Saturday, April 30, 2005

media update: April

I suffered greatly from a dearth of decent reading material this month, and occasionally found myself reduced to reading (shudder) chick lit. Because they're all basically the same (heroine deals with boy trouble, has sympathetic gay male friend, finds True Love at the end), I didn't bother doing summaries for those.

Asterisks denote something I particulary enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. Nocturnes* by John Connolly: I'm not ordinarily a fan of short stories, but come on...John Connolly! My favorites were the opening story, "The Cancer Cowboy Rides", and "The Reflecting Eye", a Charlie Parker novella to tide me over until The Black Angel comes out in June, at which point he'll be touring and I can go stalk him again.

2. Speechless by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout

3. The Position by Meg Wolitzer: Four siblings in the 70's try to cope with the publication of their parents' sex manual (complete with graphic illustrations of their mother and father in the act), the runaway success of which continues to affect them far into the future.

4. L.A. Woman by Cathy Yardley


1. It Must Have Been Something I Ate* by Jeffrey Steingarten: Terrific, witty essays on the art of eating everything from fried bamboo worms (um, ew) to turducken (a chicken stuffed into a duck, which is then stuffed into a turkey). Word of warning: there are a few disturbing scenes involving the slaughter of animals.


1. Golden Cain by Asagiri You
2. Murmur of the Penis* vol. 2 by Yamato Nase
3. Death Note* vols. 1-5 by Ohba Tsugumi and Obata Takeshi: A teenage boy finds a notebook in which are written instructions on how to kill people from a distance: write down their name, think of their face, and they'll be dead in a matter of seconds from a heart attack. The boy, skeptical at first, tries it out on a criminal featured on the news and is astounded when it seems to work. He develops a major god complex and decides he'll use the notebook to clean up the scum of society, and when the police finally figure out that some sort of strange vigilante is at work, they send the brilliant and mysterious detective known only as "L" to find him. The boy can't kill his pursuer with the notebook because he doesn't know the guy's real name...and the chase is on. This is an addictive series that raises all sorts of profound ethical questions; I highly recommend it.
4. Pieta vols. 1-2 by Haruno Nanane
5. Non-Stop Love Train by Miki Araya
6. I Want to Lose Myself* vol. 2 by Yuki Yoshihara
7. Shinyuu Henjou
8. Ears, Tail, and the Magic User by Tohko Mizuno
9. The Poacher of Desire by Tori Maia


1. Alien: Hard to believe I'd never seen the grandmother of all "jump" movies until now.
2. Spiderman 2*: I enjoyed this much more than the first one, and burst into tears during the train scene because I am a BIG PUSS.
3. I, Robot: Not fantastic or anything, but an enjoyable enough way to waste some time. When they showed Will Smith in the shower at the beginning, I turned to G and said, "Okay, nothing else in the movie can top this, so we might as well turn it off." He was not amused, but I was right; nothing else in the movie DID top it.

Friday, April 29, 2005

my smile is pasted on yay

A partial list of things that are bugging the ever-lovin’ fuck out of me. Language warning!

PARIS HILTON: She’s always got that “entitlement bitch” aura about her, and whenever I see a picture of her with one enormous hand on her hip and those narrowed eyes and smug smile, I want to yank out her extensions and wipe my ass with them. I may have to see House of Wax just so I can enjoy her death scene.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES: Never seen an episode and, thanks to the endless media coverage (Marcia Cross hates Teri Hatcher OMG!!!11!eleventyone!), I don’t plan to.

COLDPLAY: I despise Coldplay and their whiny “oh I’m British and pale and therefore I must be cool” twee thumb-twiddling tunes. Plus, the lead singer is married to Gwyneth Paltrow, who also bugs the ever-lovin’ fuck out of me. I was driving to work, listening to KROQ, and the DJ said something about their new album being delayed and how it’s sending everyone into a frenzy. EVERYONE? Not me, cracker. I’d rather eat an ortolan than listen to Coldplay ever again. Fuck Chris Martin in his gigantic ear.

SHOPPING MAGAZINES: After the runaway success of Lucky, you knew a rash of imitators was bound to pop up. There’s Shop, which has a table of contents every fifty pages or so for those bored socialites who can’t be bothered to flip back to the front of the magazine; Domino, a new decorating magazine for people who don’t find anything strange about spending $300 for a bath mat; and Cargo, the magazine for men who love to shop. There’s already a magazine for men who love to shop. It’s called Out.

THAT ONE ALANIS MORRISSETTE SONG: I don’t know the name of it---it wasn’t one of the popular ones---but it’s on “Jagged Little Pill”. G absolutely loves Alanis, and he had that CD playing the last time I was over at his place. Remember that South Park episode where they are trying to find “the brown note”, the pitch that would make people spontaneously shit their pants? I swear to god, I had to clench my ass cheeks tighter than a pretty boy in prison to keep from soiling myself. I made G promise to never, ever play that song in my presence again.

Wow, this list is actually shorter than I expected! As always, I must temper my vitriol with some sugar, i.e. an equal number of things I love, plus one or two more for good measure.

JACK: This is a new radio station here in Southern California (93.1FM) that plays a very eclectic mix of songs. The other morning, they played “Goodbye Mary” by Supertramp, followed by “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode, and then they played “Lost Cause” by Beck. Like a peanut butter and bacon sandwich, it shouldn’t work…but it does.

BACON: Speaking of bacon...oh yeah. Perfect food. Just thinking about its aroma filling my quivering nostrils while I bite into a succulent strip of flesh gives me a serious moistie.

TED: For Administrative Assistants Day, he gave J and me $15 Barnes & Noble giftcards and M&M cookies that his daughters made.

DADDY-O: I love him so much, because even when he’s down, he’s still got a great sense of humor.

