangust mayjune31sept15
ddsb2000 11julyaugseptdec2
Link_Strife mayjunejuly1septdec1
Fongster8 mayjunejulyaug1dec1
shiroi_norite mayjunejulyaug1dec1
iiSoNySoUnDii mayjunejulyaug1dec1

Thursday, January 27, 2005


I think most have picked up on the meaning of my poem below. I refer to the ribbon stickers that you see on the back of many cars these days. The are displayed as a way to support our troops. By using the word "windshield" I thought most would understand that I was in a car and looking at a sticker on the bumper or window of the car in front of me. SleepingCutie lives in Canada, so I guess she could be excused from recognizing readily the symbolism. Anyway, I felt the imagery and sentiment to be appropriate in these trying times, but personally I don't think the poem flows as well as it should, in spite of Jerry's kind words. Oh well...

Ribbons evoking
thoughts of our boys in harm's way
in a parking lot.

Lovingly, a wife
applies on a Ford truck's gate
a yellow ribbon.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Senryu Tsubame 川柳つばめ吟社: December

And the winners are...


he pool of poems were fewer than any previous salon. Perhaps December was a busy time for everyone, or maybe some are growing tired of composing poems or having their poems critiqued by a ball of rice. Another point is that there were a number of first timers--exactly half of them. In any event, there were only sixteen poems, but then, that just makes it easier for me to focus on each one.

Of the poems submitted, the one that really stood out--and probably would have won regardless of how many entries there were--was Whonose's submission, at once flowing and witty. AznQuarter came up with an image that was familiar but just quirky enough to make it standout--ribbon instead of string. RachelsMommy presented an image that was expected--a present, a child--given the topic and the time of season, but beautifully described--just get rid of the repetition. The Vixen's ice cream and SunJun's representation of a child's expectation were competent for honorable mention, and detachable's poem was just too damn sexy to ignore.

The rankings in Japanese are: 天 ten (heaven), 地 chi (earth), 人 jin (man) and 三客 sankyaku (three guests--honorable mentions).

As per custom, the critic's senryu--which you are free to critique--is at the bottom.

The typewriter clicks
Thought broken like the ribbon
I was on a roll

by whonose

knots on a finger
a ribbon to remind me
to forget me nots

by aznquarter

Perfect satin curls,
unfurled, discarded with glee
by one anxious child.

by RachelsMommy

with dainty fingers
she wraps the shiny, black silk
stockings round her thighs

by detachable

Sweet swirled on the tongue's taste buds--
Chocolate ribbons

by bane_vixen

Tied in a neat bow,
the bright, red ribbon beckons.
Who knows what's inside?

by SunJun

Critic's own:

A ribbon sticker--
reminder through the windshield
of boys in harms way...

by Onigiriman

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Senryu Tsubame 川柳つばめ吟社: December


eeing as it was near Christmas when I presented the topic, I was wondering if anyone would totally disregard this and pick out an image from left field. Well, I must have a bunch of crazy readers because the verses below are quite diverse. Granted, ribbons for presents was the topic for many, there were others that referred to ribbons in the hair, a ribbon after a race, a ribbon to tie on a finger, and even a typewriting ribbon. A typewriter! Do you guys even know what they are? Or what they look like? I once saw a guy feeling for something on a Royal 500 typewriter. "What are you looking for?" I asked. The power button. "Ahem. It's manual."

Anyway, the poems are listed in order of receipt. Enjoy.

To give and receive,
Now just isn't good enough!
Ribbons on top, please.

by XanthochromeSum

First impression: Child of the 21st century. Technical foul: None. Poet's Remark: Wow, that was a hard topic Comments: When you say "To give and receive" I presume that you mean presents? And giving and receiving isn't good enough? Hmmm... The "Now" also seems to suggest that ribbons are a recent phenomenon. Well, I know that I come from prehistoric times, but I distinctly remember ripping through ribbons when I was a kid. Still, it nicely represents the heart of one who who wants more than just a present, who is as concerned with the presentation (external) as as with the content (internal). How Japanese... Don't forget to focus on a particular instant in time that is more textured; don't leave it too much to the reader. Senryu is a snapshot or life.

Hairy man singing
"Scarlet ribbon for my hair"
But he sings gibbon.

by Allanwr

First impression: Why does this sound so familier? Technical foul: None. Comments: The phrase "Scarlet ribbon for my hair" sounds so familiar but I can't seem to place it. Quoting from other sources is fine, but it has to be readily recognizable to the reader. There is a similar practice in traditional Japanese court poetry called honkadori. This is a technique by which a poet can augment his poem by adding images from another poem just by alluding to it through a phrase. But for this technique to work, the phrase being alluded to must be famous and recognizable to the majority of readers. Unfortunately, this doesn't really work with senryu. Although this snapshot is pretty vivid. Why do I get the image of Jerry Garcia?

There were four runners
I was last to cross the line
Purple condolence

by HANDI_411

First impression: Purple? Technical foul: None. Poet's Remark: I came in last in every race I ever ran in high school, but this one time I got a ribbon anyway--it's a strange kind of satisfaction. Forgive me for giving this a title, but I just couldn't pass up the pun (my mom's fault). Comments: Hahahha, it's funny and self effacing. I guess your saying that since there were only four competitors, you got a purple ribbon despite coming in last? Nice effort. This is an image I can relate to, although--in terms of the vers itself--I am stuck on the word "condolence".. A sense of jubilation--like "4th Place Ribbon"--would have created tension as the counterpart to coming in last. It would have added to the irony that makes a good senryu.

Spools and still more spools
A new color for each gift
But where is the end?

by SleepyWalnut

First impression: End of what? Technical foul: None. Poet's Remark: I subscribe, so I suppose that means I can participate, correct? If not, just disregard this. Comments: I love the images of the various ribbon colors and the idea that there are many gifts. But the last line was a bit confusing. I presume you are referring to the gifts? Because the end of the ribbon would be right in fron of your eyes. As such, the last line lends itself to abstraction, I think. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it should be tied--no pun intended--with an image of frustration or concern, not the bright positive images you set down through the images of brightly colored ribbons.

