Friday, October 31, 2008

Spooky Stuff

Being that it is Halloween, it would be appropriate to write something in a scary or spooky vein but I really have little to offer along those lines. About the most exciting Halloween memory I have is of my buddy Michael Jones telling me how he stuck ice cubes in the bags of trick or treaters because when the ice melted, the bag got soggy and tore at the bottom, letting the candy fall out.

Do you believe in ghosts? Do you think you've ever seen one, or experienced any other supernatural phenomenon? I don't, and I haven't. Never had anything even remotely in that realm come close to me. About all I can say is when I was little, I awakened in the middle of the night and was sure there was a grinning turtle peering at me over my headboard. In the past I've been curious, though, about encounters other people claim to have had.

Several classmates in high school insisted on the reality of the "white lady" who haunted a particular street in Los Angeles, mysteriously appearing in her ghostly transparent self in front of cars whose headlights shone right through her. This was no joke, they insisted. They had a friend who actually saw her. Could this be? I wondered whether or not that was for real - after all, these were people I knew!

Duane and I visited the Baldwin Hills library one evening. We ran into a couple of our classmates, Lorraine Matsueda and Misa Miyamoto. After a little while, academia boredom over came us and as I recall, it was at my suggestion for want of anything better to do, we piled into Duane's car and ventured out to look for the "white lady."

Details of that night escape me except I'm certain we never found anything close to ghostlike; the most mysterious thing was probably why they let me talk them into doing this in the first place, but at least we got to go for a nice ride.

All this time I thought we had gone to Chinatown. "Avon Street" sticks in my mind as the street inhabited by the ghost. Misa, on the other hand, said we went to Griffith Park searching for the apparition, and wound up in Silverlake. She has an amazingly good memory. Or maybe she thinks she does and since I'm so fuzzy in the brain, I'm intimidated into believing her, haha. But then, she's probably correct; had the ghostly white lady really lived on Avon Street, that would have made her the "Avon Lady."

I fear I'm a pretty gullible person. The only reason I was so fascinated by this ghost was because people insisted that they knew someone who had seen it. Well, like so many urban legends, it's always reliable because the person who tells you knows the person who told them personally. If you want to know more about the white lady, take a look at Wikipedia under "white lady ghost" and there's quite a long article about it.

Ouija boards are another item I used to wonder about. Some people swear that they personally experienced the moving planchette spelling words out on the board and also swear that neither they nor their partner deliberately moved it, but somehow supernatural forces guided their fingers/hands to each letter.

I've tried it before with no meaningful results. Most of the time the planchette travels nowhere. Once it did move but spelled out nonsense. I wasn't moving it and the other person claimed they weren't, either, but you never know if they are fibbing or not. According to the explanation in Wikipedia, a person's subconscious directs the movement, thus we are unaware of what is happening and are often surprised at the answers.

Then there's the reliable old fortune-telling magic 8 Ball. Ask it anything and it gives you astonishingly appropriate answers. I never believed in any of these things although when much younger I did sort of believe that the results of playing the board game Life would somehow be borne out in reality. Haha, fat chance!

I guess there's lots of things we believe in because we want it to be so. The white lady, ouija, magic 8 ball, fortune tellers, tarot cards, lucky numbers, tap our heels together, elections.. anyway - it's Halloween; have a safe and sane one!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Late Night Negotiations

Five years had passed since we walked across the Hollywood Bowl stage and received our high school faux diplomas (the real ones were given to us in exchange for our caps and gowns the next day).

Duane was back in town for a brief stay before heading up to Washington for graduate school. Me, I had just gotten my teaching credentials and was in the process of looking for a job.

Duane and his parents had moved to Pasadena shortly after high school, to a large house that I thought was a very long distance from the old Crenshaw neighborhood and took forever to get there. Turns out I now live not too far away from there - maybe about two or three miles. He told me that at the time, they actually wanted to buy a house in San Marino but only white people were allowed to purchase houses. I couldn't believe things were still like that, even though it was over 35 years ago. Looks like things have changed wildly since then!

After playing tennis in the San Gabriel Valley heat of summer on a concrete tennis court in the smog, we went back to his house and sat around talking. The subject of Cindy came up. We hadn't seen her for five years and wondered what she was doing. We talked about that for a little while and moved onto other topics.

Later I mentioned this subject to David, who at the time was living in San Francisco. His first reaction: "What if she's married now?"

Married?? We pondered that and actually, why should that be so shocking? After all, it had been five years and who knows what may have happened during that time. We decided to search for her phone number, since one of us should have had it someplace. We wondered if her parents still lived in the same house.

My mind is fuzzy on which one of us found the number and who actually placed the call but it turned out that no, she wasn't married and yes, her parents still had the same house and she still lived with them. We decided to have a reunion.

What it eventually boiled down to was a return to our high school ways, with both Duane and I asking her out. In the spirit of If It's Tuesday It Must Be Belgium, for Cindy it was like If It's Tuesday It Must Be Duane, and If It's Wednesday It Must Be Rickie.

Finally, Duane and I decided that there had to be some resolution to this matter and one of us ought to be honorable and drop out. Naturally he thought I should, and from my point of view, it made sense that he should be the one to cease and desist. The only thing we agreed on was it was silly for both of us to keep calling her.

One Saturday night into Sunday morning we sat in his car in front of Holiday Bowl, arguing the merits of our cases with each other. We should have done the wise thing and gotten a mediator but David was up north and so was Rob and we weren't sure where Rick was so we had to sit there and hash it out between the two of us.

We got nowhere.

My point was that Duane would be leaving for grad school in the near future and so why start up something that would be cut short? His rebuttal - since he had such little time left, why don't I be a nice guy and let him make the most of it.

There were other reasons brought up, like "I asked her first," but our cases kept returning to that main line of reasoning and we had no glove that didn't fit to draw the case to a fast close. Cindy's work schedule extended to the evening on several nights making seeing her in the daytime a viable alternative for Duane but not for me since I had just begun a long-term subbing assignment at Malabar Elementary in East Los Angeles. He had the upper hand on me.

It got to be 4:30 in the morning. My throat was sore and I was catching a cold. Actually we should have known it was futile trying to reach any sort of resolution, and it was especially futile arguing with Duane. I thought about the wisdom of Solomon and how he settled the dispute about a baby whom two women both claimed was their child. He proclaimed that the baby would be cut in half so that each could get their share, at which time the real mother, not wishing harm to her baby, said to let the other woman have it. Had Solomon been in the car with us and said to saw Cindy in half, Duane probably would have tried to bargain to get 60% instead.

So what finally happened? Duane told me that they had gone to the Asian Blend, a club in West Los Angeles. He left her for a while to talk to some other people he knew and when he came back she was with someone else. And that was that. I was speechless when he told me, but when he revealed who that someone else was, it floored me. I won't name the person because it seemed just too unbelievable. However, if I were Duane I would feel pretty foolish, haha..

"Are you serious? Him???" I asked him. Yes, he was, and yes, that guy. We both shook our heads a lot over that one.

Remember the Little Rascals/Our Gang series? That would be Duane and me arguing over Darla one day, then sitting on the curb the next, wondering how she managed to wind up with Butch.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Corporal Punishment

Unlike back in my junior high days when I received a swift swat from a large, ventilated paddle as punishment for running on the playground, these days it's a definite no-no for teachers to even touch one of their students.

The arrival of a substitute teacher normally means students have the license to misbehave and completely misrepresent a typical day's study and the character of their teacher to the sub. It was like having a snow day except at school. I still recall the crying faces of some of the frustrated young women who had been relegated to elementary school hell, i.e., our classroom.

Not so with Mr. Bemis. I'm sure he was in demand by teachers to take over the classroom during their absence but for us it meant a day of terror. A yardstick was always in hand as he walked around the room while speaking to us.

