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

Advertisements

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.

Lost in Wonderland 2009

A semi-true story . . .

Dasad picked up a box, inside sat a smiling figure with long blonde hair donning a short nun’s frock and a pair of whirling yo-yos.  “How about this one?” he shouted to me as I crouched down to look at several swimsuit clad girls on the lower shelf.  “She looks cute and Catholic too.  Your family shouldn’t give you too much crap about that.”

bridgetI smiled.

“Uh sorry, no traps for me.  If you find a cute reverse trap, like Kino, I might give it a look.”

“What?”

“ ‘Traps,’” I explain before any of the nearby otaku or anime fans overhead us; aloud my explanations of otaku culture always sounded a little embarrassing.  Not that anyone really cared.  On the last day of Otakon, one of the East Coast’s biggest anime conventions, the attendees filed into the vendor hall by the thousands decked out in their finest costumes or cosplay.

“In other words, a gender bender.  Bridget there is a guy that looks like a girl, thus the ‘trap.’  I don’t recommend gazing up ‘his’ skirt.  It’s not pretty.”

“Oh,” Desad said, gently pushing the box back on the shelf.  “So a ‘reverse trap’ is . . .”

“A girl that looks like a guy, yeah.  Typically the ones in suits and hats, accessories that hide their . . . femininity.  Check out that Persona 4 wall scroll over there,” I point behind me.  Dasad gazes at the shingled wooden board painted with images of various students relaxing in a classroom. “The one in black hat and suit is a girl.”

“Looks like some badass street punk.”

“Yeah, she’s a detective in the game, but wraps up her chest like a female swordsman to make herself appear more masculine.  You see, the theme of role reversal is not limited to Shakespeare.  Many Asian . . .”

otakon2009_2“Whatever dude, are you done here?” Dasad asks impatiently, quickly evading a pair of giggling otaku fan-girls in black lace who raced cameras in-hand toward a long-haired cosplayer in blue uniform.  As my impatient friend did so, his head bumped against the outspread black wings of a sweaty thirteen year old, causing a momentarily spasm of panic akin to seven-year-old infected with cooties.  “I’m real interested in your sexual perversion and all, but my stomach’s been growling for the past hour.  Let’s grab some tacos from across the street before that guy eats them all.”

A fat pox-marked kid jiggles past us sucking on cheese-dribbled French fries; residual finger grease and ketchups stains smear a Robotech t-shirt.

“Aw . . . I don’t know if I’d say that.  Kid looks like a serial eater, doesn’t have any friends to tell him otherwise.”

“Probably ‘cause he ate them all.  Let’s go.  We’ll be safe as long as the concession stands are still stocked up on nacho cheese and pork rinds.”

“Okay,” I sigh, spying no interesting figures on the shelves and still deciding on a rather ecchi Fortune Arterial artbook.  “Let me walk through this row of stands and then we’ll head out.”

And so, I – nearly – drag him through the rows of manga, art books, DVDs, posters, and cat-eared hats, my eyes like anchors latching onto the latest series box set or plastic swimsuit clad swordmen.  Occasionally I lose Dasad while taking pictures or gazing at DVDs, only to find him surrounded and petrified by uniform-donned girls gyrating to some techno-enhanced soundtrack.  He nearly collapses when we leave the vendor floor.  Considering we had scoured the figure shelves for nearly two hours amid the thick Sunday crowds of the Con, I found his patience truly commendable.

otakon2009_4“Some of those girls in the bunny suits were not girls,” he pants, sniffling slightly.  “Son of a geek must have coated himself in olive oil to fit into those fishnets.  He stunk like week old garbage left out in the sun too long.”  He sneezes.

“Moldy too.”

“Those crowds don’t help either . . . Say dude,” I say flicking through my collection of photos on the viewer.  “You want to do sushi instead of tex-mex?”

“More Japanese stuff?” he heaved, with a reluctant smile.  “Sure I don’t mind.  What places are around here?”

Near the stairs, we tiptoe through groups of otaku clustered near the walls, their bags strewn open to reveal stacks of doujinshi, art books, manga, and other swag.  Some stretch out, relaxing atop friends and bookbags reading, others fast sleep curled on fake wings and stuffed animals.  In a separate corner, a group click and stab excitedly at their pocket game systems.  I hear the familiar roar of Mario carts, lightning bolts, and bubbling lava.

“There’s someplace nearby, I think.  Further north.  Sushi Sano or something like that . . .”

“Ugh,” he groans accidentally treading on a Naruto artbook before its owner could snatch it away.  “No way.  Is there anyplace else?”

“Why?  What’s wrong?  I hear the food there is pretty good.”

“That’s the place we visited last year, remember?  They kept an aquarium right beside the bar.  Staring at the customers, ten or so live fish in a tank . . . swimming!”

“Uh yeah, they do have a nasty habit of doing that.  So?”

“So . . . any place that cuts and prepares raw fish in front of live fish is disgusting.  It’s like eating a Big Mac in front of your cows.”

“Yeah, apart from the smell of livestock comingling with good food, it’s not really that big of a deal.  I mean, the cows and the fish don’t mind, dude.”

“Well, I do.  It’s disgusting and inhumane.  Let’s pick another place.  Maybe one within walking distance . . .”