Kitty likes ribbon
More than the girl who wears it
Oops, now it's in shreds.

by WolferasDreams

First impression: Cute. Technical foul: None. Comments: This is a sweet sounding poem but I'm not sure I get the ending. I can see how a kitty can shred ribbon--I'm a cat lover and have had my share of cats--but the way you phrase this sounds like the kitty is shredding the ribbon in the girl's hair. That is hard to grasp. Am I missing something? First, how does the kitty get into the girl's hair? Is she lying down? If so, you should fit it in somehow. And if it is in her hair, isn't "oops" a bit reserved as a response? Shouldn't it be more like "ouch" or "hey, stupid!" Of course, if you are suggesting the ribbons are elsewhere, then the imagery went *swoosh* completely over my head...

Sweet swirled on the tongue's taste buds--
Chocolate ribbons

by bane_vixen

First impression: Chocolate! Technical foul: None. Poet's Remark: Look at an ice cream carton that has raspberry or chocolate fudge in it. Notice how they are described. It goes something like this: Praline-coated almonds in creamy vanilla with ribbons of luscious, decadent chocolate. Yes, chocolate ribbons exist. Hell, lemon ribbons are somewhere out there, too, though a bit elusive Comments: I almost can't believe this is your poem. Where's the angst? Where's the sarcasm? Hehehheeh. Just kidding. I like your attempt, although you are trying to say too much with too few words. I point to your explanation as evidence. Fortunately for you, I love chocolate fudge in cies cream so I picked up the imagery immediately. Unfortunately, I am not the typical reader, and you should be writing for them...

a box of treasures
hiding a smile behind
a red radiance

by Di_Gah_Jea

First impression: Hiding behind a present? Technical foul: Only 6 syllables in the second line. Comments: Let's see... the smile is behind the red radiance and since the box of treasures is hiding the smile, the box is the red radiance? The diction you use is colorful and bright and quite beautiful, but there needs to be a way to understand the picture you are drawing with text. Remember, senryu is snapshot of a moment, and the reader needs your words to provide the image, so all your pixels have to be in order. Also, I fail to see an image of the topic in your verse. You don't necessarily have to mention the word, but if you don't, then the verse has to point to it in a very obvious fashion. But don't fret. You'll get better next time. Just keep trying...

knots on a finger
a ribbon to remind me
to forget me nots

by aznquarter

First impression: Oh yeah, I forgot! Technical foul: None. Comments: A nice simple picture of someone's hand. Too bad we don't know whose hand. Maybe yours? I had always imagined a string tied to a finger to remember things, but the image of a ribbon is quite pleasing, and a colorful way of presenting an American (I think) practice that is rather quaint but still understood by many. I actually remember doing this when I was younger, but I ended up forgetting why I tied the string, what i was supposed to remember! Hahahah. I was--and still am--so pathetic...

The typewriter clicks
Thought broken like the ribbon
I was on a roll

by whonose

First impression: Wicked. Technical foul: None. Poet's Remark: You have no idea how much I used to write on an anachronistic typewriter before I ever had a computer, and how frustrating it would be to lose a train of thought when the ribbon broke. Comments: Dude! How old are you? Are you secretly 47 years old? Hehehehehe. Anyway, this is wicked--I have just used the only modern British term I know--if not a bit anachronistic. But it works for me. One types away on the typewriter, getting down thoughts quickly and smoothly when suddenly the ribbon snaps--there used to be an inked cloth ribbon that was rolled around one spool and fed to another spool as the keys tapped on it to transfer letters onto paper. Anyway, the train of thought snaps with the ribbon, and he was on a "roll". Get it? Get it? Okay, it was corny. But the corn is based on a pun, and the Japanese LOVE puns. Senryu is no exception.

wrap and place the bow
write words of love from soul deep
box sits in corner


First impression: Sad image. Technical foul: None. Poet's Remark: i am a virgin at this...i am not a writer but i will try anything... Comments: This is a pretty good attempt for a virgin. The grammar/tense could have been different, but then again, it conveys a sense of immediacy, like we were there. Anyway, a present wrapped and tied with ribbon with word of love, but if it sits there, it has yet to be delivered, or maybe since its in the corner, it will never be delivered. What happened? that may have been a bit too abstract. If we knew, it might have even been better, but still, as I said, the imagery and mood is quite good, especially for your maiden attempt. Keep it up.

with dainty fingers
she wraps the shiny, black silk
stockings round her thighs

by detachable

First impression: Hubba hubba! Technical foul: None. Comments: Damn, girl. This is a pretty sexy poem--a young woman (dainty fingers) pulls on a pair of black ribboned stockings (not pantyhose). It might have been helpful if you had indicated how these stockings related to her life. Does she like to where stockings? Is she wearing them for her boy friend? Is it a special occasion? By somehow indicating these things, we might get som insight as to the significance of the stockings/ribbons. By the way... um... do you wear black stockings yourself? Er... like when you take those sexy, shadowy, monochromatic night stills?

hearing bell jingle
I see a red coin bucket
a buck donated

by DaddyLike

First impression: Salvation Army. Technical foul: None. Comments: A thought provoking verse, especially during the holiday season. My first impression was the Salvation Army charity bucket so ubiquitous from Thanksgiving to New Years. The sound of the bell arouses a sense of wanting to help by placing a dollar into the pot. Certainly an appropriate verse during the holiday season. But I'm not sure I see the topic, ribbon. While ribbons could be attached to the pot or some other place, the image of the verse seems to focus on the bucket. Next time, be sure to manifest the topic, and to make sure you do, mention it specifically in the verse.

Tied in a neat bow,
the bright, red ribbon beckons.
Who knows what's inside?

by SunJun

First impression: A tease. Technical foul: None. Poet's Remark: I guess because of the Christmas season, gifts wrapped in ribbons were my initial thought. Trying to capture the anticipation one gets looking at a wrapped present. Comments: You are so good at depicting a very specific momentary image. Are you really an engineer? The red ribbon tied around a present "beckons" (great diction!) and what child--or adult, for that matter--could resist picking it up, maybe shaking it, wondering what's inside. The last line not only suggests the question, but the anticipation of opening the present and maybe even the frustration of having to wait until Christmas. Nice.