Without warning, that yardstick would come crashing down on the desk full force, narrowly missing someone's hands. Mr. Bemis showed no discrimination - the yardstick wasn't reserved for students who were talking or misbehaving in some manner; someone could be paying rapt attention but simply have their hands folded on top of the desk when he or she became the target.

Normally he aimed a few inches away, but I saw one time when that stick went straight for the hands and narrowly missed by literally an inch or two as the kid moved back just in time. Now, I never did see him actually hit anyone but you can imagine how unnerved we were, and also how quiet our class was when he came to visit.

My only recollection of a teacher actually hitting a student happened in Mr. Gallup's 5th grade class. Jesse was a certified juvenile delinquent who was famous throughout 36th Street School for having been expelled numerous times. No one messed with him, despite his rather small size. We'd never seen him actually fight but he was a legend in his own time - no one dared risk making him put his reputation on the line.

Except Mr. Gallup. Jesse had been in our class - or should I say in and out since his attendance was so sporadic - about two weeks when finally he and Mr. Gallup had it out. Jesse talked trash once too many times, so our teacher hauled him into the cloakroom to discuss his behavior. While we sat at our desks, no one brave enough to venture a peek at the activities, we heard plenty of banging and thumping and other sounds of mayhem.

There was plenty of speculation as to who was winning. Most actually thought Mr. Gallup was getting whupped in there.

A few minutes later, the teacher dragged the frowning student to the front of the class, right in the middle of the blackboard.

"Sit down!" commanded Mr. Gallup. Jesse stood there defiantly.

"I said, sit down!" and with that, Mr. Gallup kicked Jesse's feet forward, causing him to plop down on his tailbone. We all sat there, jaws hanging, awed by this rare sight of violence. Jesse tried fighting back and Mr. Gallup kept putting him back down on the floor. Secretly all of us were happy since we knew this kid was getting what he deserved.

A few days later, Jesse was gone from our class and our school.

The last incident for this entry happened on a rainy day when we were confined inside the building for lunchtime. Kitty was no match for Jesse but nevertheless she was on her way to a star on the juvenile hall walk of fame. She and the aide assigned to watch us were not getting along. Kittie was in the middle of more mouthing off when finally the aide had enough and slapped her really hard on the cheek. Some of us had been watching them argue and others immediately stopped in mid-conversation and turned to see what happened.

A stunned Kitty stared at the aide, who stared back at Kitty; she then ran out of the room. As with Jesse, since no one liked her we all felt she got what was coming to her.

Things returned to normal for about twenty minutes. Until Kitty returned. She returned accompanied by this huge woman who turned out to be Kitty's mama. Once again all conversation ceased and all eyes focused on the center of the ring to see what was going to happen in the match of the century.

Mrs. Kitty (or big Kitty? Kitty was kind of big but Mama Kitty was really big) confronted the aide. "Don't you be hittin' my daughter like that!" she screamed while shoving the aide. The aide, meanwhile, began apologizing profusely as Big Mama Kitty continued berating her. Finally she got to her last 'Don't you ever' and stormed off, smaller Kitty in tow, leaving the aide standing there in a state of embarrassment in front of all us witnesses.

A few minutes later Kitty walked back in to our confined area and immediately received red carpet VIP treatment from the aide.

"Is everything okay?" the aide asked Kitty. "Can I get you anything?"

Kitty sat there with a smug look on her face, looking like, well, like a satisfied cat. She just shook her head while the aide continued catering to her every whim. We were all disgusted by this display of groveling but hey, we hadn't been in the shoes of someone who just had to face a bear and came out of it alive.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More Nostalgia

Here's some more old stuff my sister found at our parents house that I had overlooked.

There was a box of various little things, including these student I.D. cards that I forgot we used to carry. In the first picture you can see the progression (from bottom to top), from a more neat, Ricky Ricardo look to a disheveled informal look because my hair wouldn't stay put, to the hairstyle-like-a-beret look.

Then everyone thought the next picture was taken in elementary school. I said no, that's tenth grade because I remember that green "safari" jacket. Turns out it wasn't tenth grade; looking at the date on there would fix it during my senior year in high school.

My face looks rounder than I remembered from back then but quickly the explanation came to me - those were the days of frequenting Bob's Big Boy!

Then I came across an autograph book from the 6th grade. Below is the very first autograph I got. I remember this guy. I remember him because I didn't know him at all but he saw I was carrying an autograph book and asked if he could sign it so I gave it to him. He didn't write anything except his name.

I looked at the other autographs and saw many names that I didn't recognize and some I remember but hadn't thought about for a long time. Here's a few choice pages. First one is the front page of assigning roles to people. I don't know if that was supposed to reflect the present status of the people or what I thought the future held. I guess I must have felt academics was more important than being a star or VIP (still do).. Howard Tamanaha is listed as "BMOC" because he was the shortest kid in class. I'll refrain from commenting on some of the other choices.

Here's the page after. Hiro (or "Roach" as we called him) was my best buddy at the time.

Here's what Hiro wrote on his autograph page. He's a teacher now but he ain't no English teacher so his grammar ain't nothing to worry about.

Keith Honda was his typical smart-aleck self. I can't decipher everything he wrote, though. Seeing as how he now is in politics and works for his relative who is a democrat, I ought to blackmail him with his politically incorrect humor and let the dirt hunter and gatherers drag up an innocent remark from over 40 years ago to smear his character and show why even his relative Mike is unfit for public office due to guilt by association.

Here's an interesting comment from Frankie Jew. I don't know if he scratched out the word "girls" or I did or someone else did but it was a pretty odd thing to write back in the 6th grade. He was our class expert on the Ian Fleming James Bond novels so perhaps he was trying to impart wisdom to me based on his having read the likes of Goldfinger, Thunderball, etc.

I remember Frankie used to wear shirts that were made from two different patterns - one pattern/color on the left side and a different one on the right. That could be helpful if he ever became a bank robber because witnesses would offer conflicting police reports depending on their perspective. "He was wearing a BLUE shirt, I tell you!" "No, it was RED!!" Anyway, I think we all learned later in life the truth of Frankie's words!

Finally here is an autograph from Mrs. Capps. I assume her reference to my being an "actor" is to my ill-fated appearance on the Art Linkletter show.

I haven't seen most of my classmates from that class in ages but I know Mrs. Capps would have been very pleased with the overall results. Surprised at what people wound up doing, maybe, but nevertheless pleased. She helped us take giant steps forward.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Photographs and Memories

Yesterday I mentioned my sister had discovered some old things of mine that I had overlooked when doing cleanup work at our parents house. I thought I would share them with you today.

First, baby needs a new pair of shoes. She found what must be my very first shoes, size 1, no less (I've only grown 7 sizes since then). There's even instructions in the box as to how to properly care for them. I suppose they must be genuine leather because they've held up very well over the years - no need for bronzing them. Since my sister was going to let her cats wear them I decided to take possession of them instead.

She also found this art project. Julie asked who cut my hair. Well, it was either my mom or one of two Japanese barbers that I used to go to.

I hated getting haircuts. It was traumatic, facing all the derisive laughter from my classmates the next day. I'd dread the days my mom said I had to get a haircut and also hearing my dad's car pull into the driveway when he got home from work. A few times I tried hiding but there weren't many places to hide in our house so that wasn't successful.

The barber shop we went to was on Normandie Avenue. There were two Japanese barbers, neither of whom spoke English. There was also no English reading material and I hated sitting there waiting for a hair cut because it was so boring, plus it was like being on death row because after the boring wait came the torture of a hair cut. Everyone else who went to that barber was Japanese and spoke in that language so I had no idea what anyone was saying.

I have to say that once in a while it was exciting because I would run across a thumbnail-size picture of a topless woman in one of the Japanese magazines. I was master of looking nonchalant as I kept returning to the page while at the same time eyeing my dad to make sure he wasn't watching what I was doing.

