Basic Maternal Instinct

This photo has nothing at to do with the following post; however, the subject matter is more pleasing than what I found on the basement computer.

“You’re kidding!” Dasad laughed, nearly dribbling coffee onto the table.  “They left it up?  On the screen?”

“No, no, no,” I said, waving my hands, as if brushing away the misconception.  “It’s what the address bar listed.  You know how when you start typing, Firefox offers a few of the popular searches from the last week? Apparently, someone’s been visiting frequently.  All I typed was a ‘H’ and the site appeared, right below Hulu.”

“What was the name again?” my friend smiled, baiting me.

“Hotmoms.com . . . or something like it.”  My friend’s squeals filled the entire cafe like a fire alarm.  If the coffee and caffeine had failed in its primary function, curiosity and Dasad’s laughter proved a jolt of adrenaline. Even the baristas stared, whispering behind the counter and consulting their watches.  Only a boy and girl continued to ignore us, racing Hotwheels across a neighboring tabletop.  I lowered my voice.

Continue reading

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A Question of Secret Identity

“Nerd.  Nerd.  Nerd,” Dasad muttered, pointing at the sundry collection of costumed moviegoers, the vast majority sporting Marvel-themed t-shirts.  “God, we’ve landed in some antisocial geek convention. Again.”

“It’s just a movie, dude,” I sigh.  “Try to enjoy the energy from the crowd.  Everyone’s been waiting years for this moment.”

Dasad and I had decided see the Avengers a few Saturdays ago, a day after Disney had released it here stateside to glowing reviews both from fans and reviewers alike.  Many of us, myself include, were simply happy the film was so well received as it guaranteed the superhero genre had not yet jumped the shark.   However, not everyone was enjoying the growing anticipation — not vocally at any rate.

“You do realize that you’re a computer science major, right?” I argue.  “You work all day long building databases and designing web sites.  You’re not just a geek, man.  You’re a prince.”

“Ha! And what does that make you?” he laughed.  “You dabble in every nerd world there is: super-heroes, hobbits, anime, manga, and semi-clad bishoujo figurines.  All tucked away in your parents’ basement.  What does that make you?”

“A king.  But don’t tell anyone,” I whisper.  “I’m traveling incognito.” Continue reading

Comic Conned

“Seriously, Murph, you need a passport to come to these cons,” Ryan said, eyeing the rear of a particularly buxom Supergirl.  “Like a geek badge or something.”

“Yeah, thanks for being our guide and everything,” Shannon said adjusting his phone camera to fit a rather large Thor into the frame.  “I don’t know half of these costumes.  Who’s the guy in the red mask over there?  Cobra Commander?”

“No,  that’s Red Hood,” I explain eagerly.  “He’s a more recent Batman villain and former Robin.”

Last Sunday, the boys and I decided to visit the local Comic Convention for some much needed hero-action.  Lately I’ve been feeling rather isolated in the role as family driver. With the daily migration between home, Kevin’s school, Brigid’s school, Kevin’s school again, Chik-fil-a, grocery store, piano practice, and home again in addition to the arguments over the front seat and the radio stations, which frequently culminated in banshee-esque screaming, I felt the need to dip reality in liquid kryptonite for a day or so.

Most of the boys decided to tag along after I assured them that little to no anime or Japanese influences would be in attendance and that these particular conventions catered to superhero comic books.  They understood heroes, super or otherwise; manga and anime . . . well, I’m rather certain even the average Japanese citizen hasn’t a clue what’s going on.  In addition to siblings, I managed to rope my friend, Rodney, into visiting the convention as well with the promise that he will see things that “make a carnival side show or a Walmart queue look tame.” Continue reading

Seashells and Other Intimate Apparel

“All I’m saying is that any guy my age would . . . be attracted to her seashells.”

Kevin walked ahead of us along the path that bordered the canal. In the dark, none of us managed to catch a smile, just the hint of embarrassed laughter, which of course told us he was serious.  We had just left Fantasmic, one of Disney World’s late-night shows, where Mickey Mouse battles the forces of evil equipped with geysers, fireworks and pyrotechnics.  It’s a show designed for kids.   Yet amid the visual distractions and explosions, viewers searching for fragments of story would be better tested finding a scrap of personality from Disney’s main mouse.