Perfect satin curls,
unfurled, discarded with glee
by one anxious child.

by RachelsMommy

First impression: Nice. Technical foul: None. Comments: The image of a child desperately wanting to open a present is competently depicted here. The juxtoposition of a prefectly tied ribbon--satin curls--being tossed aside well portrays a child-like attitude, one that is at once careless and unthinking yet not necessarily mean-spirited and disrespectful. Perhaps, the syllable used up in "one anxious" could have been avoided as it is repetitious--a child discarding the ribbon with glee already tells us the child is anxious. Still, a nice verse.

stevie wonder says
there's a ribbon in the sky
but where's the present?

by msbLiSs

First impression: Whoa! Technical foul: None. Comments: I'm not sure I can capture the moment here, at least not in the way you may want me to. You're listening to Stevie Wonder, and he's singing about a ribbon in the sky for a love he feels for someone. So I suppose your referring to your significant other, that there is a ribbon in the sky to represent your love for each other... but where's the present?!? Hmmm... Okay, I can take it as a joke, but that would be a bit abstract. The more literal approach--one that takes the images presented by the text--might be a bit more pessemistic. Also, the reference to this song may be abstract as wwell to many; when alluding to an outside referent, it should be more obvious. Subtlety makes the verse seemed privileged--"only those who know Stevie will get it". But you're not a snob, right? Senryu is a poetry for the masses, and it often makes fun of specifically those who are privileged. But that's okay. You're poems up until now have been so incredible; we all have our off days, heheheehhe...

red ribbon wound tight
but no paper underneath
December "Playboy"

by LaMangust

First impression: Huh? Technical foul: None. Poet's Remark: there it is! perhaps a commentary on how some people can pervert wholesome family holidays? perhaps just something to make your dirty little hentai mind give a naughty little hentai giggle. merry christmas. Comments: Hmmm... *folds arms* um.... *unfolds arms* uh... *places chin in palm of left hand*... let's see *drums fingers on desk* Okay, is the red ribbon wound tightly around... what? A rolled up December issue of Playboy? Or do you mean ribbon tied around the magazine? And no paper underneath? Is the model on cover gonna pee on the carpet? No wait! Are you saying there's no wrapping paper? Ah, okay, I get it. And actually, this is quite clever if only the words were a bit more lucid. The ribbon is tied around an issue of the December Playboy, a present--I presume--but ribbon without the wrapping paper makes it look tantilizingly naked, a reflection, perhaps, of what is in store inside the pages. Clever... if only the diction were clearer.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Thanks for the memories


kay, that's actually the theme song for Bob Hope, but it seemed appropriate for me today, having learned of the death of Johnny Carson. To many younger than 25, he is probably just a vague image of a bygone era, but for me, he was an icon of television and a familiar late-night face for many years. My mother would never let me stay up late on a school night, but Friday night was always Carson night, and summer, every night was Carson night.

As I watched the many tributes on TV last night, I saw the many familiar scenes that many me laugh so hard--Ed Ames who played an Indian in the old Daniel Boone series throwing a hatchet the landed in the crotch of the figure drawn on a wall; Johnny's Copper Clapper Caper skit with Dragnet's Jack Webb; his on-going Art Fern routine with the fork in the road.

While many of these scenes are funny, I sometimes wonder why they don't a better job of setting them up. These scenes are funnier if you know the background. Johnny was good friends with comedian Don Rickles and he was a frequent guest. As a friend, I suppose Rickles felt it was okay to just walk on the set unannounced. Johnny didn't mind I suppose, but he nonetheless made Rickles pay for his intrusion--or at least that's how interpreted when I saw it on live TV. Johnny was doing a segment on getting a Japanese massage. When Rickles walked on and started tickling him with a fake massage, Johhny got up and threw him in the tub.

Another is his Carnac the Magnificent routine. This is the routine where he predicts the answer to questions contained in envelopes that had been hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnall's porch since noon that day--or so Ed McMahon would say as introduction. Johnny would hold the envelope to his forhead and provide an answer, after which Ed McMahon would almost always repeat. After years of this Carson would feign irritation at his repetition. And the jokes, while mostly corny, were funny. But funnier for me was his entrance. Everytime Carnac came on the show--about once a month, I think--he'd trip on the podium where the desk was. But one summer--I think it was 1969--I watched in horror to see the great Carnac trip and crash and break the desk, only to laugh out loud when we all realized it was a gag--this was the scene played over and over on TV last night. But to really appreciate it, you had to see the dozens of trips before then when he would grab the desk or chair to catch himself. But I don't want to sound like a snob. It's funny nonetheless.

One of the funniest moments I remember seeing--and for some reason never gets shown--is when the band leader Doc Severenson blew too hard. During comercial breaks, Doc and the NBC band would play jazz and big band tunes that would knock your socks off. I went to see the show about four times at the Burbank Studios--you had to request tickets by mail but they were free--and the band was amazing. Unfortunately, the TV audience only got to hear the Tonight Show intro when Johnny walked on stage, and the the last few bars of whatever song they were playing when they returned from comercial break. But occasionally, they'd schedule the band to play a piece for the TV audience. Doc was the band leader but he was also an accomplished trumpet player. At the end of one song, he blew his horn hard to hit a high note and, amazingly, the bell fell off. Everyone, Johnny, Ed, the audience and me, couldn't stop laughing for a good five minutes. I guess when you're on the air for thirty years, just about everything will happen.

One TV regret I have is not getting the opportunity to see Johnny retire. I was in Japan during the early 90s and so I missed it completely. It must have been intense the last few weeks of the show. Oh well...

Anyway, goodbye Johnny. You were great and provided me with a lot of laughs.

Speaking of the Tonight Show, there is a famous story that might interest you. It's about Steve Allen, the original host of the Tonight Show, and why he left the show. It's a bit off color, so ignore it if you want. Steve did not particualrly like cats, but one time Zsa Zsa Gabor was a guest on his show and she brought her cat along. Steverino interviewed Zsa Zsa Gabor but was obviously upset at the presence of the cat purring in her lap. Zsa Zsa picked up on his displeasure and said, "Don't be so mad, Steve. Why don't you pet my pussy." To which Steve replied, "Get rid of the cat and I will." Bu-rum-pum. I don't know if this is true, but I first heard this story when I was in elementary school, back in the late 60s.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Growing up J-Town #JT-080


ut I think that my classmates going to D-Land obliged Mom to trust me a bit more than she would have wanted. She couldn't deprive her son completely from tasting some level of independence. So by the 8th grade, I was allowed to stay after school on Fridays until the Boy Scout meeting at 7:30PM. I had finally become a peer.