One barber I liked more than the other because he was more gentle with my poor head and hair. He moved back to Japan, though. When my dad told me this, I imagined a big farewell parade being given for him, my preferred barber leading it holding a baton while everyone lined the sidewalks clapping for him. I thought everyone moving back to Japan got a similar fanfare; don't ask me where I got that crazy idea because I don't know, that's just what I thought it was like.

That left me with the other barber who was mostly bald. Maybe that's why he cut my hair so violently: out of jealousy, haha. I was plagued by chawan-bowl haircuts all through elementary school.

In high school I thought I had found the answer to my hair troubles - Tropics Barber Shop in Crenshaw Square. That's where a lot of the Asians at school got their hair cut and their cuts looked pretty good so my dad and I started going there.

I guess the barber can only do so much. I've been told I have very coarse, dense hair that also has a very slight wave to it, making it is more difficult to cut. Maybe that's just the barber's excuse? Being that I am also lazy and don't really want to spend time doing anything except combing/brushing it as fast as I can and getting out of the house, there's really not much that can be done anyway.

Those were the days of Brylcream ("a little dab'll do you") and Score ("Score doesn't hold too good") and admonishments to people who were still using that "greasy kid's stuff." Then all these hair creams fell out of fashion so the companies who made them waited a little while and then repackaged them as "hair gel" or else they wound up getting recycled back into their original form, Crisco and Vaseline.

These days it isn't so torturous getting a haircut because finally I have accepted the fact that there is only so much that anyone can do and people simply aren't miracle workers. I go to a Korean woman named Grace who does as good a job as anyone else ever has at a reasonable price and the added benefit is we can discuss the latest Korean dramas while she snips and shaves.

Here's another picture unearthed by my sister, circa sometime after the first one. That's a nice simple haircut. I always thought it made me look like Sargent Carter on the Gomer Pyle show.

Ah, the face only a mother could love.. the usual result of my pathetic attempts at art in school was a miserable facsimile of whatever the teacher modeled as the finished product.

This particular art project involved making a Santa on the side of a cylindrical ice cream container (like what Carnation ice cream came in). I was doing okay for a while and then things got progressively worse and, well, it turned out being flat out ugly and I was ashamed to take it home. I should have left well enough alone and taken the carton home in its original condition. But carry it home I did and when my mom asked me what I had made in class that day, I thrust it towards her and started crying because it looked so bad.

Like only a mother could do, she told me it was beautiful and thanked me for it and gave me a hug. And I suspended reality for the moment and believed her.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Another Saturday

My goal for this weekend is to clean up the mess in Greg's old room. It has been transformed into a general storage area that keeps getting more and more crowded until finally I can't think straight when I look at how everything is piled up. So I resolved to straighten it up, get rid of some things, and put the rest away. As of Saturday night I am about 1/3 done so I don't think it is going to get finished before the weekend is over.

Nevertheless I still managed to do my usual Costco rounds this morning. I went to the Alhambra store instead of Azusa because the Breeders Cup is taking place at Santa Anita and I didn't want to risk getting stuck in traffic on the 210 through Arcadia.

There's only a couple of items to show you that aren't repeat purchases. First is an exciting box of grape tomatoes.

Second is an entree from the refrigerated section, pasta with sausage and pancetta.

One nice surprise this morning was paying $2.869 per gallon for gas at Costco. I never thought I'd see it under $3.00.

We had a belated birthday lunch for my sister today. Julie and I drove downtown to Paul's Kitchen to pick up some authentic China meshi and then took it to Keiro to join my parents and sister. Driving down there is like entering a third world country and entering the parking lot at Paul's Kitchen is like driving into a military compound. The guy in charge over there sounds exactly like the guy in the famous Seinfeld waiting in a Chinese restaurant episode - the one who yells out "Cartwright!" Just close your eyes and it's him!

We ordered all the old-time favorites, which you can see in the picture below. Truth to tell, the food was pretty awful. I was wondering, is this the Chinese food I used to love when I was little or was it better than this? I ate at the Paul's Kitchen on Jefferson Avenue when I was still in grade school, and at the recently closed Monterey Park location about ten or so years ago. I don't remember the Jefferson location but the Monterey Park one was pretty bad, too.

So why go there at all? I'd never been to the one downtown, which I hear is owned by different family members than the other ones and I thought the folks would like that old style stuff. They said they did. I think they did and weren't just trying to be nice, but Julie and I both thought it was horrible.

Tonight we had dinner with her side of the family at Empress Harbor in Monterey Park. The food was a lot better, thankfully.

My sister found a few more things of mine at our parents house that I apparently overlooked when doing my part of the cleanup, and she gave it to me at lunch today. One item was a very long story I had written 15 years ago which I plan on rereading to see what I think of it now. In the same folder were a couple of poems I wrote back then as well, which, to take up some space, I will retype here:

The autumn breeze makes the leaves
fall from the trees and scatter
some go swirling around and around
some go dancing across a manicured lawn
some fly up into the breeze
and aromas of the autumn leaves
mix with the other scents of the season
the violent colors kaleidoscope
through briskly charged autumn winds
leaves and fragments disappear forever
communion - art and artist
like a madman hunched over his piano at night
notes swirling off into the blackness
never to be heard again
but history
in its grand design
and for our sake
will repeat itself

ooh, deep, eh? I like the imagery of piano notes swirling off into the blackness of the night. And the other one:

The breeze whispers through the open window
the spotlight from the full moon
silvers the still-life portrait of her room

She sleeps peacefully in the night air
caressed in gentle luxury
that conjures such a sweet dream
serendipitous and serene
and leaves a smile in its wake

When the rays filter in the window
when she greets the luster of the new day
details of the past enchantment
will flicker beyond recollection
but the wonderment's spell will abide

Okay, that's enough deep stuff for today. There were also a few other things my sister found, which I'll write about tomorrow. Below is the song that was my inspiration for the 2nd poem (for some reason the poster only recorded the first 1/3 of it); the first one was simply the joy of how a real autumn day feels, something we've yet to experience in Southern California this year, sigh..

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Land O'Plenty of It

From the ranks of the slim number of people who purposely arrive at this blog, one faithful reader told me that she was mesmerized by my recent inclusion of a YouTube that captured two minutes of traffic moving through an intersection in India. Just so's you don't have to go searching for it, here it is again:

I had the same reaction she did. I found it fascinating how the vehicles manage to intertwine their way through that intersection and continue on their way without creating either big traffic tie-ups or accidents. There's no signal, no regulation, people just make do and go with the flow.

Try that in Southern California sometime! Ever been at an intersection with a power outage? Grrr...

For the most part, the motion is constant; even pedestrians just keep on moving. Did you see that the majority of moving things in this video are pretty small? There's lots of motorcycles and hyrbid car/scooters, with only an occasional truck or bus or larger automobile heading towards their destinations.

Contrast that with what a video of a typical intersection in So Cal would look like, with all the oversized vehicles chomping at the bit, traffic backing up further and further by the second. Why do we need such big vehicles?

It seems like everything is supersized in America, including our automobiles. We complain about the high price of gasoline, yet this nation seems highly resistant to embracing smaller or more efficient forms of transportation. We say we support it but in reality we don't. Just like how consumers clamor for more healthy choices at fast food restaurants and when they're added to the menu, hardly anyone actually orders them. Does it relieve our conscience enough just to say we advocate something beneficial, enough to where we don't actually have to follow through and do it? And thank goodness for carbon offsets. What would our conscience do without them?

Just because the stripes are drawn in certain places in a parking lot doesn't mean we need to have cars that fill up the entire space.

We could also reduce the cost of eating out by reducing the size of the meals. Just use smaller plates or packaging so that there's no white space to give the impression you aren't getting your money's worth; do we really need all that food anyway?