“I ask you,” Kev asked afterwards.  “When’s the last time you laughed at a Mickey cartoon, huh?  That’s right.  Never.  During the show, did anyone root for the ‘hero?'” Continue reading

Awarding Behavior

Mom, Brigid, and Katie are visiting my cousin’s graduation and award presentation while I pick up Kevin from his morning exams.  Between you and me, I despise award ceremonies: too much pomp and circumstance for my taste.  Beyond elementary school  and kindergarten celebrations (most of my siblings and their friends loved showing off for their parents), what use do they serve?  For although the awards themselves laud the achievements and successes of the individual, the ceremony itself too often mires in extravagant spectacle, ambiguous speeches, and donation requests.

“The teachers and staff at St. Anastasia’s would like to congratulate the graduating class for this awesome achievement, and hope that you will remember us as the turning point for your academic and financial careers”  Translation: give us money when you succeed in getting some yourself. Continue reading

West Coastin’: Geek Out

RT6_kenwoodThe next morning after a breakfast of oatmeal and microwaved egg sandwiches, we emptied our rooms of bags and wine-stuffed boxes.  Now I mentioned earlier that Dasad had rented a Chrysler Sebring for our travels, a nice unimposing number with four doors, three passengers, and no retractable hood.  The little gray wisp of a car had wandered much of the state with us and performed admirably, but loading the car that morning, the lack of space proved quite a hindrance, much like stuffing an elephant into a clown car.

“So . . . um dude,” I asked, after loading our three wine boxes.  “Where are we going to throw the bags?”

In addition to Jay’s and my bags, Dasad had brought this immense rolling sea chest, which, apart from containing all his earthly possessions, did not fold or bend very well.  In the end we stacked everything in the backseat: suitcases, book bags, food, souvenirs, maps, and somewhere at the bottom of it all, Jay.   Leaving the hotel, I imagined our car as those station wagons you see in Walmart parking lots, stuffed to the brim with bags of clothing, Tupperware, trash, blenders, and every known species of plastic dog, bobbing their heads on dashboard mounts.

We visited Kenwood and V. Sattui Wineries to fill in those extra nooks and crannies left in our boxes, and drove back to San Francisco.

RT6_japantownNow as mentioned before, the driving force behind this trip lie with the stomach: to eat authentic Japanese cuisine and imbibe mass quantities of authentic Californian wine.  So far, so good.  Yet apart from the woman in Pismo with the Muppet-mouth, we encountered few instances that truly proved weird or unusual.  My soul thrives off that stuff, one of the reasons I suggested the Wizard World convention at the conclusion of our last cross-country trip.  Also because I like comics.  They make me happy.

As we retraced our steps from last night, I noticed a few of the streets had been closed off, barricaded for the festival.

“Look at the crowds here, dude.  It’s just like the con last month.”

“Yeah, but no sweaty basement dwellers.  The general public.  And if my eyes don’t deceive me, girls!”

“There were girls at the con.”

“The ones here aren’t dressed like Princess Leia.”

“Yeah, okay . . . so it isn’t perfect, but for authentic Japanese ramen, I won’t hold it against them.”

The street between the Kintetsu and Miyako malls, which we visited the previous night, and the NEW PEOPLE J-pop Center had been closed off earlier that morning to accommodate the expected crowds arriving for the center’s grand opening.  Long lines streamed out the three-story glass building, housing a menagerie of Japanese pop culture artifacts including manga, anime, art, cinema, and music.  An ideal locale to whet my otaku appetite, yet spying that the crowds nearly encompassed the entire block, we opted to return to the malls for lunch and some shopping.

"Soba, udon or ramen?"

"Soba, udon or ramen?"

Before finding the entrance, we walked through the street festival, sniffing at various foods and pouring through the works of local manga artists.  Dasad found a Bubble Tea stand, attended by kawaii girls in maid attire, who smiled and bowed as we slurped our tapioca.  In the town center, J-pop and J-rock bands sang and screamed (respectively), while nearby otaku tried forming mosh pits with proud parents and any curious visitor who happened by.  We found the mall’s entrance hidden behind a group of teens in Guy Fawkes masks, offering free hugs in addition to the sensation of being violated by a man in a mask.  No extra charge.

Inside we settled for a small ramen café near the hibachi grill from the previous evening.  Now for the record, Japanese ramen is good.  Very very good.  For those of you reading this, nodding your head with a Cup O’Noodles in your hands, I can only say that you know nothing.  The broth was delicious, the noodles fresh, the vegetables real.  I even splurged for a bowl of curried rice, as an apology to our waitress for trying to fake my way out of a language dispute.

“Ramen, udon, or soba?” our waitress asked.  Her accent and my bad hearing contributed to my confusion and ultimately not understanding what was being asked of me.