"FAME" BY IRENE CARA: I don’t want to hear a word, okay? This song is impossible to listen to without a) singing along and/or b) leaping about your living room like a fiend.

DEFAMER.COM: The best kind of snarky. I dread the day I go to their page and find that Tom Cruise’s lawyers have shut them down.

G: My NS is back from Florida, and I’m going to be spending the weekend with him. I can't wait!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Jaw, meet floor.

When I got to work today, I had an e-mail from my brother, so I popped open my morning can of Coke and began reading. It started off with an anecdote from his job and a comment about the cold he’s getting over, and then he blindsided me by writing, “What do you think about Dad and G’s breakup?”


I instantly called Daddy-O’s work number and got his voicemail, so I left a message asking him to call me back as soon as possible. When my phone rang about ten minutes later, I grabbed the receiver and breathlessly whipped through the usual spiel.

“You sound so professional, Little Ro. What’s up?”

“Did you and G really break up?”


“Good news travels fast,” he said, chuckling wearily.

“What…what the hell happened?” I sputtered. “You guys have been doing so well!”


About three years after my mom died, my dad cautiously dipped his toes back into the murky swamp of the Dating World. Because of his position, he can’t date anyone at work, so he signed up with a dating service, and I believe G was either the second or third woman they set him up with. She had just gotten divorced from a very successful, very assholish attorney, and she was still a little fragile. Still, she and Daddy-O hit it off, and they began seeing each other exclusively. Unfortunately, her emotional baggage kept falling from the overhead compartment and bonking poor Daddy-O on the head, so they broke up about a year later. He started seeing a very blonde, very leggy woman, and word got back to G, who was wracked with jealousy and came a-callin’. Because he had never gotten over G, and because Blondie McLeggerson was making him nervous (note to all single women out there: telling a man on your SECOND DATE that you want a marquise diamond engagement ring of at least 3 carats = bye bye boyfriend), he took her back…and things were all sunshine and roses for the past four years.

Until now, which brings us back to the story at hand.

“To be honest, things have been a little…weird for the last month or so,” Daddy-O said. “I mean, I wanted to be with her, and I wanted to take things to the next level…not marriage, necessarily, but living together at least. And she had some reservations about that, like for example, she said she didn’t feel ready for that, despite the fact that we’ve been seeing each other steadily for five years now, and that she didn’t think I could give her the kind of lifestyle she wants.”

My nostrils began whistling like a teakettle as I worked myself up into a full-on frenzy; I was glad nobody else had come in yet.

“The KIND of LIFESTYLE she wants?” I exploded. “What the HELL does she want? A goddamn jet?”


“You make a DAMN good living, and you have a DAMN good job! Not only that, she gets ten grand a MONTH alimony for doing NOTHING but staying single, and why should money even matter at ALL? If you love someone, you should be just as happy eating hot dogs in front of the TV as you are going out to nice restaurants! Who the hell does she think she is, Paris Hilton? That goddamn---“

“Hey, hey, hey,” Daddy-O interrupted. “I know you’re mad, and I’m mad too, frankly, but I still care very much about her and I don’t want you badmouthing her around me, please.”

Oh, he is far too good for a spoiled little entitlement princess like that. He’s a handsome guy with a great career, he’s funny as hell, and he’s so charming he could sell ketchup popsicles to a Florida bride in July. There’s a woman out there who’s going to care more about him than his Lexus or his bank account, and I know he'll find her eventually.

In the meantime, though, I am hurting so bad for him.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

how not to impress a potential landlady

Our lease is up at the end of June, and after a deep discussion (which lasted all of three minutes), K and I decided to keep living together. After all, we've managed not to kill each other after almost five years, we know and appreciate (or at least tolerate) each other's quirks and foibles, and we're comfortable with each other.

Both of us being too punk-ass broke to live alone helps, too.

Our next decision was even easier to make: stay in our current place or find new digs?

Immediate consensus: new digs.

I mean, I love the little town where we live; it's where I grew up, so it's got that all-important familiarity factor. However, our apartment is a petri dish, and the complex is crawling with unsavory characters (the guy next door gives me a definite Edmund Kemper vibe) and screaming crotch-droppings; ergo, it's time to blow this popsicle stand.

G is out of town this weekend, so K and I decided to take this opportunity to do a little apartment-hunting.

The first place we visited, though obviously of 70's vintage, had a real charm to it. The apartment we looked at had two stories, with a half-bath on the bottom floor and a full bathroom on the top, and both bedrooms were approximately the same size, which was good. I surreptitiously inspected the windowsills and ceilings for any sign of mold, and found none.

The second place was right across from the first place, and was almost exactly the same. The landlady showed us a little storage closet in the living room, and K said, "Oh, that's the perfect size for a dead body."

The landlady turned around and stared at her. I started to make the throat-slashing gesture universally interpreted as "Shhh!", but feared it would be misinterpreted by the landlady as "Get her!"

"Well, a small one," K amended, and I bit my lower lip to quell a smile.

"I'm pretty small," the landlady meekly said.

Okay. Next.

The third place was set back in the hills, and despite a busy mall only a few miles away, it was eerily quiet. The manager showed us to a townhome-styled place, and pointed out the washer/dryer hookups in the storage closet.

"Our own washer and dryer," I said dreamily.

Then she showed us the bedrooms, one of which had...oh god...a window seat! Ever since childhood, I have yearned for a window seat.

And a pony.

Never got either, dammit.

After we thanked the third landlady, we got back in K's car and sat there for a minute. "That was really, really nice," K said.

"I know," I replied. "Let's not move here, though."

She glanced at me. "I think I know why, but tell me anyway."

"I just got a really weird vibe from this place. It was probably the nicest one of them all, and I friggin' loved that window seat, but there was just a ping on my radar that was telling me no."