School let out at 3:20PM. As an Eastsider, I usually went home on second trip, meaning that I rode one of the school buses on its second route, the first route being the Westside. The second trip of my bus was around 4:30, so for an hour we would usually play basketball or touch football on the asphalt playground. The last second trip bus was around 5pm and usually left the playground with the stragglers--those who didn't take the bus and waited for their parents to come pick them up after work. For me and my peers, it was time to go for dinner in J-Town.

From Maryknoll, J-Town was just a few short blocks away. We walked passed the warehouses and medium-sized factories that lined 2nd Street, stepped over the railroad tracks on Alameda, then crossed Central in front of the old brick Goodwill building, and we were in Japanese Town.

Friday around 5PM, everyone was heading home and the roads were crowded with cars, especially on 1st street. But for pedestrians, it wasn't too bad, especially for me, a fourteen-year old walking around unsupervised. (I'm sure this sounds quaint to many of you today.) Before eating we would go into stores and check out the merchandise. First on the agenda for us was to walk into any store, often one of the many bookstores--you know how the Japanese love to read. We'd walk into one and look for the nasty magazines. I learned later that they were not really pornographic--especially after I saw real pornography. These magazines--like Gendai and Takarajima--had mostly short stories, serials and essays. But for some reason, the first few color pages had photos of nude women. Back in the 60s the photos were mostly boobs and butts, but it was enough to excite me. The after a few jokes and playful punches, the proprietor would chase us out of the store.

Other times we would go to some of the souvenir shops that dot J-Town. We'd pick up a plastic sword and play samurai a bit and again get chased out by a store employee. Once we went into the sporting goods on the corner of 2nd and San Pedro.

"Hey, Scratch," Rhubarb called to me. Scratch was a nickname based on my Japanese name. "Take a look at this."

He handed me an pen with a picture of a blonde girl wearing a bathing suit, but when you held it upside down--or was it right side up?--the bathing suit flowed away and the girl became naked. I remember asking why they would have such a novelty in a sporting goods store, but my friend just said, "tourists." He meant, of course, Japanese tourists. They'd buy a handful and hand out naked blonde girls as souvenirs to their workmates in Japan.

Next he picked up a small red toy about the size of a pack of gum. It was shaped like a television, but on the back side, it had a small viewer into which my friend peaked. He immediately pulled his face away in embarrassment and almost threw the toy back into the pile from which he picked it up.

"Don't look in there," he cautioned. "Do not look in there."

Well, being the type of person I am, I had to look in it now. So I picked it up and peaked in to see... yes, you guessed it, another naked lady. But this time it wasn't an illustrated image like the bathing beauty on the pen. It was a photo of a real woman. She was again a blonde with large breasts, sitting with her legs beneath her as she gave me that "come hither" look. I was reluctant to put the toy down, but I was too embarrassed to be caught drooling by a store clerk, so I too returned it to the pile, all the while wondering if the girl in the blue toy was different. Well, Rhubarb cleared that one up for me when we left the store.

"This one has brown hair," he said as he handed me the blue toy.

"How..." I didn't finish the sentence. I just held the toy to my eye and indeed saw another naked girl, and indeed she was a brunette.

"So why do you have this. Did you buy it?" I asked naively.

"You gotta be slick, man," he said, and proceed to tell me how it was easy to grabbed two of these small toys in one grab, look into one, feign embarrassment, and toss back only one of the toys back, stuffing the other one into his pocket.

"Ooooh." How ingenious, I thought. There were a number of subsequent occasions when I had thought about taking something from a store--a baseball, a deck of cards, a pack of gum. But I would never be able to bring myself to take this five finger discount. Getting caught pilfering candy from McDonald's supermarket when I was five set me straight for life.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

First Snow


ometimes I wonder if I should feel guilty. While there seems to be such devasation around the world, I--and my Northern VA neighbors--have enjoyed a very mild winter, even though I have spent a good part of it on my back sick. We have had days in the 50s and 60s, incredibly warm.

But it has been getting colder and Wednesday was the first real snow day for us. I was scheduled to go to court--yes, M's deportation issue has yet to be resolved--and was going to have a student stand in for me at school for the first day of my Lit in Translation class, but because of the snow, the court was closed and I was able to make it to school after all. Many laugh at what happens here in DC when snow hits. The city gets thrown for a loop. Students from up New England or Chicago can't help but roll there eyes when they see a major city paralyzed from snow that would be considered barely enough for a couple of sno-cones.

And I guess we should consider oursselves very lucky. For the past 12 months, much the world has been experiencing the whims of nature in the form of extreme weather and geological events. Florida was struck by four major hurricanes in one season, leaving it a disaster zone. In California, it has been raining so heavily that the ground is saturated and primed for mudslides, as we saw in La Conchita. But as disastrous as these events have been, they pale in comparison to what occured last Christmas in South and Southeasst Asia: An earthquake that shook the bottom of the Indian Ocean, creating a massive tsunami that killed over a hundred thousand people, with many more still missing. When I heard the news and saw the videos, I was truly shocked. I had heard of tsunami but could not imagine its destructive force. The water level doesn't merely rise as it does in floods--which is bad enough--but flows over land and rapidly retreats to the sea as any wave on a sandy beach. But when it flows through populated area, it destroys structures in its way, and carries back victims as the tide retreats back to the sea.

A friend of mine actually survived this tsunami. He told me that he was going to Thailand over Christmas, and was in Phuket when the tsunami hit. I immediately e-mailed him imploring him to contact me to tell me he was okay. He did a few days later when he got access to a computer. Yesterday, he gave me a more detailed account.

Thank you for your email and hopefully you got my reply. We just got back to Belgium and we were very lucky indeed. Lana and I were actually on the beach but about 30 seconds before the first wave came, someone yelled out that it seems to be a tsunami when we saw the water going out so far. So we were on our way up from the beach when the water came rushing in. Luckily our bungalow was situated on higher ground so no problem but the restaurant was completely destroyed along with some bungalows but no injuries. Just in the next beach over was total devastation and 7 people had died. We were evacuated that first day but were back the next day helping with the cleanup and the rebuilding of the restaurant. This was the subject of TV coverage so our friends in Belgium saw that we were all right when they saw us on TV! Thanks for your concern and since we're still alive, I'll see you at the Maryknoll reunion!