“Um . . .” I said scanning my menu for clues.  “Uh, I think I’ll try . . . white?  And an iced tea?”

Her eyes told me that I had guessed incorrectly.

“Uh . . .” I muttered, returning to the menu again.  Ummm . . .”  The type of rice?  Pick two sides?  Pork or tofu?

“She’s asking you for the type of noodles, dude,” Dasad clarified helpfully.

“Oh, uh . . . udon, please.  Thank you.”

She nodded and left gratefully, delivering the orders behind swinging door to spit in the white guy’s food unseen.

“You know, Murph,” Dasad chastened.  “You could have just asked her to repeat it instead of masking your ignorance.”

“I didn’t want to be a burden,” I sighed.

“So instead you made yourself a fool,” he noted.

“Yeah,” I groaned, my head in my hands.  “It’s just not in me to ask questions.  When in doubt, research.  If that fails, fumble about awkwardly until the question is repeated.  Thanks for the save, by the way.”

“Happy to oblige,” Dasad laughed.  “I just wish I remembered to pull out my camera and videotape the whole thing.  That lost-puppy look alone is like gold on Youtube.”

“Thanks,” I said, sighing again.

Ms. Teana-Lanster

Ms. Teana-Lanster

Despite everything, the food was quite good — with no evidence of our hostess’s displeasure.  We left then to sample some of Jay’s crepes and gaze at PVC figures of gun-toting ninjas.  Though hoping for some intriguing sculpture or game, I encountered nothing of interest, which disappointed Dasad some, I think, as my temperance afforded him no opportunity for ridicule.  Not that he refused to try anyway, drawing my attention to several poorly dressed heroines and loudly asking if I saw their pantsu, their panties.

“Oooo . . . black,” he squealed.  “Hey Murph, did you see these?  White and blue stripes! Kinky.”

I quickly left before my friend made his way to the adult ‘ero’ section.

In the next store, Jay drew our attention to the Japanese DVD release of the latest Miyazaki film, Ponyo.  The film had just been released at theaters with English dub, and I suggested we spend an afternoon at the theater soon.  My companions seemed eager to catch a flick; Dasad even suggesting we waste a whole day at the movies.

“A triple feature,” he said.  “After all the traveling up and down the coast, we could use a day to sit back and just relax.”

Stawberries, chocolate, whipped cream, and ice cream.  Mmmmm . . .

Stawberries, chocolate, whipped cream, and ice cream. Mmmmm . . .

It was close to two o’clock by the time we decided to leave.  The crowds continued to pour onto the streets, and even browsing through the claustrophobic aisles of the local supermarket proved slow work, like those squirrel mazes in the Ranger Rick magazines (Help Mr. Nibbles escape with his nuts to the old willow tree).  Our time in San Francisco had ended; we hopped into our overloaded Sebring and drove south.

Five or six hours later, just before reaching our hotel, hunger struck our small Chrysler, prompting us to stop at the local In And Out Burger in Burbank.  The parking lot was stacked with teenagers and other shady age groups including short old women in Cadillacs  and forty-year old accountants on motorcycles and mopeds.  Dasad felt certain we were going to die.  Or get robbed.  Or both and then sold to the local medical school for surgical demonstrations.

“Dude, I don’t think our car is safe here.”

“Don’t worry,” I said calmly.  “If anything happens, it’ll probably cascade into murder, not theft.”

“As long as no one takes our car, that’s fine.  Remember we still have thirty-six bottles of expensive wine in the trunk.”

Honestly, I had considered opening up a bottle for dinner that night, toasting our successful bounty from the north over burgers and fries, but glancing at the packed crowds inside, I thought better of it.  They might have insisted we share!

We ordered our burgers and sat down next to a group of college-age teens, discussing movie trivia, which I suppose is common among Burbank youth.  Jay came back with our food, and I dug into what was to be the worst burger I have ever eaten in my life.  At least for the three bucks I paid for it.  Admittedly, the vegetables were nice and fresh, but the meat, a thin sliver of beef, was non-existent, nearly half the thickness of a slider, nearly melting into the bun.  Thankfully I had ordered a milkshake too, and we quickly waddled out to the car left Burbank in our dust – which they probably collected, froze, reheated, slapped together with lettuce and tomato, and sold for three dollars.  Mmmmmm . . .

Next: Why aliens and humans will never breed, and Disneyland dreamin’.

West Coastin’: I left my heart . . . where?