"That's so fucking weird. Me too. Okay, we'll cross this one off."

See? We're perfect together. (Well, not TOGETHER as in, you know, together. We don't do it.)

Anyway, I don't know that we're done searching, but we both liked the first place an awful lot. I have already mentally decorated my future room with a lovely selection of items from Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, and although I'm not looking forward to the actual move itself, I'll be glad when I'm all settled into my new home.

Wish us luck, kidlets!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Sweet Valley High

Ah, Sweet Valley High.

For those of you unfamiliar with this book series, it dealt with the exploits of sisters Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, who lived in the fictional SoCal town of---wait for it!---Sweet Valley. Jessica was the “bad” twin, always scheming to get this boy or that dress, and Elizabeth was the “good” twin: friendly, smart, and hopelessly devoted to hunky Todd Wilkins. Jessica and Elizabeth shared a zippy Fiat Spyder convertible and stereotypical California girl good looks. They fought occasionally, but always made up, and were fiercely loyal to one another. Nothing truly awful happened to either one of them, for Sweet Valley was a veritable utopia. The haves and the have-nots coexisted peacefully (save the occasional snippy comment), nobody had sex, and people who tried drugs met a tragic demise (cf. Regina Morrow). Everything was back to normal and peachy-keen by page 200.

These books were insipid and formulaic, and I was absolutely obsessed with them.

Every single month, I would beg my mom to take me to the local bookstore, where the proprietor would keep the latest one aside for me. Back in my room, I’d flop face down on my pink butterfly-patterned comforter, kicking my legs in the air as I read it cover to cover. Then it would go up on my bookshelf with all the others, neatly lined up in numerical order, never to be read again.

Of course, eventually I grew out of the Sweet Valley High series, and my beloved collection was unceremoniously dumped in the Goodwill donation bin. I didn’t even think about Elizabeth and Jessica until years later, when I was at the library and saw Sweet Valley University. Despite being far older than the target audience, I checked one out, just for old times’ sake, and read it with arch amusement, with “too-cool-for-you-anymore” detachment. It seemed so antiquated, a relic of my past best left with tattered copies of Bop and posters of John Taylor tattooed with lipstick prints.

Well, the other night at Borders, I read an interview with Sweet Valley High creator Francine Pascal in Bust, and I actually let out a yelp of glee when she mentioned that she’s got a book called Sweet Valley Heights set for release in late 2005, in which the gang is grown up and living in a gated community, and she promises it will be “outrageous”. (Dare I hope for---gasp!---sex scenes? Maybe even NON-VANILLA sex scenes?)

It’s going to be so cheesy you could melt it and use it as nacho dip.

Will I preorder a copy?

Hell yeah!

Friday, April 15, 2005

the ones that got away

When I was in Japan, my fellow participants and I snapped pictures of just about everything we could: locals, signs, toilets, shrubs, temples, drunks, you name it. I'm pretty sure more than one local thought to themselves, "Shit, and they think we're bad?"

Anyway, despite taking over 200 pictures, I did not manage to get a good shot of the drunk guy in the swan tutu, the uproariously raunchy Phil, or the butt hive I referred to here as Dawn Weiner. Fortunately, when you've got thirtysome unabashed geeks on a tour, SOMEONE is bound to get that shot you wanted...and post it online.

(DISCLAIMER: I did not take any of these pictures and claim no rights to any of them whatsoever. I uploaded them to my own server because Bandwidth Theft Is Bad, Mmmmkay. Void where prohibited by law. Due to rampant fraud and Internet sales, Subway will no longer provide Sub Club cards or stamps, but will honor full cards.)

The best thing about this shot of us is the Japanese mother protectively clutching her child to her bosom as the herd of gaijin cheerfully march by. "Watch out for the crackers, honey!"

At Kiyomizu-dera, there was a Buddhist iron staff that weighed over 150 pounds, and of course it was Phil who managed to lift it more than a few feet off the ground, to the delight of all assembled. Seriously, this dude was insane.

Isaac strikes a pose in Osaka.

Here, the close proximity of Dawn Weiner, combined with a singing voice that made a cat getting its balls cut off with a rusty razor sound like Andrea Bocelli, causes a tour participant's eyes to glow red with rage and pain.

This is Ben, who was also really funny.

Can you imagine a tourist going up to a schoolgirl in America and asking to take a picture with her? He'd be arrested!

I am the Blue Power Ranger! I am really fucking drunk!


Hori was no Ken, but still damn cute. Iiiiya~n...

Monday, April 11, 2005

4/3: Fasten seatbelt! Turbulence doki-doki!

[Transcribed from trip journal]

This morning, I had breakfast (scrambled eggs, Pocari Sweat, ham, and two slices of toast with that phenomenal blueberry jam) and then returned to my room to pack.

When I met up with everyone in the lobby, Phil said, “Hey, [CQ], what’s up?” He squinted and read the front of my shirt and said, “Dude, that shirt is wicked! I gotta read it again.” So he did, and then he said, “Man, that is just awesome. I could read that shirt all day.”

“Pervert,” I said fondly.

Our native guide/translator Hori walked us to the subway station, and then he bowed deeply and said goodbye. We all clapped and thanked him for his hard work, and he waved as he walked away. I loved Hori, not just because he had a fun name to say, but because he was simply awesome. I swear, these tour guides don’t get paid nearly enough to deal with the likes of Dawn Weiner and Tee-Hee (a really sweaty, loud, irritating Sailor Moon freak who kept asking Hori rapid-fire questions using unusual words and slang and getting mad when he didn’t understand), and they’re always so patient and kind.

When the train left the station, I put on my iPod Shuffle and rested my chin on my hand as I looked out the window. The first song to come on was Bonnie Pink’s “Last Kiss”, and I actually misted up as I watched the scenery go by. It was hard to believe my wonderful trip was over, and all that remained was a very long flight.