This is a photo of him moments after the tsunami ravaged the area he was staying.

My friend was lucky and I am happy for him. While there are many people who have lost so much over there, and I extend my deepest sympathy to them, I also feel the need to celebrate--albeit briefly and respectfully--for at least one family returning safe and sound.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Growing up J-Town #JT-070


y the 8th grade, I was old enough to be trusted to roam the city on my own. During the previous summer, a few classmates like Tatts and Rhubarb went to Disneyland on their own. They got bus fare and admission from their parents and they took the Greyhound bus to Anaheim. I told Mom about this, and she just shook her head. She couldn't believe that there were parents who would let their child go to D-Land on their own without supervision. She had certainly learned her lesson over the years.

Now I wouldn't call myself a wild kid. I didn't throw rocks at cars or peak under girls' dresses--at least not openly. And I certainly didn't talk with a filthy mouth. But I did enjoy doing new and different things and making friends. Sometimes the friends around the block weren't always upright citizens.

One summer day, John and Rickey and I went to a house that was partially burnt down and was scheduled for demolition soon, so my buddies thought it would be cool to rummage through the place. It was hazardous and Mom told me not to go near the place, but I couldn't tell that to my friends. I didn't know the word then, but peer pressure was in full force already. And like an idiot, I went in my rubber Jap-slaps. While walking through the ruble, I step full force on a nail. It didn't hurt right away, but I screamed bloody murder. The mere thought of a three inch nail in my foot--even partially--made me go hysterical. I limped home and my mother took me immediately to the doctor where I got a shot with a needle that looked as big as the nail I stepped on.

Of course, there were those incidents that escaped Mom's attention. Once, when I was about five years old, I went with C and a few of the other JA hoods from the neighborhood to the local supermarket called McDonald's. We went just to hang out and fool around in the air conditioned store. We went through the turnstile and entered the produce section. But besides the vegetable stands was a cart of Brach's candy in bulk.

"Let's take one," C told us.

"I don't have any money," we said in unison."Just swipe it," insisted C. And I did as I was told. I took a butterscotch and held it in my hand for a while. A couple of other kids took one as well, while C's brother refused. He just shook his head in disapproval. We went carousing around a few more aisles when I finally thought it was safe to eat the candy I was warming up in my hand. Besides, my palms began to feel sticky. As slickly as I could manage, I unwrapped the golden-yellow cellophane and slipped the butterscotch candy into my mouth. It was sweet and good and illicit.

After a few more rounds around the store, C said it was time to go and we went running out of the store into the parking lot. As we slowed down to a walk, we heard someone yelling at us to stop. It was a store person. I could tell by the apron.

"So you kids gonna pay for the candy you ate?"

I froze in fear. Was he going to call the police? Was I going to jail?

C patted his shirt and pants pockets with his hands, then flipped them over palms up to show the store man that he had nothing on him that belonged to the store, or that he had no money. I wasn't sure which but I followed suit in the universal what he said gesture. C's brother insisted that he didn't take one. Great, I thought. That's as good as saying that we did take one.

The store man glared at us for a few seconds one at a time, then said, "Next time bring money and pay for it like you should." He then turned around and returned to the store.

"Woah, that was a close one," C whispered with a grin. All I could do was listen silently to my heart beating.

For a few weeks, I would refuse to go to the store with Mom for fear of being seen by the same man. I didn't need him to tell Mom what I had done.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Misadventures of Stash: Epilogue


he title, "Misadventure of Stash" is a bit misleading. I'm sure that none of my former bandmates would approve of such a title. But many of the things we did were reckless, stupid, but perhaps normal for guys in their late teens. anyway, let's set the record straight.

Fact or Fiction?
RachelsMommy: It's all bullshit. You were a straight-A dweeb who didn't even know what a doobie was!!! lol
Okay, I admit it. I was a dweeb. But I knew what a doobie was, and I could even roll one, although not very well. And it ain't all bullshit.

enygma81: Oh my gosh. Don't tell me you made all of this up.
No, I did not make it up. Indeed, it is almost entirely true, although some of the facts have been changed to protect the innocent.

lionne: A little hard to swallow that the car was retrieved without more fuss, but I'll go for it. Ah, the misadventures of youth. My story is probably miles different than yours but, like you, I often think "if they only knew."
I know. If I didn't experience it, I wouldn't believe it myself. But the cars was retrieved uneventfully, thank God.

the_greatest_pip: it could go either way, and i'm too much of a wuss to guess. i'm already wrong enough of the time--why would i want to be wrong again?
Don't be a wuss; be a man. The three above you were even women enough to be men...

jerjonji: lol.... there's no way you could make this up! i have a friend who says "why would i make up stuff when my own life has plenty of things happening in it?"
Indeed, why would I make things up?

miket_the_kid: It all sounds pretty damn ridiculous, but you know.... why the hell not? I'm gonna go ahead and say it's truth, but man will I feel foolish if I'm wrong.
Don't feel foolish. It is the truth, well at least, my version of it.

CazzaC: It's so crazy it's gotta be true!!
Indeed. Fact is often stranger than fiction.

ChiisanaHoshi: Fact, or else you're a good story teller.
Thanks, but could I be telling the truth and still be a good story teller?

kizyr: I think almost all of it's true, except one part. I think you're switching your and Bazooka's role.
I didn't own a Duster. I owned a Camaro.

gokingsgo: hilarious! i say it's somewhat fiction based on loose facts. your friends had funny nicknames.
They didn't have nicknames, really, I made them up. Bazooka? No one has a nickname like that unless you're a bubble gum character. But it rhymes with his real name. Diddly was the drummer. If you know anything about drums, you'd know that there are different rhythm patterns with names such as paradiddle and flamadiddle. Hence, Diddly. Our singer loved to get high, but he also had a voice like an angel. Also, he wasn't JA. He was of Mexican descent, but he had clse ties with Japanese American's in East L.A. Anyway, "voice" in Spanish is "vos." I chose Dragon's name because he has trained in the martial arts. I figure he had a degree of confidence when he went into that bar. Indeed, he has taken his abilities to Hollywood. I've seen him in movies such as Lethal Weapon 3 (the one with Jet Li), in The Crow. If you watch the Bourne Supremacy DVD, Matt Damon states in Special Feathures that Dragon instructed him in the moves for the apartment fight scene. If you see it, he's the guy with the long hair and fumanchu.