Housing as well - in general, we have pretty generous living quarters compared to the rest of the world. Take our house, for example. It's not big by any means but it is very comfortable. Just a few feet shy of 2,000 square feet, meaning, since the kids don't stay here any more, that Julie and I each have 1,000 square feet of living space. Assuming we each take up about two square feet of space, that's 500 times more space than we each occupy.

How much space do we really need? Someone once asked Abraham Lincoln how long should a man's legs be. His answer: about 2' 9" or thereabouts. Well actually he said just long enough to touch the ground. Somehow that story seems to have relevance to what I said about living space but I'll leave it to you to figure that out.

The thing is, once you have something it is not easy to give it up. It's a lot easier living without something you never had in the first place, than to become acclimated to a certain level of living and then have to drop down a notch or two. You get used to it.

If we really wanted to save, there's lots of things we have that we think are necessities that really aren't, things we wouldn't think of sacrificing. Cell phones. Computers. Gadgets. Games. Big cars. Big meals. That Starbucks coffee each morning. Oh, we economize by switching to McD's, but think about it - do we really need any coffee at all in the first place (some of you are saying yes, I do!)? But we don't.

That said, I don't mean to come off holier than thou because I am no different. While I do make efforts to conserve, I know I offset these efforts by being wasteful in other areas because I also feel like many things are necessities that aren't. Like my computer. Every time I am away from my computer it's torture! Mostly my conservation boils down to doing what I find convenient or what fits my preferences

I'm thinking maybe that isn't so healthy.

America is a rich country. You could say we earned the right to conspicuous consumption because we built such a rich civilization and that's our entitlement. Like I said, once you become accustomed to the good life, it's hard to give it up. Some of us may not think we have a particularly "good" life but in comparison to the rest of the world, many or most of us are living like royalty. The things we take for granted aren't the things other cultures take for granted. They would be taken as signs of living the good life.

So what do we do? Since I am as guilty as the next person, I hesitate to say too much about that! But it seems to me that in this economy, and the fact that we are increasingly becoming a global civilization with blurring of national boundaries, the days are coming, if not already here, when we will have to make some hard choices about the way we live.

I'm not advocating socialism or robin hood-ism because that's why we live in America in the first place, to avoid excessive regimentation and to have a choice about the way we live based on how we earn it. But when the economy falters because of living to excess and our not wanting to give anything up, it's something we need to deal with and it will require sacrifice.

Politicians focus on telling people the plans they have for maintaining the status quo or improving things without much cost to anyone. Or how they are going to fix this problem or that problem without troubling us too much. No one wants to hear any kind of solution that involves a lot of sacrifice from our own self. But is that possible? We got ourselves into this mess so how can we dig out of it without incurring costs? No public figure is brave enough to say that we're going to have to give this up or that up in order to fix things because no one wants to lose votes. No one would listen anyway.

We are afflicted with Little Red Hen syndrome.

Well, sorry to wind up on the soapbox ranting like this. I hadn't planned on it when I started writing this entry but things just ended up heading that way! I feel we're gonna have to bite the bullet and face up to what's confronting us. We're not the king of the world any more.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cootie People

Do you remember "cooties" back from your elementary school days? Yes, we had Cooties, the Milton-Bradley game, which I used to play although I don't remember anything about it, but I'm talking about the real cooties, the first communicable disease that we passed around in our childhoods.

By the way, I looked up the Cootie game on and it is still being sold although there's an awful lot of customer complaints about the poor quality of the pieces and how they don't fit together right. Whatever happened to pride of workmanship?

But back to the real cooties - every class had its own "cootie girl." Maybe there were cootie boys back then but I can only remember cootie girls. They were always the kids who made you feel squeamish just by looking at them because their hygiene was so poor. Our elementary school also had a cootie queen, an awesome sight because she reigned over the entire school, whereas the cootie girls in each classroom were more like princesses in their own subdomains. Even from afar we would get the heebie jeebies as we observed her walking across the playground.

I know its cruel to go around calling someone cootie girl but my goodness, some of these parents really needed to take better care of their kids, and the kids had a responsibility to themselves as well. The thing is, there was never any disagreement as to who wore the crown and had the title - it was always a clear choice. It's not like we had to vote on it.

At least it provided something to do at recess - chasing each other around, tagging one another and yelling out, "you got the cooties!" Back then we used to have a shield: crossing our index and middle finger to signify we had immunity from such things, causing the cootie bearer to seek another victim. We called it having "kings."

However, there were some cooties that were so powerful, kings were futile and all you could do was run away like crazy.

Ever wonder what happens to the cootie people when they grow up? I'm sure a couple of them have worked at my office. They are people that make you hold your breath whenever you are around them because you don't want to inhale what they have.

Many years ago the unanimous choice for cootie girl in our office baked chocolate chip cookies and left them on a plate at the counter in the lunch area. Demonstrating an extreme lack of judgment as well as a weakness for chocolate, I actually took one.

I was talking with a coworker (not the cootie queen) and absent-mindedly took a bite of the cookie while we continued talking. While I was listening to her, it occurred to me that there was something in the cookie that didn't belong. I pulled the cookie away from my mouth while she continued talking and there, acting like a bridge, was a hair that stretched from the cookie to my mouth.

My co-worker stopped in midsentence; we both stared at the hair and paused for a moment while this sight filtered into our consciousness. Her horrified look turned into laughter and I ran to throw away the cookie and wash out my mouth. What the heck was I thinking when I took the cookie off that plate?? Was I such a slave to chocolate??

Thankfully this unsettling experience did not generalize to all chocolate cookies, as well it might have, but instead I was able to properly channel it into an avoidance of anything having to do with our office cootie queen. We all bid a relieved farewell when she went on to conquer another office several years ago.

Now we have a replacement cootie queen that gives me the heebie jeebies, but we seldom see her because of her multiple excuses for why she can't come to work. Hey, be my guest!

Don't you run into people that just make you shudder and hope they don't get too close to you? I'm not talking about homeless people or "bums" because unfortunately, their situation doesn't afford them much opportunity to exhibit an acceptable state of cleanliness or hygiene. I'm talking about "normal" people, but ones who for one reason or another, bring on that heebie jeebie itchy cootie feeling that makes you want to wash your hands or run to the shower. They must have been the cootie people when they were growing up and spent their days since that time continuing to bloom.

Well, sorry for such a dreadful topic today. That was just something that came to mind so I decided to write about it. I'm waiting for one of the presidential candidates to make a remark about his opponent having cooties. One of these days it will happen.

Now here's a couple of YouTube videos I wanted to share with you. The singer in the first one is far from being a cootie girl.. she turns in an incredible performance with this song and every time I hear it I get the chills because she (and the whole band) is sooo good. If Easy Livin' ever had a reunion, that's what I would like to play. I know Teri would ace it! The connection between this song and today's topic? My mind switched out "brokenhearted" in the title with the words "cootie people." I know, I'm nuts..

And this second song - the only one I know of with the words "heebie jeebies" (it's in the title but not the lyrics). I still have the '45 that I got way back in 1966. I really like this song, from one of my favorite groups of that era. I like the '60's photos in the video as well.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Social Scene

A couple of years or so ago, my friend Lynne sent me an e-mail and invited me to take a look at her MySpace page, and urged me make a MySpace page of my own. So I did. I used a moniker but did upload an actual picture of myself from who knows when, with my hair much longer and having the Meathead look (Rob Reiner when he was in All In the Family).

After that my page became a deserted wasteland.

I do have two "friends" on MySpace, however: Lynne, and Jennifer, a co-worker. I mentioned in passing one day that I had signed up for MySpace although I didn't know why, and she told me she was on there, too - so we traded being "friends." I notice that both of them keep their pages up to date but I can't get used to looking at pulsating, brightly and multi-colored pages blaring music with videos and slide shows playing, as well as graphics flying back and forth across the screen. Simultaneously. It's a bit much for an old wheezer like me.