To take my mind off it, I composed the following list.


*Heated toilet seats. Yeah, there are people in the US that have heated toilet seats, but they’re rich. I firmly believe that all Americans have the inalienable right to warm buttcheeks.

*Safe, clean, reliable mass transit.

*In both hotels, when I got out of the shower, the bathroom mirror was fogged up with the exception of one perfect fogless square. Of course, I had to wonder why they didn’t just make the whole thing fogless, unless the maids were doing the bar soap trick on one patch of the mirror, which just blew my mind. The borders were somewhat uneven, lending credibility to that theory, so if the fogless mirror does not actually exist, then I want a Japanese maid to do the bar soap trick on my bathroom mirror for me every night. And I want her to be young and cute and wear a uniform like the girls at e-Maid did. And she must fawn over me. She doesn’t have to be sincere or anything, as long as I believe she’s sincere. Make it so.

*Haagen-Dazs crispy caramel ice cream sandwiches. Orgasm in a wrapper.

*This one’s kind of hard to explain, but in both hotel rooms, once you set the alarm on the clock, a tiny window popped up at the bottom, underneath the current time, showing an icon of a bullhorn with wavy lines, to show that it was on, and what time it was set for. This is such a vast improvement over my alarm clock, which forces me---the OCD poster girl---to press a button repeatedly to make sure it’s actually on and set for the proper time. Also, it had a reverse button as well as a forward button, which mine does not. Genius!

*Several different flavors of Kit Kat bars. I didn’t see the lemon cheesecake ones, dammit, but I had a white chocolate one that was pretty damn good. I wasn’t brave enough to try the pomengranate one.

Once we reached the airport, there was a flurry of panic as two of my fellow travelers realized they had lost their return tickets and as several others realized they had to reorganize all their shit because they had far too much to carry on. When my stuff went through security, the guard asked if she could look through my suitcase, and I said yes...only to cringe in horror as she held up the copy of "Young Animal" (a porno comic that says on the cover, in English, "Everything but animal!") I'd bought as a joke souvenir for G. She repacked my suitcase neater than I had, though, so I guess it all worked out okay.

The flight itself was probably the most turbulent I've ever been on, and I was on a plane that got struck by lightning once, so that tells you something. The crew was in the middle of serving dinner and had to put the carts away and strap in. I tried in vain to enjoy my meal (the same delicious spread they had last time I flew Thai Airways: steak, potatoes, cha-soba, cake, rolls, crackers and cheese, a crab and teriyaki chicken appetizer, salad, and as much tea and/or wine as you wanted) but I was having a hell of a time cutting my steak, so I sat back, tried to keep my tray from falling into my lap, and waited for it to pass.

When meal service resumed, the stewardess asked if I wanted a refill on my red wine, and I gratefully accepted. Jared, the fellow traveler next to me, said, "It's none of my business, but are you even old enough to be drinking?"

I stared at him to see if he was mocking me, and finding no hint of such a thing, I said, "Um, how old do you think I am?"

"Uh...low twenties?"

I beamed. "I love you."

"Wow, is that all it takes? Wish I'd known that at the beginning of the tour."

Other than the great meal, the bad turbulence, and the unexpected compliment, it was a pretty uneventful flight. I got up every few hours to walk around the cabin in hopes of staving off DVT, I slept, I started a book so shitty (The Pact by Jennifer Sturman) that I couldn't bring myself to finish it, I listened to my iPod. It went by pretty fast, actually.

We landed at LAX a little after 10AM and went through customs. Phil was standing near me in line, and he said, "Man, that turbulence was off the fuckin' hook! I was trying to eat and it was like trying to cut a steak on the back of a fuckin' wild horse or something."

Once everyone had collected their suitcases and gone through the customs rigamarole, we all scattered. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to anyone, since almost everyone was racing to catch a connecting flight, and that made me sad.

I walked out into the beautiful California sunshine to catch a shuttle to the hotel where I was meeting K, and to my delight, I saw Joe waiting for a cab. I yelled, "Joe!" and he turned around and waved, saying, "I better see you at Anime Expo this year! You keep in touch!"

When I got to the hotel, I called K's cell to let her know I'd gotten in a little early. She said she'd just dropped Rick off and that she'd meet me in the restaurant, and asked if I could order her a quesadilla. So I went in there and ordered her food and a French dip sandwich for myself, and I could tell the waiter thought I had an "imaginary friend" or something, so I was glad when she showed up!

After we'd finished our meal, I paid and asked the cashier to validate the parking ticket, but she said her machine was broken and to go up front. So I waited in a line full of angry people (apparently a couple of flights were cancelled), got the ticket stamped, and K and I went outside and I gratefully tumbled into her car.


When K pulled up to the gate and put the ticket in, it said "Voided" on the display. "What the hell?" She tried again, and got the same result, so I went back inside, marched past the unruly crowd, and got the ticket restamped. Came back outside, same thing happened.

K stared at me as my hands clutched into fists. "Are you okay?"

"Remember how you said you've never seen me truly angry?"


"Oh, you're about to see it. You're about to see it hardcore."

Seriously, I almost never get really angry, and I felt like the top of my head was about to come off. Let's do some math!

Crowded subway ride + 3-hour train ride + 11-hour bumpy flight + impending one-hour car trip + sore shoulders + rapidly approaching jet lag + sadness at leaving Japan x Holiday Inn's moronic desk clerk = homicidal CQ.

I stormed out of the car and began yanking on the automatic gate arm, yelling, "Lift up, you cocksucker! You fucking piece of fuck! Fuck you!"

And lo, it lifted.

I don't know if they saw me inside and were afraid to have me come back in or what, but whatever the cause, I didn't care. I got back in the car and passed out within ten minutes.