RT6_warfAfter visiting Fisherman’s Wharf for some authentic Boudin sourdough, we made our way along the water to Gheribelli Square for a tour of their modest chocolate shop. Dasad poked his head into a gourmet cupcake place, buying three small cakes for about twelve bucks.  Frankly I doubted the value of a four dollar dessert, which my mouth could consume easily in two bites, but my friend assured me it was worth the price.

“You don’t know, because you haven’t tasted.  If you did, you would know.”

“If knowing means shelling out four bucks for a lousy cupcake,” I remarked, “then ignorance is bliss, man.  I’ll take my watered down iced tea and sugar substitute any day.”

“Weirdo.”

He placed the box on the sidewalk, removing one of the small cakes and placed it atop the lid.  Then adjusting his camera, he proceeded to subject the poor dessert to a mid-street photoshoot.  Jay and I stood back and watched.  He said nothing for the next several minutes, snapping shot after shot, moving only to adjust the perspective or catch the fading daylight. In my whimsy and boredom, I imagined his interior dialogue similar to a Vogue photographer, demanding and masochistic:

“Fabulous!  Now growl for me baby.  Yeaah!  Like an animal.  Strike the sexy pose.  Beautiful!  Beat me.  Whip me!  You make me want to come over there and tear into you.  Incredible!”

Rowr!

Rowr!

Others scurried quickly by, possibly sensing the intensity of the shoot and the risk a rogue shadow or misplaced foot might incur.   Most however fled in fear, frightened that the Asian man with the cupcake might accost them with a few 8x10s and a dozen wallets.

We walked down to the waterfront then, near the Maritime National Historic Park, where swimmers weaved laps in the man-made lagoon between colored buoys; ferries, tugboats and century-old clippers bobbed up and down nearby, reminding the athletes why mankind never evolved fins.  Accustomed to the murky corpse-laden waves of the Inner Harbor, watching the divers spit water in and out of their mouths made me sick, and we decided to continue our tour along a concrete walkway that extended out into the bay, forming the north-western edge of the lagoon.  Most of the path appeared damaged, cracked and crumbling into the sea, and thus barricaded for repairs.

“Watch how you’re holding the box, Jay!” Dasad shouted as I stared across the sun-drenched fog at the Golden Gate Bridge.  “You’ll smear the icing!”

“Huh,” Jay shrugged.  “I wasn’t tilting it or anything.”

“There’s a right way and a wrong way.  I thought it was common sense.  Look half the chocolate is on the box.”

“The heat probably had something to do with it, man,” I said.  “You can’t expect to carry that stuff around without messing them up a little.  Why don’t we just eat them now?”

Dasad said nothing – I took that to mean ‘No’ – but took control of the box as we continued our walk around the Maritime Park.

By now, long time readers should be accustomed to my frequent use of hyperbole, such that my friend often criticizes (i.e. mocks) my reliance on (i.e. addiction to) superlatives:

  • ‘Dasad, come play Arkham Asylum.  It’s the best game I’ve ever played, ever,’
  • ‘Hey Dasad, did you click on that Youtube link, I sent you?  Wasn’t that AMV the greatest thing you’ve ever seen in your whole entire life?’
  • ‘Mankind, only really needs three things: iced tea, books, and a store to purchase both.  Everything else can pretty much be jettisoned into the sun.’

RT6_goldengateThus, I suppose that my opinion carries little weight in the eyes of true cynics, yet I assure you that staring at the city from the mouth of the bay ranks as one of the most beautiful sights on our trip.  San Francisco seems to roll, undulating as it approaches the water like an ocean current,  dragging its inhabitants — not unwillingly — towards the shore and out to sea.  Of all the cities this country bumpkin has visited in his short life, most thick with smog, murder, refuse, and hobos (I’m looking at you Denver), San Francisco alone captured my heart.

While my friend snapped a few shots of Alcatraz, I noticed the fog had lifted around the Golden Gate Bridge.  Sailboats gliding across the foreground made for some nice shots, and turning, my feet accidentally kicked Dasad’s cupcake box, sending it skidding a few feet and into a shallow pothole.  Oops!  Grimacing, I forced my eyes upward, but he hadn’t noticed (or decided to say nothing).  Jay had though and made for the railing to laugh.  How the collision would damage the integrity of the cake, I can’t say, but to be careful I gave the box a wide berth and made for the rail.

RT6_sanfranAfter a few hours, we left the waterside and drove eastward towards the baseball stadium to meet up with Dasad and Jay’s cousins, who live in town.  The couple who I will – with their forgiveness – name George and Alice for the sake of anonymity were quite kind and offered to take us out for dinner.  We admitted not having visited Chinatown yet, but upon hearing that our raison d’etre in California was to sample authentic Japanese cuisine, we drove off towards Japantown.