I never even got that far on Facebook. I signed up for an account so a page is there but there's hardly anything on it except where I went to school and where I work - how exciting. I've looked at a few other public Facebook accounts and really don't see the point of it - even if I knew the person, there's nothing worth reading on them, just a bunch of pictures of friends saying meaningful things like what they are going to eat for lunch.

Someone also suggested I get a Twitter account, which I did, and which I used a few times but I haven't been there in weeks, if not months. Meanwhile, people keep adding me to the list of people they follow - 129 as of this writing, even though I haven't posted anything for weeks or even months and don't intend to. I don't think they notice, though.

I liken all those followers on Twitter to the scene in Forrest Gump where he starts running, criss-crossing the country and in the process, acquires a band of groupies who run along beside and behind him. Then one day in the middle of the dessert he stops on the highway. Everyone else stops, too. Then he declares that he doesn't feel like running anymore, and that's all he has to say about that.

I'm not much of a social person anyway. Although I love the computer and my preferred form of communication is e-mail, I just can't get used to all these social networking sites out there. It's so high-maintenance to keep up with everything, and for what? Do I really care that so-and-so is about to bite into a pastrami sandwich?

That said, I do write this blog and I assume there are some people reading it for whatever reasons they may have. The Truman Show wasn't so far fetched - for some reason, we just get curious about what other people are up to. Maybe that's no different than reading biographies. If my friends wrote blogs (which apparently none of them do), I would read them.

Reading blogs seems more personal, whereas the social networking sites seem so impersonal. I've mentioned before I am not a party animal and don't really care for social gatherings and that's how I see sites like Facebook and MySpace and Twitter.

There's actually a couple of blogs that I read even though I don't know the authors at all. Katie told me about one of them recently, and I've started following this fellow. He's an older man (even older than me) who writes about his every day experiences - nothing dramatic, nothing exciting, just simple every day stuff and right to the point, sort of like how Seinfeld was supposed to be a show about nothing. Nevertheless, I find it interesting to read about what is going on in his life. Click here if you want to take a look at it.

Did you take a look? It's nothing exciting and it's kind of funny how he uses such a large font but I find it amazing that so many people read it, based on the number of page views indicated, as well as the comments people leave. So evidently others besides me take an interest in what this fellow is doing. I don't think he's got that many friends and/or relatives keeping tabs on him.

The other blog I read is one I stumbled across back in 2001 when I was searching for information about the Gamble House in Pasadena. I clicked on the search result link and got taken to this blog. I didn't even know what a blog was back then and found it kind of odd that someone would post an online diary for all to see.

I read some of the other entries and found them very well written as well as interesting, so I began to stop by her site to see what new entries she had posted. Even though I don't know this person, after reading so many of her blog entries, I feel like I do. Again, there's nothing real exciting about them, just every day life, but I find it interesting. There's a personal aspect to it, something that is missing from the social networking sites.

Twos the limit, though. Unless I find out someone I actually know is writing a blog, I don't intend to spend time reading any others because it takes too much time.

Is that being voyeuristic? Well, if you put something on the world wide web, you have to expect that it can't be considered private. Those two bloggers I read keep their real identities private, however, whereas here I am with my name plastered in big letters at the top, and in the web address no less. I dunno, I just feel like writing and don't mind that people know who's doing it.

Though it may not seem that way, it's a labor of love, as opposed to the more party-like atmosphere found in the other sites where it seems the object is to collect as many "friends" as possible.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Freeway Jam

A little less than a year ago when I returned to work after my surgery, I made a hopefully permanent change to working from home two days out of the week. I really enjoyed being able to do that - it was so nice not having to dress up for work, or put up with the commute there or the commute home, and get things done in peace and quiet, sans the numerous interruptions that inevitably accompany being in the office. Heck, I could have gone with 3, 4 or even 5 days of telecommuting!

Alas, that shangri-la was temporarily shattered back around May when someone in our office had surgery and the boss wanted me to come in every day while she was out. It seemed like an eternity but eventually she returned and I went back to my two days at home, three in the office schedule.

Alas again, I am once again back on a five-day-in-the-office schedule because that same person, out in May having surgery on one knee, is now out having surgery on her other knee. As you can guess, I can't wait for her to recuperate and get back in the office! It makes a huge difference in my perception of the quality of work life when I'm able to work from home those two days.

On the days I commute, I'm on the road by 6:30 in the morning. There are plenty of cars all over the place even at that early hour, and it seems to be getting worse.

Where are all these people going?? Are they going to work like I am? Conceivably so, since many people begin work at 7 or earlier and being that everything is so spread out in Southern California, many of them have long commutes. It's getting to be that there are few serene times on the streets and highways around here.

At least the traffic moves at 6:30. Try getting on the freeway an hour later and it's a parking lot. It really doesn't clear up until after 10:00. One day last year I took a day off and decided to head over to my fave taco place, Tito's, on the west side of town. I left a little after 9:00, planning to have a leisurely drive over there and an early lunch and couldn't believe how much traffic there was. Don't people have to be at work before 9:00?? Where were all these people going??

Several weeks ago I had to make the drive to the west side a couple of times during the week in rush hour and again, the traffic was overwhelming.

The rat race is getting rattier.

Every day so many of us climb in our cars to execute the same old routine. Is it really adding value to anything? Our paychecks are dangling in front of us and we do need them in order to survive but I keep thinking there has to be a better way. Is the reward proportional to the effort?

I ponder the quality of life here in Southern California. Would I be happier elsewhere? I find it is just too darn crowded here; my idea of a good place to live would be somewhere with broadband internet service and a Costco and Trader Joe's not too far away, within UPS delivery range for those packages from Amazon, but was itself uncrowded and knew no rush hour. Then I wonder if maybe that's just grass is greener syndrome that is afflicting me.

Julie likes it here because of the convenience of everything, plus where else in the U.S. has a plethora of Chinese restaurants like in the San Gabriel Valley? I suppose I would miss my Tito's Tacos as well, but there really aren't any strings I wouldn't mind cutting except for the question of earning a living. What sort of living could I earn in a more isolated area? That's when I start thinking I shoulda pursued writing more seriously.

That's today's wishful thinking. Sometimes it feels like each day is a glowing example of the Peter Principle, lol.. Civilization increasingly becomes spaghetti.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I came home one day and Julie was sobbing. I asked her what was wrong.

"It's so sad. It's so, so sad," she told me through her tears.

"What happened? What's so sad?"

"This show." She pointed to the television. "It's so sad what happened to the couple in there." She was watching a Korean Drama, Stairway to Heaven, to be exact.

At her insistence, I watched it and that became my introduction to the world of Korean dramas. One of her friends had the series on a set of VCD's (these are CD's that have movies on them like DVD's, only the quality isn't very good) except that there were no English subtitles and it wasn't dubbed. The soundtrack choices were either in Cantonese or Korean with Cantonese subtitles.

Since I don't understand either language, I told Julie to take her pick. So she played it back in Cantonese and translated what was going on to me as we watched.

Actually, I kind of liked it. And indeed, it was sad. Towards the end of the 20 or so episodes, we switched to listening in the original Korean language which was much, much better. Listening in Cantonese makes everyone sound so harsh, like they are squawking at each other. The Korean language is much more melodic and it conveys the emotional nuances of the scenes, even if I have no idea what they are saying. I always prefer a movie in its original language - like they say, it loses in the translation.

That must have been about three or four years ago? Since that time I've downloaded many of the series and burned them onto DVD's, and we've watched many on television, as well. They all come with subtitles so we can listen in Korean but read the broken English to find out what they are saying. There are good ones and bad ones, but for the good ones I find I prefer watching them rather than American productions. Maybe its because I like watching Asian characters, or maybe it is because they are a lot "cleaner" than their American television counterparts, but aside from Jeopardy, the only other television I watch these days is pretty much Korean drama.