When we finally arrived at the Happy Ranch, I took a whiz, loved up Sneakers, left messages at G's, my brother's, and Daddy-O's to let them know I got back safely, and I retreated to my room for ten hours in a vegetative state.

I really miss Japan, but at least I had an incredible time, and I've got my memories and my 200+ pictures to tide me over until I can get back there. But it's also good to be back in the US, where my friends and family and NS are, where I can communicate without a guidebook and elaborate hammy gestures, and where my wonderful enormous comfy bed is. Man, you'd think with all their technological innovations, the Japanese could invent a comfortable bed.

Preferably a heated one.

With vibrating attachments.

And a Japanese maid.

Make it so.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

4/2 part 2: hot cherry blossom action!

[Transcribed from trip journal. Mouse over pictures for relevant comments and/or descriptions.]

After I met up with the group back at Tokyo Big Sight, several people took off to go shopping and/or drinking, and the rest of us took the train to Ueno Park to see the cherry blossoms. We had been told that they were blooming late this year due to an unusually rainy spring, and not all of the trees were in flower, but it was still absolutely gorgeous.

Cherry blossom viewing is a huge deal in Japan. Basically, people sit under the trees, ostensibly to ponder the fleeting beauty of the fragile blooms, but in reality to eat massive amounts of food, be loud and boisterous, and get utterly wasted.

Only a few seconds after I snapped the above picture, an elderly Japanese man staggered up to us and began jabbering excitedly, pointing at our tote bags from the Tokyo Anime Fair. I only caught the word otaku, which basically means fanboy/fangirl, and laughed. Shimako told us he was complimenting us on our bags and telling us how much he loves “Naruto”, which is a wildly popular ninja series. Eventually, he tottered off and we continued walking.

Lanterns leading down the sidewalk at Ueno Park.

A particularly rowdy group of guys caught our attention, so we stopped to check out what they were doing.

That would be Isaac in front.  Needless to say, we got a lot of attention wherever we went, both because of the gaijin factor and because Isaac is a tall black man with bright red dreads.  Note the pyramid of empties.

One of them was wearing a blue superhero spandex outfit, and he pulled up the bottom half of his mask to chug down a can of beer with astounding speed. Another had on a tutu held up by suspenders, with a swan’s head peeking out from underneath like an ornithological penis. (And oh, the sadness when my picture of him didn’t come out…) As they continued to yell and drink, their friends began chanting, and Isaac started doing a little dance. One of them cried “Mitte, mitte!” (Look, look!) and Swanboy yelled (in English) “My brotha!” and beckoned Isaac to come forward. Isaac dragged Joe with him, and they both chugged cans of beer to the delight of the crowd.

This picture is rather dark, but notice the huge beer stain on the guy wearing the Arizona State sweatshirt?

We continued walking down the path, admiring the various costumes (an angel, a woman dressed as a chicken who was spinning around madly, a panda, a guy with a huge turd on top of his head that said in English, when we laughed, “I’m shithead!”) and how red Japanese people get when they’re drunk. A man who had passed out was being carried away on a stretcher by six Japanese police, and he must have weighed all of 110 pounds; if one of our group had passed out, they’d need the whole Japanese police force!

There were lots of food stalls lining the path, and I stopped at one to buy a hot dog on a stick. (I swear, the Japanese obsession with foods on sticks is rivaled only by that of Minnesotans…) Unfortunately, it was covered with the hottest, nastiest, most nail-polish-remover-smelling mustard I’ve ever had the misfortune to taste, so I quickly tossed it in the nearest trash can and bought some Hello Kitty and Doraemon (famous cartoon robot cat) cookies instead.

This pagoda waited at the end of the sidewalk, and by then, it was time to return to the hotel. As I walked back towards the meeting place, I reflected on the beauty of Japan and how very much I did not want to leave.

And I wasn’t even drunk when I took this.

Back at the hotel, I took a shower and then lay in bed and watched an enka (melancholy Japanese ballads) concert on TV, which contributed to my wistful mood. I finally turned it off and fell asleep, dreaming of cherry blossom petals drifting about me like fragrant snow.

Friday, April 08, 2005

4/2: flatulent angels and frightened celebrities

[Translated from trip journal; mouse over pictures for relevant info and/or comments.]

Today we took the train to Tokyo Big Sight (that's how they spell it) for the 2005 Tokyo Anime Fair, which showcases current and upcoming anime series.

Tokyo Big Sight

We didn't have to wait in this line because we were speshul.

First, we took the elevator up to an Italian restaurant called Trevi for lunch with our special surprise guest. We all sat down and Isaac announced that, although he hadn't arrived yet, our guest was none other than Yoshitoshi Abe, character designer for Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei, and NieA Under7.

This means nothing to those of you who are not into anime; for those of you who are, you may touch the hem of my garment. Please form an orderly line.

Anyway, we waited for awhile and there was still no sign of him. Isaac excused himself to make a call while the waitresses began serving us. First came a piece of salmon stuffed with onions and an onion-bedecked salad. I sipped water and looked up how to say "I am allergic to onions" in case they asked if something was wrong with my food.

Next came artfully arranged pork chops. I was busily cutting into mine when Isaac stood up and said, "All right, everyone, here he is...Yoshitoshi Abe!" He pointed at a Japanese man walking into the restaurant, and everyone burst into applause. The NHK camera swung around to the man, who had a look of incredulous horror on his face. Abe's agent, who was sitting next to Isaac, grabbed his sleeve and whispered something in his ear, and Isaac said, "Um...that's not him. Sorry." The man quickly scurried to his seat, and we continued to wait.

Ginger ice cream. No Abe.

Finally, we were done with our meal and the maitre d' requested that we clear out, so we went to the cafe next door. We waited about ten minutes, and then Abe showed up, looking harried and ruffled. Cheers and applause erupted, and he bowed and took a seat at the front for a Q&A session.