“Yeah, so the mall extends throughout the both these blocks,” George said, parking beneath an extensive shopping complex that spanned nearly two blocks, connected through various bridges and outside auditoriums.  “The food here is great, if you know where to go.  Otherwise it gets a bit touristy, though never as bad as Chinatown.”

We emerged into the mall, decorated with banzai trees and small ponds with trickling waterfalls.  Several of the signs and notices taped on store windows were written entirely in Japanese.  I recognized a few characters, but not enough to piece together the advertisement.  Still pretty awesome for an otaku, obsessed with Japanese culture.  They even had a taiyaki stand and a noodle shop and a . . .

“Jay.  Jay!” I whispered.  “Look an anime shop!”

As do I, Hello Kitty.  As do I.

As do I, Hello Kitty. As do I.

One of the local stores befitted their window display with Gundams, figures of sword hacking female ninjas, and Pokemon cards.  Further down the corridor, we passed a bookstore stacked with Japanese novels, magazines, and row upon row of un-translated manga.  Then atop the land-bridge connecting the next block’s shopping center, we passed a small sushi café, which entertained guests with Miyazaki films from hanging television screens: Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle.  Just below shelves of translated Naruto and One Piece manga to peruse while dining, with cat-eared waitresses balancing orders in frill-laden dresses.

“Dude, I’ve died and gone to heaven.  This is where geeks go, when they’ve been good and refuse to download fan subs.  I’m sure of it.”

Jay elbowed me and pointed to several kids, feasting on fruit-wrapped crepes.  Whipped cream and chocolate left their marks on their faces, but no one seemed to mind.

“Are crepes even Japanese?” Dasad asked.

“Who cares,” Jay said, nearly licking his lips.  “They look delicious.”

“Look downstairs.”  My two companions gazed where I gestured franticly.  “A noodle shop.  Like in Naruto!  We can get some honest to goodness Japanese ramen.”

“And strawberry ice-cream crepes with bananas!”

“And anime and ninja-girl figures!”

“Yeah,” Dasad sighed.  “Too bad we’re leaving tomorrow.  Shame really.”

RT6_crepeThe realization undermined our enthusiasm a bit, much like a torpedo beneath a merchant vessel.  Jay and I began to pout, when Dasad’s cousin pointed out a flyer taped on the window of the restaurant.  In bright colors and English text, we read that tomorrow Japantown would hold a Kawaii! Festival, featuring live Japanese J-pop bands, the grand opening of a museum to Japanese pop culture, and a loli fashion show.

“Hmmm . . . maybe we could stay for another afternoon,” Dasad mused poring over the leaflet.

“What changed your mind?” I asked with a smile.  “The museum opening or the nubile goth fashion show, young girls in frills and lace?”

He would never say, citing something about needing to taste authentic ramen and bubble tea, but both Jay and I suspected otherwise.  The dirty old man.

RT6_habachiFor dinner, we ate a hibachi-style restaurant, equipped with gas-powered grills in the middle of our table, where we cooked our meals ourselves.  Back home, I was more accustomed to the teppanyaki Japanese steakhouses, where chefs wheel in their carts full of raw chicken and shrimp to our table, whirling their knives and ignite billowing holocausts that left my uncle petrified and missing an eyebrow last June.  Here in San Francisco, we ordered a vast array of raw meats bathed in various sauces to be grilled ourselves over tabletop hibachis.  The concept at first struck me as rather lazy (‘So we’re paying you for the honor of cooking our own food?’) but proved rather fun in the end.

We left the restaurant long after closing, our bellies full and absent of – noticeable – E. coli poisoning (Wahoo!).  The waiters waved us off, eager I’m sure to finish cleaning our late night feast and tuck in themselves.   For our part, the hour was late, and we planned to visit one or two wineries before returning to the city; and so after many thanks to Dasad’s cousins for the tour and the excellent meal, we returned to our hotel.

Dasad opened the cupcake box then, and we held off sleep for one last midnight snack.  My friend reveled in their taste and exquisite flavor, decadent chocolate and smooth icing.  I downed mine in two bites, relishing the delicious flavor of four whole dollars sliding down my gullet.

My dreams that night were filled with exploits of zombies (a house favorite in my nocturnal theater) rampaging through the local malls, where I whittled away my hours slaying undead hordes and perusing shelves stocked with anime and video games.  A vision!  I prayed so.

Tomorrow: Japantown, Disneyland and our day of rest.