Anyway, the incident had its share of consequences. Bazooka could never forgive Vos and he ended up quitting his role as manager, which was too bad because its always nice to have a big, burly guy representing you.

Bazooka and Dragon were pretty close friends so when Bazooka quit, Dragon followed soon after. Dragon was kind of a lady killer back then and so when he left, half of our demographics went with him.

Vos had to drive around in his crunched up Beetle for quite awhile. The front trunk was bent out of shape and one of the headlights was facing upwards. We always knew whic car was his at night because when he went under a bridge, he lit up its underside.

As for me, I learned a number of things besides never to smoke and drive. The most important for me back then was that tough and macho does attract women. We guys hear about women who like the peaceful type, the introspective gentle kind of guy. But appears to be a myth. Women want men who can protect them. Or at least those are the vibes I get even today. How often have I seen women who claim to be liberated roll their eyes when hearing about a man who could not protect his interests or his woman. After I told M the story, she looked at me and asked me if I would have had the guts to do what Dragon did. I said in all honesty, No way. All she did was give me that I figured as much look. *sigh*

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Misadventures of Stash 2


never viewed my life as special. I went to school, got a degree, and now teach Japanese in college. Most people I meet view me as just another academic whose head is buried in his books. I think my students probably have a better bead on me. They sense, I think, that I am different from most other professors, and they enjoy talking to me and getting to know me more than other professors or even other adults my age. But they don't know the half of it. I was pretty reckless in my adolescence and young adulthood. I occasionally marvel at the fact that I am still alive. Anyway, where was I. Oh yeah, someone had stolen Bazooka's car...

* * * * *

"What the fuck? Hey! Hey, you asshole! Where the fuck you think..." Bazooka stopped yelling in mid-sentence, undoubtedly realizing the futility of trying to get a car thief to stop from driving away.

Our eyes followed his car down the road and we were stunned into silence, except for Vos who was still resting his head on his steering wheel.

"Did you see that?" Bazooka turned around to look at us as he pointed down the freeway. "That fuckin' asshole stole my car!"

I asked Jo to lean forward so I could get out of the back seat of the car. I needed to stretch my legs, as well as divorce myself from Vos's situation. Di followed me.

"Are you alright?" El asked me.

"I was so worried about his eyes; I thought his glasses broke and..." Di's voice faded, as I moved away from the girls and stepped toward Bazooka. He was gesticulating animatedly as he was saying something to Dragon. His voice, drowned by the roar of cars and Mack trucks traveling 65 miles per hour, became more audible as I approached them.

"Fuck, that's everything I own. My car, my tools," Bazooka fumed. Dragon and I could do little to calm him, so we let him rant, but I noticed that Dragon kind of shifted his body, placing himself between Bazooka and Vos's car. He seemed to realize that when confronted with a frustrating, irreconcilable situation, people often need to blame someone, anyone for it. He must have figured that Bazooka, unable to confront the thief, would shift his rage to Vos. And he was right.

"And that shithead, if he hadn't been so fuckin' stoned, this wouldn't have happened in the first place."

Woot. woot. We heard the short blasts of a California Highway Patrol siren. Two officers got out and we walked toward them, slowly.

"What's happening, folks?" one said.

Dragon took the lead and explained the situation, well, except for the part about Vos. Instead of being high, we told him that he was just sleepy. One of the CHP(1) officers who had walked over to the other vehicle immediately grasped the situation. Apparently, the Black dude did not have flares or lights on because he did not want to be noticed. He was trying to rip out the stereo from the car he had probably stolen. By crashing into him, Vos had prevented him from doing so--although Vos smashed up the one stolen vehicle and allowed him to steal another one. But the irony had escaped his drug addled mind. "Man, I stopped a guy from stealing a tape deck" he would later claim.

There was no use staying on the freeway, and it was dangerous, the CHP officers reminded us. They offered to get us to a phone and contact whoever we needed to get everyone home. Vos's car was banged up but amazingly still drivable--a Volkswagen Beetle's engine is in the back, so as long as the front wheel wells allowed the tires to turn, we were good to go. Jo shoved Vos into the back seat and Di got into the front as I drove the banged up bug. Bazooka, Dragon, El and DK got into the patrol car, and they drove off slowly so that I could followed them safely. We got off at the next off ramp, La Brea, and the CHP pulled into a gas station that was luckily immediately to the right of the exit. The station was closed and all the lights were off, I noticed, as we rolled to a stop next to the gas pumps.

Dragon immediately jumped out and went to the pay phone to call a friend. Bazooka was relating all the appropriate information about his car to one of the CHP officers while his partner was on the radio reporting our incident. We left Jo and Vos in the back seat, as Di joined El and DK, and I went to see Bazooka, as did Dragon.

"My friend will be here in about fifteen minutes."

"Okay, that's what I wanted to hear. We gotta roll, too. You guys take care," the officer said. Then nodding his head toward Vos, "And make sure that he doesn't drive anymore when he's sleepy." I guess he knew what was what, but figured we had had enough trouble for one night. Some law enforcement people could be cool, I thought for the first time in my life.

We watched the CHP drive away. Vos was still in his car and Dragon was trying to calm Bazooka down, who was starting to get angry at Vos all over again. Fortunately, Dragon's friend came and Dragon, Bazooka and El left to pick up Dragon's car.

Di, DK and I sat on the step around the closed gas station office, and we talked small talk, nothing I can remember or even make up. Jo would occasionally come out of the car when she got bored of baby sitting Vos, but always returned like the dutiful girlfriend.

"What a fucked up night," I said to no one in particular.

Thirty minutes had gone by and I was getting kind of nervous. La Brea after midnight on a weekend was not the most inviting place. The closed gas station provided us with a cloak of darkness, but it was creepy. Two JA guys, one who was still stoned and totally out of it, and one who was too small to protect three JA girls in a notoriously violent neighborhood. This was not a reassuring thought.

Suddenly, a pair of headlights turned into the gas station, sending these uneasy thoughts into a rapid crescendo. But as the car turned next to the gas pumps, I couldn't believe what I saw: A yellow 340 Duster. Is that Bazooka's car? I thought incredulously, as Di, DK and I jumped up.