From left to right:  Isaac, Yoshitoshi Abe, our native guide/translator Shimako, and Abe's agent.

Abe's agent wouldn't let him sign for all of us, so he signed ten limited edition posters and we played a mass game of janken pon to see who got one. I was eliminated in the first round, but prayed feverishly that Dawn Weiner wouldn't get of course she did.

If I had been sharing a room with that snarky little bitch, I'd have stolen it while she slept.

Even though he wasn't able to sign for everyone, we still got to pose for pictures. I went up to him, bowed deeply, and then held up the travel agency's brochure. Isaac said, "Oh yeah, product placement, baby!"

"Goran no sponsor de okurishimasu!" I cried, and everyone began laughing. Abe looked at me in complete shock, and I yelled, "Too much rock for one hand!" and made the appropriate hand gesture as Isaac snapped the picture. As soon as I figure out how to blur/cover my hideous mug, I will post the picture so you can all see this tiny Japanese man cowering in fear before my boisterous American skillz.

After Abe left, we went down to the Anime Fair, and I strolled around gathering the freebies that were being passed around left and right (Paradise Kiss balloons, a huge Full Metal Alchemist tote bag, Honey & Clover cookies, Ichigo Marshmallow stickers, etc.), checking out the displays, and taking pictures. A very small sampling:

Cute con girls advertising Mahou Shoujo Arisu.

I made this kid cry like a little bitch when I beat her up and stole her sundae.  Recognize!

Remember when I told you about the anime series that revolves around an angel who comes to earth, keeps beating her host to death and then remorsefully resurrecting him, and gets explosive diarrhea if her halo is removed?  This is a woman advertising that show.  No, I did not yank on her halo to see what would happen.

After I had seen everything, I still had a little time, so I took the train over to Odaiba in hopes of riding the enormous Ferris wheel. Unfortunately, I had to pee really badly, so I went into the mall and waited in an interminable line to use the bathroom. (And yet there was no line outside the men's room; nice to see some things are universal.) Once I got out of there, I only had about fifteen minutes before I needed to take the train back to the convention center, so I got a cup of Dippin' Dots and began walking back just in time to see a monkey show!


Fortunately, no monkey-beating was involved this time.

Anyway, there's more to tell, but I need to get some sleep, so I'll finish this up tomorrow.


Goran no sponsor de okurishimasu!: I have never actually seen this spelled out, so I did it phonetically; I apologize if the romanization is off. Anyway, I'm not sure what it means, but they say it at the end of many anime shows while flashing company names on the screen. I'm assuming it means something along the lines of "And now a word from our sponsors."

Thursday, April 07, 2005

4/1: Do not feed Monkey-san truck stop hot dog

[Transcribed from trip journal; mouse over pictures for descriptions and/or comments. This will be more of a "show" entry than a "tell" entry.]

Today was our free day, and I opted for the Nikko tour. Nikko has been a famous Buddhist-Shinto religious area for centuries, and I was intrigued by the brochure showing the gorgeous temples and shrines in the area. First, though, a little modern culture at the bus depot:

Our first stop was the Tosho-gu shrine, which featured many beautiful statues, carvings, and pagodas.

Temple guardian.  He fuck yo' shit up good if'n you try to jack his steez.

Cute sign over protective charms for sale.  Doesn't the one on the far left look like a South Park character?

A considerably artier version of the above, carved on the Sacred Stable.

Carving on the side of a temple.  Everywhere you looked, there was something elaborate to admire.

The five-story pagoda.  Each story represents a different element.

I took a picture of the Shinkyo Bridge, which spans the Daiya River, from the bus.

Liiike a briiiiiiidge over troubled water...

Next, we went to Lake Chuzenji, which was absolutely beautiful but freezing. I think I shall move there and make a killing selling overpriced gloves and scarves to unsuspecting shivering tourists.

We had a traditional Japanese lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake, and it was quite good: soba, tempura, rice, green tea, and chicken. Then we hopped back on the bus for the ride to the Kegon waterfall, which cascades 315 feet to the Daiya River.

This was pretty, but the roar of the water made me have to pee very very badly.

I was thrilled by signs all over the park warning me not to feed the monkeys, but to my disappointment, I didn't see a single one. I boarded the bus and sat down to white-knuckle the seat in front of me as we made our way down the mountain on the Irohazaka road.


There were 28 of these hairpin curves. I tried to distract myself by looking out the window at the beautiful scenery, and I finally got to see a wild monkey ambling alongside the road! I didn't get a picture of it in time, though.

About halfway back to Tokyo, we stopped at a rest area and I got a hot dog on a stick and a bottle of Pocari Sweat. When we finally reached Tokyo, our guide told us how to get back to our hotels from the subway, and upon finding that several of us were taking the Yamanote Line to Shinagawa Station, she said that was her stop anyway and she rode with us. Her English was great, and we had a really nice conversation. She got a very well-deserved "Otsukare-sama deshita!" (Thank you for all your hard work) from me at the end of the trip.

Back at the hotel, several people were gathering for karaoke, but because all of my least favorites were there and I didn't plan on singing anyway after the Great ABBA Butchering of Ought-Three, I skipped it and went to the arcade for several rowdy rounds of Taiko Drum Master instead. Then I got a pot of green tea from the machine in the hall (they had that instead of a water machine) and went back to my room to soak in the tub. Bliss.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

3/31: condoms and crepes make for joyful day

[Transcribed from trip journal; mouse over the pictures for relevant info and/or comments.]

I almost forgot to mention that I am now the Sultana of Squat Toilets! I have mastered this delicate art, and I even used the one on the bullet train last night with nary a sprinkle or splatter. I friggin' rule, yo.