This is what I've learned about Koreans from watching the dramas so far:

The women are absolutely gorgeous. There is not a blemish on their skin, their features are perfect and, well, they are just beautiful. Is that how they all look? When they show scenes from Korea on the news, the women don't look like that. They look just like average people.

There is always a romantic triangle. Sometimes a few.

They like borrowing money but can't pay it back so loan sharks come over their house and start destroying the furniture and the character begs and pleads for another chance, which they receive, and the same thing happens again about a week later.

They like going to universities in the United States to study. Many times there is a dramatic scene at the airport because their lover races there at the last minute to try and talk them into staying.

Someone always contracts a terminal illness. This is usually discovered by having a nosebleed.

When that person who has the terminal illness has it confirmed by the doctor (I think there is only one actor in Korea who is certified to play that role in all of the series), they go shuffling down the street very slowly, like a zombie, sometimes right down the center of the road while cars zip by, honking at them but they are oblivious to what is going on around them.

People in the hospital are also able to just walk out whenever they want, and go shuffling down the street in their hospital gown, oblivious to cars honking at them.

Korean hospital rooms are the nicest in the world. They have their own refrigerators and sofas, tables, flat panel televisions, etc.

You would think Korean drivers are the worst in the world because invariably, someone gets run over in every series while they are crossing the street because even though the driver honks the horn repeatedly, it never occurs to them to slow down or stop the car.

Koreans like to whack each other on the head.

Whenever something bad happens, they like to drink about 30 bottles of soju and pass out, at which time their friend has to put them on their back and run through the streets carrying them home. Same when someone gets injured and needs to go to the hospital. A friend puts them on their back and they run to the hospital. I don't understand why they just don't drive them there or call a cab.

Korean fathers are mostly CEO's of companies and they hand over the reigns to their kids when they are about 20 years old, give or take a couple of years. An older, faithful manager (they call them "directors") who is not a family member will be resentful.

There is never any love better than your "first love" and Koreans will spend years searching for their long lost first love, who most likely has amnesia.

Koreans only kiss each other after they get married.

Korean parents like to arrange marriages for their kids with mates that their kids can't stand. The parents decide where and when the marriage will take place and at the appointed time, one or both of the kids don't bother to show up at the wedding, which greatly embarrasses the parents. Then they whack their kids on the head later on.

If you've ever had any kind of illness (or your parents, too), then no Korean parent will let you get married to their kid.

Those are a few of the things I have learned about Koreans and their culture from carefully observing Korean dramas. I've also learned a few words, like pabo (idiot), yabo (honey), yoboseo (telephone greeting), anyeoung haseo (greeting in person), komapsamnida (thank you), kumao (thanks - more informal) and paeha (emperor). I probably butchered the words but at least I can recognize them when I hear them. I think I know more Korean than Japanese words now.

You can learn a lot about culture by watching television shows. Look how much I know about Koreans now! I imagine they sit in front of television sets in their country watching American shows, learning about us: "In America, husbands and wives like to have affairs behind each other's back. And, uh, uh, well, that's about all I've learned so far."

Who is the chief justice of the Supreme Court in America? Judge Judy, of course!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Just Passing Time

I'm forewarning you, today's entry is even weirder than usual.

I spent a good part of the day thinking about traveling faster than the speed of light. Einstein says that is not possible but I don't understand why. Here's my spaghetti thoughts on that subject:

When we see an object, we don't really see it per se, we see the light that is reflected from it. If there is no light, we can't see it. Therefore it stands to reason that we can see something only as soon as the time it takes for the light reflected from the object to reach our eyes.

Let's say that someone is going to travel to Alpha Centauri, which is 4 light years away from us; that is, it takes light traveling at the speed of light 4 years to get from there to earth, and vice versa. It's amazing to me that anyone was even able to figure out that light has a speed, rather than being instantaneous, and then how they were able to figure out how fast it goes. That must have been worth an "A" on the school science project.

Let's suppose we had a super duper telescope that was able to see the surface of the planet on Alpha Centauri where the aliens who abducted Betty and Barney Hill live, and they had the same kind of telescope and could see what was happening on earth.

What we would observe through our earth telescope would really be what happened four years ago on Alpha Centauri, since it takes light that long to reach us from there. We would really be viewing their "history."

Now let's suppose we launch a spaceship from earth to Alpha Centauri that is able to cruise at the speed of light. Every minute the astronaut aboard types "X" on their keyboard and sends the image back to earth. Therefore, these "X"'s should be received by earth at intervals of exactly one minute.

However, as the ship sails farther from earth, the intervals between X's increase because of the time it takes for light to travel from the ship back to earth after the X is typed. So would that make it appear that the astronaut is really typing the X's slower than one per minute? As the ship lands on the planet, it must seem like the X's have really slowed down because now it takes a whole four years for each one to reach earth (note: I don't mean time interval between each X is 4 years apart, I mean gradually it slows down to the point where now it takes each X four years to reach the earth).

But once the ship lands, the intervals between X's should now resume being exactly one minute apart as received by earth, only four years after they are typed by the astronaut.

Are you confused? I'll make it worse.

Now the astronaut takes off from the planet near Alpha Centauri and heads back to earth, again at the speed of light and still typing X's at one-minute intervals that are transmitted to earth.

Since the ship is speeding toward earth, it should seem as though the intervals begin to decrease because it no longer takes four years to travel back to earth; the time gets less and less. So it seems the X's are coming faster.

Now let's suppose that the ship is able to move at 10x the speed of light. That means that when the astronaut types an X, the ship actually moves toward earth at a faster rate than the X does. But the astronaut keeps typing the X's at one minute intervals.

So now there is a stream of X's heading toward earth at the speed of light but the astronaut is passing them up because the ship is moving faster than light. Eventually the ship will arrive on earth but the X's will not have all been received yet because they are moving slower than the ship.

You may be asking yourself, so what is the point??? I don't know. I'm just trying to figure out why they say it is not possible to exceed the speed of light, and how is it that all sorts of weird things begin happening once you begin to approach that speed. There is also something about how if you are a spaceman traveling into space at a rate of speed approaching the speed of light, that people back on earth will age much more rapidly than you would inside of your spaceship. Why is that so?

When I read the explanations in the books, I still can't understand it and wonder if the authors understand it themselves or are just repeating what they've read in another book just like people who write history textbooks do. Because if it really was something understandable, I would think they'd write it in a way that could be understood. But then again, you might be saying that about me and my blog.

I went and Googled "why can't you travel faster than the speed of light" and came up with some interesting links. Many of those links had comments from people saying that if you can travel faster than the speed of light, you can go into the future. My question is how can you go into the "future" when it hasn't happened yet? Maybe this is talking about if you are faster than the speed of light then you actually arrive at a place where you are looking into the past because the light, and consequently the images of whatever you are looking at, arrive after you do so it is as if you are in the future looking back at the past.

I'm still confused, as you can tell. All I know is in the future if there is interstellar communication, it will be dangerous to ask someone living in a distant galaxy if they could please tell you what time they have.

That first video of the Chambers Brothers - Michael Jones and I used to have lots of fun with the long version of the song, singing along and adding our own percussion to it.

And that second video - it's one of my favorite movies of all time. All those scenes bring back good memories of the movie.. but then the idea of having a memory - that's another interesting subject..

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Another Saturday Already

It seems like the weeks just speed by. Well, it slows down during the week but speeds up on the weekend and next thing you know, today is that same day of the week that seemed like it was only yesterday.