El stuck her head out of the window and yelled, "C'mon you guys, lets get out of here."

Di opened the door as I got Vos and Jo out of the Volkswagon. Di got in the front squeezing El next to Dragon, and the rest of us got in the back.

"Where's Bazooka?" I asked.

"He went home with my friend. He's still pretty pissed so I didn't think it would be a good idea to bring him back," Dragon said excitedly. "Besides, we all wouldn't fit in here, right?"

Everyone nodded in agreement. Bazooka was the manager because he was big. About 6 feet even and 240 pounds. He would have made mince meat out of Vos.

"You should have seen him. Dragon was so brave!" El squealed.

"So what happened?" we all asked.

And El proceeded to tell us: Dragon lived around Inglewood, so the quickest way to get back from where we were was to go south on La Brea. On the way back, as he was staring out of the window, he noticed in a parking lot of a local bar a yellow 340 Duster. He yelled at his friend to pull into the parking lot, after which he jumped out and checked out the car. It was Bazooka's. In the parking lot, there were a few brothers hanging out, checking out what the Japs were doing in the middle of the night in Baldwin Hills. Dragon was pissed, and definitely not thinking straight, when he decided to barge into the bar with Bazooka and El right behind him. Dragon immediately recognized the slim Black dude standing at the bar. He walked right up to him, grabbed him by the collar and screamed, "Give me the fucking keys!"

I'm not sure why, and I guess I will never know, but no one in the bar--a dozen or so brothers--moved except for the car thief, who reached into his pocket and handed over the keys. Dragon grabbed El's hand and walked swiftly out of the bar. Back in the lot, the brothers were talking to Dragon's friend very intimately, but they casually dispersed when they saw Dragon and Bazooka walk out defiantly. They decided very quickly that Bazooka should go back home with his friend while Dragon would pick us up with the Duster.

"Wow!" was all I could muster.

While the girls giggled and chattered the rest of the way home, all I could do was stare out the window, in wonder and in awe of someone who did something I would never be able to do.

Okay, guys. Are the past two posts--Misadventures of Stash--Fact or Fiction?

(1) Remember "CHiPs" is a TV show; we never referred to the California Highway Patrol as CHiPs. It makes them sound like pussies. We stuck to the acronym, CHP.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Misadventures of Stash


've been talking about my memories of J-Town for almost two weeks now, and it is a memory that is close to the heart. I will continue later about my adolescence and early adulthood as well--the memories are clearer and perhaps a bit quirkier. But for today, another story.

M's green card mess is getting more expensive. We go to see the immigration judge next week and so we went to see the lawyers on Thursday. On the way there we were talking about lawyers and accidents and I remembered an accident I was in when I was 17, my band years.

For those of you who haven't read my previous posts--like eating grass--I used to be in a band called, appropriately enough, Stash. It was the early 70s and experimentation was the thing. Yes, we inhaled. And we had a grand old time doing it. But getting high had its hazzards.

After one gig, we returned our equipment to Diddly's garage and started tokin' a bit. And our lead singer, Vos, was really getting loaded, although we weren't really sure at the time. Someone suggested we go to the beach or something and Dragon (organ), El, and DK got into Bazooka's yellow Plymouth 340 Duster, while Jo, Di and I piled into Vos's little Volkwagon bug. We headed west on the Pomona Freeway and switched to the Santa Monica near dowtown LA. We were singing and talking about how well the gig went, when around the Western Blvd. exit Bazooka--our manager--drove up next to us and told us to pull over. Vos was too high and was weaving like a mother fucker. He was definitely going to get into an accident and Bazooka yelled that I should drive. Jo--Vos's girlfriend--agreed wholeheartedly and Vos reluctantly started to pull over toward the right shoulder.

In the back seat, I looked through the windshield between the two front seats and saw something approaching us really fast on the shoulder.

"Watch out! There's a car!"

But it was too late. No sooner had I blurted out the warning, we rammed into a car parked on the shoulder.

"O-man, your glasses! Did they break?" Di asked worried. She was so cute, and so way out of my league, but it was nice to think that she cared.

"I'm okay. You guys okay in front?"

"Vos, Vos!" Jo screamed, but Vos was groggy with his head resting on the steering wheel

Suddenly from outside, I heard Dragon's voice. "Shit! You guy's okay? What the fuck happened?"

"Fuck. You guys okay?" Bazooka yelled over the din of the passing cars.

"The car didn't have any lights on or anything. We didn't see it until it was too late," Jo whined in defense of her boyfriend.

"Hey, you guys alright?"

We all looked up at the strange voice. Standing next to Dragon was a relatively thin black dude looking into our little Beetle.

"Woah, where did you come from?" asked Dragon.

"Man, I was in that car you hit, man."

"Shit, are YOU okay?"

"Yeah, I was having some engine trouble."

"Then why didn't you have some flairs or something," Dragon asked, but the guy had gone to Bazooka's car.

"What the shit is his story?" we all thought, when suddenly the two girls riding with Bazooka and Dragon, El and DK, appeared. "What are you guys doing here?" Dragon asked.

"That guy stuck his head in the window was asking all kinds of questions and we got scared so we came over here," El explained.

When we all looked back to see where the guy was, we were just in time to see him pull away from the shoulder and drive off in Bazooka's yellow Duster westbound on the Santa Monica Freeway.

Cont'd tomorrow...

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Growing up J-Town #JT-061


ad suggested a hamburger but my eye caught something I had never heard of before.

"What's a clubhouse sandwich?" I asked. Menus back then rarely gave a description of an item.

Dad ignored me, and Mom just shrugged her shoulders, since she came from Japan and wouldn't know anything about real American food. So I looked expectantly at John.

"It's a sandwich with turkey, bacon, lettuce and tomato on three slices of toast," he explained.

"Three slices? Why three? And why on toast?" I asked incredulously.

John just laughed. "There's too much stuff to keep on just two slices, so they use three. And the best thing is that they put avocado in the club sandwiches here."

"Avocado?" I knew what avocados were. My friend Rickey lived down the block and he had an avocado tree in his back yard. His mom would occasionally let us eat them when I played over there. I knew that anything with avocado in it had to be good.