Christ, there are seriously some of THE most irritating people in the world on this tour. Almost all of the women are obnoxious, with the exception of three fairly quiet girls and a middle-aged woman who's here with her son, but almost all of the guys are cool (excluding Mouthbreather and a teenage boy I'll call Nerdy McSnortylaugh), especially a friendly guy from LA named Joe and a really raunchy dude named Phil, who convinced Shimako, one of our native guides, to pose for a picture sticking her tongue out between her fingers, telling her "That's the cool thing to do in America right now." Later on, he and Isaac were talking trash, and Phil said, "I don't need your damn dictionary 'cause [making a muscle and rubbing his bicep] I got the definition!" Then someone else in the group walked up and said, "Hey, what's cooking?" and Phil pointed down at his crotch and said, "Sausage, bitch!"

I'll just be an honorary guy on this trip.

Anyway, after breakfast I met up with the tour group in the lobby, and a camera crew from NHK, one of Japan's biggest TV stations, was there to follow us around for a program. The producer asked me to tell her a little bit about myself and what made me want to come to Japan. I was able to introduce myself and say where I was from in Japanese, but I had to revert to English for the rest of it.

Side note: I've found that when I use any Japanese aside from arigato, the locals have the same reaction I would if I came across a talking dog...I'd think it was sort of cool, but it would also freak me the hell out. I asked for hamashi (scissors) at the front desk today to open up the bitch-ass packaging on my memory card, and I swear the clerk's eyes bugged out of his head.

Our first stop of the day was the Square Enix studio in Shinjuku. Square is famous for its work on Final Fantasy and Full Metal Alchemist, so the fanboys were spraying their shorts. This beautiful Yoshitaka Amano map was hanging in the lobby:

This was much larger and more breathtaking in person.  I just wish there wasn't so much glare from the damn glass.

Next we went to Nakano for shopping, where I bought more gashopon, a Bleach t-shirt and bag, and two manga magazines. I had lunch at McDonald's (more out of a desperate need to use the bathroom than for the familiarity), and then I met up with the tour for Akihabara, our next stop.

Shibuya was next, although I didn't really do a whole lot other than roam around and window shop. I did buy a very tasty food item that I think was called an okiya, but I'm not sure. It was kind of like a hard pancake filled with hot lemon custard, and that shit was choice.

Our final stop of the night was Harajuku, famous for the fashion-conscious people roaming around in elaborate outfits. A group of kogals (deeply tanned girls with bleached blonde hair) chirped "Haro! Haro!" as we walked by.

The girl condom is saying 'George'; the boy condom is saying 'Emily'.

I had a crepe filled with cheesecake, caramel, and whipped cream from Angels Heart, and it made the aforementioned lemon custard goodie taste like something fished out of a squat toilet. I was practically moaning in delight.

This is what heaven looks like, only Jude Law is working behind the counter instead of a giggling Japanese teenager.

Back at the hotel, I picked up my pass for the optional tour tomorrow, and then I played Taiko Drum Master, bought souvenirs and snacks, and then went back to the room to crash.

I almost forgot! Ladies and gentlemen, THE BEST FUCKING ENGRISH EVER:

For all your wedding needs...A-Titty.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

3/30: lovely maid says "Enjoy happy!"

[Transcribed from trip journal]

Today I got to the Western-style buffet before the crowds, and after loading up my tray with rice, bacon, scrambled eggs, and two slices of toast with blueberry jam, I sat down next to a mother and her little boy. Kids are much easier for me to understand, since they don't tend to use large or unusual words, so I knew what he said when he leaned forward and said to his mother in an awed voice, "The foreigner is EATING!" A few minutes later, when I began digging into my rice bowl, he screamed, "The foreigner is using CHOPSTICKS!"

After astounding the children of Kyoto, I checked out and gave my luggage to the porter service that was taking our stuff to Tokyo so we wouldn't have to dick with it on the train, praise Jeebus. We took the train to Osaka and met up with Isaac's friend Noco (or at least that's what it sounded like to me), a karate champ. He lived with Isaac in LA for awhile, and someone asked him what the biggest difference was between Japan and the US. Without hesitating, he said, "People in Japan care about other people."


Anyway, Noco told us about some of his favorite anime and manga shops in the area, and then he passed out Japanese. Now, I can't even read a map in English, much less Japanese, but he pointed out the hot spots on the map and said "Ganbare". Isaac told us the meeting time and place, and we split up. I wandered around and finally found Comic Toranoaro, which was a veritable mecca of glorious items. They had tons of gashopon machines outside, so I bought several Bleach pins, a Bleach figurine, a Bleach keychain, and a Full Metal Alchemist keychain for G.

Next, I wandered into an arcade to use the bathroom, which was on the top floor. When I emerged, I noticed that what I had originally thought were just plain old video games were actually...strip mahjongg games. There was also a UFO catcher that included among its prizes a t-shirt with a very obviously underaged girl sucking on a popsicle that was dripping all over her teeny breasts. Yoiks!

I started to walk into Mandarake and the door alarm went off. I flinched and stood there dumbly as an employee hurried over and said something in rapid-fire Japanese.

"Um...wakarimasen," I said.

He slowed down a little, but I still didn't understand anything except the word denwa, or phone, and I didn't know if he was asking if I had a cell phone that was setting it off or whether he was telling me he was going to call the police and have me beaten and violated with tentacles. Not wishing to take any chances, I bowed as deeply as I could without falling over and hurried out. I turned the corner and saw a little cafe, so I walked in for a snack.


Oh my god.

Oh for cute.

I had unwittingly stumbled upon a maid cafe!