I started out the morning by getting a flu shot at Kaiser. I took a book with me (the one about Barney and Betty Hill being abducted onto a UFO), expecting to have a long wait in line but to Kaiser's credit, the line moved rapidly. Also to their credit, they really are practicing preventative medicine because once out of the tent where the shots were administered, other staff members herded me into another line to be checked to see if all my shots and vaccinations were up to date.

To my credit, they were.

I think that's great that Kaiser takes a proactive stance towards keeping its members healthy. After all, it benefits them in the long run as well in the form of reduced care costs.

I hadn't expected to finish that early so that meant I wound up at Costco early as well, which gave me time to read more of that book. There weren't that many people in the store today and I saw plenty of parking spaces when I left - not a good sign. Well, good for me since I didn't have to put up with crowds, but bad for Costco. I've just got a couple of pictures today since everything else was repeat business.

The latest coupon book had a $3.50 off coupon for this pasta dish so I thought I'd give it a try.

And I had to pick up a prescription for my mom. That price is for a 3-month supply, 90 pills. Compare that to what she was being charged by the pharmacy at her care facility: $3.99 per pill! That's right - more than 10x as much. I know the other pharmacy has higher overhead because they operate on a 24/7 basis and don't have the purchasing power Costco has, but 10x??

By the way, stupid me finally figured out that I've been using the wrong American Express card at Costco. I was wondering why do I not get that 1% cash back on my Costco purchases as well as an even higher 3% on gasoline? Then I found out I don't have the "True Earnings" American Express card. I thought the card I had (which, by the way was issued in conjunction with Costco) and the True Earnings card were one in the same but apparently not.

This week I submitted an application for the True Earnings card. All the spending I've done so far has qualified me for some measly little rebate on my current card because it is tiered - up to $X of spending, the rebate is only something like .000000004 of the total dollars spent until you get to some astronomical $Y balance, at which time it goes up about another .0000001 until you reach space the final tier, and at $Z are at the millionaire's 1% level. It's sort of like playing the board game Life.

Then I went to see my folks and dropped off the prescription. They had just returned from an exercise session.

I didn't realize how paranoid my dad is. He started asking me about the bill for the facilities (it's sent to me and I handle paying it) and whether or not they itemize everything and how he suspects they are trying to pad the bill with a bunch of services that either he never asked for or never received.

"Here's an example," he told me. "The other day they had me go downstairs because they said the doctor wanted to examine my feet."

That sounded reasonable to me so I just waited for him to continue.

"And do you know what they did?"


"They didn't want to look at my feet. They cut my toenails!"

"Oh." Well I suppose since they don't allow them to keep nail clippers or scissors with them, someone has to take care of that task. At least they didn't try and make him believe he could fall asleep if he held onto his big toe.

"That's the kind of stuff they do around here." He looked at me, waiting for me to have the same astonished look as he did. I just shrugged. "I bet they're going to charge me for that. It's just another way to get money out of me. Did you see that on the bill?"

"No, but the bill wouldn't have any October services on it," I said. "When did they do this? Last month or this month?"

Then he pulled out a mini-sized spiral notebook to consult. There were all kinds of notes written in there. "October 12. They did it October 12 at 9:30 a.m."

"Well, I'll have to check next month's bill to see if they charged you for it," I told him. Then I noticed he had a little reminder note about getting my uncle (his brother) Hiroshi's phone number from the address book at the house.

"Did you get the number from Jessie?" I asked him. My sister had called and left a message to give to him.

"Yes, but I don't think this is the right number. I called it a couple of times and this voice comes on that tells me something like, like, well I can't remember but they say something like, 'I'm not in right now' and stuff like that. Sort of like it's a business or something. I bet they wrote down the wrong number. See, it's easy to just get one of the numbers wrong, and there you are, it's not the right number anymore."

Finally I ascertained whether or not he had left a message. No, he hadn't. "Well how do you know it's the wrong number if you didn't leave a message? Maybe that's the right number but how's Hiroshi going to know you called if you don't leave that message for him?"

"Naw, that couldn't be him. That voice was in good English. Like it was a high class white man talking."

I started to tell him that could be the phone company's own voice mail service but thought I'd just leave it like that. "Just check with Jessie when she comes here tomorrow," I said.

"I'm going to do that. Then if it turns out that's the right number, then I'll leave a message."

I asked him when was the last time he had spoken to my uncle/his brother.

"Oh, it's been a long time," he said. "I don't like calling over there because his wife always answers the phone and she's kind of, kind of-" and he was circling his finger around his head "-kind of loopy. She's not all there."

"Like how?"

"One time she called me up and was all upset because she thought I called there and said, 'Hiroshi Hiroshi Hiroshi Hiroshi' and then hung up the phone real fast. She asked why did I call and do that? I said, 'what makes you think I did that? Why would I do something like that??'"

"So what did she say?"

"She said, 'well it sounded like your voice so I thought it was you.' I told her why would I call and say 'Hiroshi Hiroshi Hiroshi Hiroshi' like that real fast and then hang up? And she kept insisting it was me because it sounded like me. That's why I never want to call there because she's going to answer the phone. I know it."

Meanwhile my mom sat there patiently, just listening.

Then it got to be their lunchtime so I said goodbye to mom and dad, then headed out to run some more errands.

One of the errands was to the bank, where I had to wait to talk to one of the accounts people. While I sat there, I watched the fish in the saltwater aquarium against the wall. There were some really colorful ones, including jellyfish so it must have been a salt water tank.

While I sat there watching the fish swim, I wondered if they realized they were in a box and knew the difference between this and being in the open sea. Were they aware that they were hemmed in by the glass sides of the tank and that the decorations were the same day in and day out? They were well-cared for, that's for sure, and didn't have to worry about any of the perils of the deep sea. But I wondered if they missed their freedom.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Blogger's Block and Ants

Today's entry is pretty short because I still feel rather blah about things, which has led to a case of blogblock or brainblock or whatever you want to call it.

My exercise schedule these days includes going for a run every other day. I start out walking for about 2/3 of a mile to warm up, then do my run. The walking part goes alongside the football field of Temple City High School where I notice red ants have made nests in the dirt patch between the curb and the sidewalk.

I mentioned in earlier posts that I used to collect red ants and put them in fish bowls or other glass containers to watch them dig their tunnels. I've always had an interest in ants because they are social creatures and their actions mirror humans in many ways.

The difference is, these industrious ants don't think, whereas humans (supposedly) do - that is, ants operate from instinct and probably know not what they are really doing.

I walk past the nests and see little mounds of dirt where ants have busily excavated their nests in the ground and carried up dirt, one bit per ant at a time, which piles up into these mounds. No one tells them what to do, they just do it and it would appear to me, the observer, that they do a very efficient job of it.

At one point in time I wanted to write a book about an ant society in which one ant suddenly possesses the ability to think, and becomes aware of its existence. She observes her fellow workers and with her thinking ability (the majority of ants are females) comes to the conclusion that she can make their operations more efficient.

Over time, other ants gain the gift (?) of cognitive ability and now within the colony of what once were oodles of creatures operating on instinct, more and more of them are able to think and evaluate their surroundings and they all develop their own opinions as to how to improve it.

Eventually this leads to mayhem as the thinking ants clash with each other and also attempt to exploit their unthinking cohorts and the results prove disastrous. What once was a thriving, growing ant colony now becomes a paralyzed mass burdened by bureaucracy as well as hindered by class wars, prejudice, and other problems previously only enjoyed by humans.

Well, the possibilities are endless and such a book could certainly turn into another War and Peace; now and then I toy with the idea of actually sitting down and writing it, just as I do with all these other ideas I keep pushing to the back of my mind. Maybe that's why I feel so blah - I keep stifling myself and my brain is overstuffed with ideas growing rancid.