"Mom, I wanna clubhouse sandwich," I declared, half wondering if Dad would just flat out say, No, too expensive. I didn't know if it was expensive, but it had to cost more than the hamburger. It had avocados in it. But surprisingly, Dad didn't say anything to me. He said something in Japanese to Mom and John that I didn't understand, but the net result was that I got to eat a clubhouse if I was willing to share a bite with my sister.

"Okay," I said rather reluctantly. "Can I get some French fries, too?"

But Dad ignored me again. John told me that the sandwich came with potato chips, and for me that was just as good. We never had potato chips at home.

John ordered for everyone, as I turned my attention back to the juke box. A nickel for one play. A dime for three plays. A quarter for eight plays.

"Isn't two nickels the same as a dime? Why are the prices different?" This must have been my thirty-seventh question since entering the restaurant.

"They're trying to give you a bargain," John explained. "You get more songs if you pay more at once.

"Oh," I said, feigning comprehension.

"It's a way to make you spend more money," Dad said succinctly, an explanation I understood more readily.

I knew a quarter was out of the question, so I asked for a dime.

"To hear a song? We have records and a hi-fi. You can listen to music at home."

"But... but..." I stammered.

"What do you want to listen to?" asked John.

I didn't know what to say. I had heard a bunch of songs on TV, but I didn't no any of the titles.

"See, he doesn't know any songs anyway," said Dad.

"I like the song I hear on TV. Something like, 'run, run, run, run'?"

"Oh, I know that one," John said and he proceeded to flip through the pages. "Here it is. 'Runaway', right?" He put a nickel in the machine and pushed some random numbers and letters. A few seconds later, the familiar intro of the song started playing, and Del Shannon started singing.

"As I walk along I wonder, what went wrong with our love, a love that was so strong."

At which point the waitress brought out food. My eyes bugged out, but probably not as much as Dad's.

"Are you going to eat all of that?"

"Uh-huh," I smiled.

In front of me was a plate of four triangles, a triple deck club house sandwich cut into quarters. It was completely different from what I had imagined. When John explained that they needed three slices of bread to hold all the contents, I thought there were two slices at the bottom--a firm foundation--upon which was layered the turkey and bacon and tomato and lettuce, and then all this was topped with a single slice. I had no idea that the turkey and lettuce would be on one layer, and the bacon and tomato and avocado would be on a different layer. It looked like two sandwiches stacked on top of each other. I had never seen such an awesome site.

"And I wonder, I wah-wah-wah-wah-wonder..."

Indeed, it was truly a wonder. But, of course, as I had been made to promise, I shared my sandwich with the others, although I must admit that I tried to eat the potato chips quickly in an attempt to share as little as possible. I was such a selfish kid.

Having eaten something wonderful and new like a clubhouse sandwich, and listening to a song I wanted to hear, I had never felt so satisfied. Unfortunately, I went to the Sugar Bowl Cafe only once or twice more before it closed shop. It was replaced by Ichiban Cafe, which served standard Japanese fare--noodles, rice bowls, tempura. I would not longer get to taste the other world, the world that was more American than Japanese. The world for which I would long for most of my pre-adult life.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Growing up J-Town #JT-060


he Sugar Bowl Cafe was on San Pedro inside the Taul Building. It was owned and operated by Japanese but the fare was mostly American. I only went there a couple of times so my memory may not be that accurate, but I have recalled this place in my dreams and daydreams more than just a few times. In my memories, it was a place that resembled what I would see on TV, a place where girls wore bobby socks and ribbons in their hair, and boys with crew cuts sported two-tone bowling shirts. And there was the occasional guy with his hair slicked back. In other words, it was a place where Japanese Americans didn't belong.

Yet it was full of JAs. Young JAs.

And Dad was pretty old. He had married late and had me when he was 42 years old. So by the time I first went to The Sugar Bowl when I was around eight or nine, he was already 50--not too different from my current age when I think about it. We went there with some of his friends from church, members of Maryknoll's Kibei Club. Kibei (kee-bay) were Japanese born in America but raised and educated in Japan. Except for their citizenship, there was very little that distinguished them from first generation Japanese. Since they grew up in Japan, they followed Japanese customs and their language of choice was Japanese; most of them spoke very little English, Dad among them. There was, however, one major distinction between Dad and the others. The club members were born in the 1930s and were sent to Japan mostly because of the start of WWII. I guess their parents figured they'd be safer in Japan. In any case, they were in their late twenties in the early 1960s, a good twenty years--one generation--younger than Dad.

So when any of them went with us to J-Town, he or she would sometimes suggest that we go to a place where the younger crowd hung out. At 8 years old, I considered myself part of the younger crowd too, so when John, one of the younger Kibei club members, recommended we eat lunch at the Sugar Bowl, I agreed enthusiastically. I figured he would know all the cool places, unlike Dad.

My first visit inspired awe. On the walls around the restaurant were renderings of the available fare: hamburgers with the burger and lettuce protruding out, French fries spilling over the plate, shakes in colors to that aroused the flavors of strawberry and chocolate, and an ice cold Coca Cola in a glass sweating beads of dew. Each picture was designed to make you want to taste it and I couldn't wait to order. As we walked toward our booth, we walked by a long lunch counter, with soda dispensers and rows of Coca Cola glasses and sundae dishes in front of a mirror.

Just like in American places, I thought.

There were six of us--Dad, Mom, little sister and brother, John and me. As we reached our booth, I noticed the red vinyl benches with white trim and a red Formica table. There was a mini juke box against the wall. Well, it really wasn't a juke box. It was connected to the juke box near the entrance, but you could put in your money and choose what songs you wanted to hear with out leaving the table! I marveled at technology. I looked around and saw and even larger table in the back corner. The bench was huge and curved to fit in the corner. I had never seen anything like it, even on TV.

"Can't we sit over there?" I asked.

"You have to have at least seven or eight people to sit there," John said. He knew this, I was convinced, because he was young and came to places like this on a regular basis.

Oh well, they don't have one of those mini juke boxes anyway, I thought. The machine had staggered nibs protruding from the top. I fiddled with one and was surprised when a page inside the glass case of the machine moved. I push these to flip through the pages of lists of song, I realized. Look at all these songs! I wonder how much it cost to play one.

Dad must have sensed something as he told me to pay attention to the menu.

Oh yeah, food...