The gimmick behind maid cafes is that all of the waitresses are utterly adorable and wear frilly maid costumes. I actually had to stifle a squeeple of delight when one of them came over, bowed deeply, and led me to a table. The menu was all in Japanese, but I was able to make out the katakana for cheesecake and cafe au lait, so I ordered those in my most halting Japanese and the waitress clapped and squealed "Jozu desu ne!"

Well, gawrsh!

While I waited for my order, I tried opening one of my gashopon capsules and was having a bitch of a time. Two of the waitresses came over and one of them held out her hand. She couldn't get it either, and the other one began laughing at her. The first one said something in the same tone of voice I would use to say "YOU try it then!", and then the other one took it and had a bitch of a time with it too. We were all laughing and finally she got it open and handed it to me with a flourish, and one of the other customers was staring at me jealously, and I smiled smugly at him. Yeah, boooooy! Envy me and my stable of fine Japanese maids.

Japanese cheesecake is really dry, by the way, but I still said "Oishikatta" when the waitress came over and asked how it was. She clapped and said, "Ohhhhh...jozu desu ne!" again and made a big fuss over me as I actually, literally blushed. I could get used to adorable Japanese women fawning over me, that's for damn sure.

When I left, all of the waitresses followed me outside and bowed very deeply. I thanked them and they waved frantically and called out "Bye bye!" as I walked away. I had just crossed the street when I realized that I should have asked to take a picture of them. I Googled "maid cafe" and found interesting pictures, but here's one that's safe for public consumption:

This isn't the place I went to, but it will give you a general idea of the gimmick.

When it was time to meet up with the group again, we went to the train station to wait for the bullet train to Tokyo. I bought a chicken obento and a can of what I thought was lemonade and took it to the waiting room to eat. I opened the can, took a slug, and gasped as very strong alcohol poured down my throat.

"What IS this?" I cried.

A fellow traveler took the can away from me, read the label, and chuckled. "It's chuhai. It's like a highball."

Memo to self: a lemon on the label does not automatically mean lemonade. I suppose I'm lucky I didn't accidentally drink cleaning fluid instead, though it sure tasted like it.

The ride to Tokyo took about three hours, and when we got to our hotel, I was horrified to find this painting above my bed:

Seriously, what the hell's with the creepy consumptive chick? I swear that thing's eyes followed me around the room. Fortunately I had this view to distract me:

That's Tokyo Tower in the middle. (And no, it wasn't blurry in real life, but YOU try taking a picture through a window 28 stories above ground, Ansel Adams.)

After I dropped my stuff off, washed my face, and enjoyed the space-age toilet, I went to the Yahoo Cafe to check my e-mail, and then I stopped in the convenience store to buy bath salts, a Japanese harmonica for G, United Colors of Benetton condoms for K, a can of diet lemon Coke, and an ice cream sandwich. Then it was back to the room to flop down on the bed and eat while watching an inane game show.

Man, I love Japan.


Ganbare: Go for it.

Gashopon: Gumball machines that dispense very detailed toys.

UFO catcher: What they call crane games.

Wakarimasen: I don't understand.

Irasshaimase!: Welcome!

Katakana: The characters used for words borrowed from other languages, such as pan (bread) and kohi (coffee). I know all of the characters, which comes in very handy in restaurants, but my kanji knowledge is practically nil.

Jozu desu ne!: You're so good!

Oishikatta: That was delicious.

Monday, April 04, 2005

3/29 part 2: please to not whiz with fear

[Transcribed from trip journal. Mouse over the pictures for descriptions and/or comments. Ph33r my l33t skillz!]

After Kiyomizu-dera, we took a bus to the Toei Uzumasu Eigamura Kyoto Studio, which was basically Japan's version of Universal Studios. We had a group picture taken, but I didn't buy one because I was caught mid-yawn. Lovely! I just hope some of the rowdier guys in the group don't draw a penis aiming towards my mouth, like boys used to do to unsuspecting souls in my high school yearbook. When we were leaving the picture area, Isaac was accosted by a group of adorable schoolkids who were drawn to his bright red dreadlocks. He engaged them in a game of janken pon and they screamed in delight. When we started walking away, they stood there and waved and called out "Bye bye!" I wanted to steal them, but was deterred by Japan's strict laws on kidnapping.

High-wire ninja!

I went through the haunted house with two other tour participants, and it was suitably creepy, with blood-spattered shoji screens and mutilated mannequins. I walked past a Sadako clone, with long black hair hanging down into her eyes, and I bumped into her. She didn't move an inch, so I thought she was a mannequin...until I got about two feet past her and she began sobbing and moaning. She grabbed my shoulders and wailed "Doushite...doushite?" I screamed so loud I think I burst a vein in my throat. The guys howled with laughter, and I sheepishly slunk outside into the daylight.

I have no idea who/what this was, but felt compelled to take a picture of him/it anyway.

Characters from Ojamajo DoReMi.  I actually bought the pink costume on Ebay last year.

Look deep into my enormous eyes.  You will worship the God of Cute.

After watching a samurai play and strolling through a Power Rangers exhibit, we took the bus back to the hotel. I dropped my stuff off in the room and set out to explore the huge underground shopping area by our hotel. I wasn't too worried about getting lost:

Just look for the phallic symbol!  This wasn't actually our hotel, but it was right by ours, so same diff.

I bought several manga magazines and then I stopped in a convenience store and got a chicken and rice obento [boxed meal], a caramel pudding cup, and a Coke for my dinner, since I didn't really trust the hot food vending machine in the hotel:


Sorry, but I don't trust any meal that includes the instructions "Pull a string and eat it".

I sat in my room and ate while watching "Yakitate! Japan", an anime series about making bread, on TV. Now I'm going to take a hot shower and then pass out. Osaka tomorrow!


Janken pon: Basically the "rock, paper, scissors" game.
Sadako: The name of the drowned girl in The Ring, aka Samara in the American remake.
Doushite?: Why?