John Stossel hosted tonigh's edition of ABC's 20/20 and spent the hour pointing out how all too often government acts as an obstacle to progress, and how we'd be better off without all their red tape interference. Earlier today when I went for my run, I was thinking about those ant colonies and how they operate on autopilot, and how maybe I ought to expand on that for my blog entry. When I watched 20/20 I thought, hey, tonight's subject runs along those same lines. So I came back to the computer and wrote this entry, which also had the effect of getting my brain churning with more ideas about the ant story.

Whaddaya think? I'm starting to not feel so blah all of a sudden. Or is that a dopey idea? Here's a Saturday double feature for you..

Friday, October 17, 2008

Change of Plan

I had almost finished writing my entry for today (Friday), about my experience as an Amazon Vine member. If you're not familiar with this program, here is the description that appears on Amazon's web site:
Amazon Vine™ is a program that enables a select group of Amazon customers to post opinions about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make educated purchase decisions. Customers are invited to become Amazon Vine™ Voices based on the trust they have earned in the Amazon community for writing accurate and insightful reviews. Amazon provides Amazon Vine™ members with free copies of products that have been submitted to the program by vendors. Amazon does not influence the opinions of Amazon Vine™ members, nor do we modify or edit their reviews.
I had written about the products I had received and reviewed so far, and the product offerings that were posted today and what I ended up choosing. Then I thought, maybe I should read the terms and conditions of being a member before I post my entry and sure enough, in the fine print was a clause about keeping all non-public information confidential.

Since I didn't want to lose a good thing, as well as face the shame of being expelled from the club, I dutifully deleted everything I wrote. Especially being of Japanese ancestry, I would have had to puncture myself with a sword had they kicked me out for violating the rules. Let me just say that I have gotten some pretty good products as a benefit of being a member, however.

That left me searching for something to write about. And so here's my last minute cyber scribblings:

Work has left me sort of burned out lately. Not in the sense of having worked too hard from being overwhelmed, although it has been quite busy, but more the sense of asking myself, what is the point? We move like a blindfolded amoeba, miraculously managing to keep moving and survive. But even despite the economy I feel we could be doing a whole lot better if only we would take deliberate actions in some obvious areas.

What would I be doing otherwise? Well, if you've been reading this blog you know I like to write but I fear I am like a blindfolded amoeba when it comes to doing anything that would enable me to actually write for a living so for the time being I continue harboring good intentions, if nothing more concrete.

The other thing I like to do, nerdly enough, is work with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. I like the challenge of knowing that "y" needs to be accomplished, and trying to come up with the "x" of how to get there in the most efficient (and correct) way. Maybe that's why I used to enjoy doing word problems so much in junior high. Excel is such a powerful program and when used properly, can make work life so much easier. Recently we upgraded to Excel 2007 at work, and I did the same at home as well - it has been easy enough to make the transition, despite all the whining and complaining I read about "the ribbon" on the 2007 version (which is really nothing at all) but I still bought some "how-to" books from Amazon.

I was thinking I really ought to dive more deeply into the program and learn it inside out because I like working with it and who knows, maybe that will make life more interesting somehow. I use it all the time at work to show just how ridiculous some of the things we do really are, lol.

Anyway, sorry for the lame post today. I've been feeling kind of blah lately, probably from that penned in feeling I get from sitting in the office every day and forgetting there's an outside, and forgetting to dream. I don't think I've been listening to enough music. But stay tuned, the weekend is arriving!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crazy Stuff I Did When I Was a Little Brat

A while ago I wrote about some of the crazy things I believed when I was little, like holding onto my sister's big toe would make me fall asleep, or how I was sure my mom was trying to poison me. Here's some more from the dopey side.

I always thought my dad mellowed out significantly as I grew older; when I was little I was terrified of his temper and it seemed he was constantly getting angry at me. Recently it occurred to me that perhaps that was a function of the way I behaved, haha.

One of the earliest things I can recall writing, the image still burned in my mind, happened right after my dad yelled at me for something and then went outside to work in the yard. I stood by the back door watching him through the window, glad that he was out there. I got a pencil and scrawled, "daddy is out" in tiny letters on the white paint of the door and took a certain smug pleasure in the fact that I was now safe inside. Well, that didn't last too long because when he came inside he discovered my little act of defiance which of course I couldn't deny writing, so once again I received a spanking.

I told my mom how much I didn't like it when dad got mad at me. Soon afterwards, she had a talk with me. She reassured me that dad was going to have an operation and the doctor was going to take out his temper so he wouldn't get mad any more. I imagined a temper as this hot, glowing red object and was so very relieved to hear that it was being removed.

The operation appeared successful. Dad didn't get mad at me. For a while. I think I forced my hand a little too much and all of a sudden that temper came back. I was bewildered - I asked my mom, what happened??? I thought you said the doctor took out his temper! She gave me an answer like, "they must not have gotten all of it so they'll have to try again."

Now I don't want anyone thinking I was a victim of child abuse, because I wasn't. I knew full well I deserved those spankings, just like the time I received that swat in junior high. I just must've had a penchant for misbehaving..

Like how I used to treat my grandpa. He lived with us and spoke minimal English. I was a real brat towards him - I was terribly disrespectful, never listening to anything he told me. He would motion to me to quiet down and I'd louden up. He'd indicate he wanted me to stop running around and be still, and I'd crank up the energy level. But he had the last laugh.

Once again I was acting up as usual and this time he calmly put his hand on my forehead, causing a paralysis throughout my entire body. I literally could not move and it felt like electricity was surging through my bones. I tried to scream and couldn't. Where his power came from mystified and terrified me.

He took his hand away and I was able to move but before I could go back to my bratty ways, he placed it back on my forehead and the paralysis returned. My eyes pleaded with grandpa to take his hand away but he left it there, teaching me a lesson for all the grief I'd caused him.

Then I woke up. I could have sworn that really happened. Just in case it did, from that point on I gave grandpa a wide birth and a lot more respect. I was relieved when he moved to Japan not long afterwards. He probably wondered what brought about the sudden change in my behavior.

Since I am embarrassing myself so much, I might as well continue.

My sister is ten years older than me. I took perverted delight in pestering her and, being so much younger, I got away with a lot since I was just a poor little victim. I loved pestering her boyfriends when they came over the house, too. Why? Just to be as annoying and obnoxious as I possibly could, haha.

While my sister was getting ready, her boyfriend sat in our living room. I sat there too. I made faces at him and he made faces back at me. Then I started picking my nose to gross him out and I could tell by the disgusted expression on his face that my strategy was perfect; he couldn't match that one!

Not content to rest on my laurels, I stood up and started to turn around in circles. I must have thought that would add to his annoyance. All it did was add to my dizziness as I kept spinning around, too proud and stupid to stop because he was watching me.

Finally I got so dizzy I fell down in a heap. I looked up and the boyfriend was laughing hysterically. Just like when Lucy Ricardo did something stupid to make herself the laughingstock, I got up as quickly as I could and zipped out of the room, accompanied by a soundtrack of derisive laughter ringing in my boiling ears. The next time he came over I decided to stay in my room.

You have to be careful what you tell kids because they believe it all. My sister had an argument with my parents and came storming into her room. I was in there and asked her what happened. "I'm running away from home," she declared, then looked at me. "I'm taking you with me!"


"You heard me! I'm gonna run away and you're coming too."

"But, I don't want to go," I meekly protested.

"I don't care, you're going."

I sat there mulling over that big change in my life, imagining each of us with our own napsack tied to our poles as we walked down the railroad tracks. That upset me greatly and for the next few days I was on edge, worrying about exactly when our departure would take place. Every day when my sister came home from school I expected her to tell me the moment had come, get my stuff and let's go.

After a few days with nothing happening, I asked her when we were leaving.

"Leaving? Leaving for where?"

"You said you were going to run away from home and take me with you. When are we going?"

"Oh. I changed my mind."

Another case of big relief for me. Whew, another traumatic event averted.