As we reach the top of the stairs, crowds of otaku flow through the doors: young and old, in all manner of costumes and thus in all levels of dress and undress.  I recognize half-a-dozen characters from my favorite series and video games; others, perhaps more out of an urge to participate, appear to have worn whatever they found on their hotel floor this morning: assorted cat ears, human-sized swords, blood splatter, bells, whips, blue hair dye, silver trays, Coke bottles, and stuffed animals duct taped onto their person. One old lady strode rapidly up the escalator dressed in white frills, her hair flailing in all directions, looking every bit the part of a burnt-out (and slightly hung over) tooth fairy.

otakon2009_3“Whoa, look at that guy,” Dasad gasps.  “Tights should not be worn on legs like that.  Every bit of my manhood just shriveled up like a popped balloon.”

“I think that was an old lady.  Nearly fifty or so.”

“Ugh, that’s even worse,” my friend sighs. “Pop!”

“Hey,” I suddenly suggest, my eyes staring at a girl in a giant open pocky box.  “We need to dress up next . . .”

“No.  Hell, no.”

“Come on . . . Look how cool that costume is.  Maybe we can start out slow, with a T-shirt and maybe a tattoo . . .”

“Nope, the only costume I have is this nerd badge,” Dasad said patting his convention ID.   Across the front, a smiling blonde soldier in an orange jumpsuit stares wistfully at a blue sky.  “And I only chose this badge ‘cause it seemed more . . . normal than any of the others.  No half-dressed girls or supped-up robot maids.”

“Ooookay,” I whine.  “Well, I have a year to convince you otherwise.”

We walk up the escalator, welcoming the open empty spaces.  Among the upper levels of the center, the crowds thin and navigating felt much more manageable.  We breathe easier too but in Dasad’s case, this is quite literal.

“Listen dude,” he says without sniffing, “do you really think you’ll still be doing this next year?”

otakon2009“Well possibly . . .” I begin, momentarily distracted by a group of six or seven girls in various colored sailor-suited uniforms, all wielding bats, paper fans, bamboo swords, or in one case a pair of sub-machine guns.  At their center a uniformed boy crouches, suffering blows from the girls’ weapons across the shoulders or playfully about the head.  At each strike, the girls scream ‘Baka!’ and scowl haughtily.  The abusive circle strides past the in-house Starbucks before posing for pictures.  I snapped a few shots myself and continued walking.

“Shoot,” I curse, scanning through my shots.  “No stabilization.  All those shots look like a speeding train.”

“What was that?” Dasad asks as we cross the landbridge connecting the two halves of the convention center plaza.  “And why are we still inside, where there is no food?”

“We have to cross the street anyway,” I answer.  “Figured we could take some shots of the costumes before we leave.  If there’s any more costumes like that tsundere troop back there, we can’t miss it.”

“Is that a show?  Girls who beat guys, and the guys who love them?”

“Something like that.  Tsundere is a loose term for a character archetype, the introverted tomboyish girls, who have difficulty admitting their feelings.  Typically they tend to abuse the guy they like when they can’t express how they feel, but below that rough cruel shell, they’re actually quite kind and loving.”

“Like that girl in the Love Hina show, you liked?” he grins.

“Naru?” I laugh nervously.  “Yeah.  Personally I find it quite cute.”

“You would.”  Dasad sighs.  Someone behind us shouts ‘Marco!’ immediately followed up en mass with ‘Polo!’  This exchange continues for some minutes as more and more people join in what soon becomes a chant.  Others seem more irritated by the noise, but most of us, myself included, just grin and laugh.  Dasad looks questioningly at me.

“No clue, dude.  Just go with it.”

otakon2009_5The easternmost egress from the convention center opens onto a wide atrium brightly lit like a greenhouse by tall windows along the walls and ceilings.  Dark volcanic tile, a wide regal staircase, and a jungle of ferns and trees give the impression of a Polynesian resort; clusters of brightly colored cosplayers crowd together for pictures, chatting excitedly before the last AMV show of the Con begins in a nearby theater.  Dasad and I lean against the railing and look down from the upper floor, scanning the crowd for any interesting costumes.

I snap a few shots of Mario and Luigi as well as some of the Kingdom Hearts groups – girls with spiky hair wielding giant key-blades – meanwhile noticing that the gaming plaza had closed early.  Sunday really is not the day to visit this place.  Next year, I reminded myself I would have to get here either Friday or Saturday.  With a final sigh Dasad and I escape through the doors and walk down the street towards the harbor restaurants.

“I probably should have bought that artbook,” I mutter, glancing behind me.  “From what I’ve seen online, the art in that game is gorgeous.  Be nice to have it around in print too.”

“You’re really into this, aren’t you?” my friend says matter-of-factly.  “I suppose that you’re already thinking about next year.  Heaven knows why you like all this nonsense.”

“The whole adventure of it all,” I smile stretching my arms out wide.  “I mean look around you.  Ninjas, samurai, elves, zombies, and lovers.  They adore these characters; they love their stories.  The enthusiasm for the strange, wonderful, and heroic is contagious.  Everyone here is seeking something different, something extraordinary.”

“Something fake.  Whatever they’re looking for, they probably won’t find it.”

On the street a group of cat-eared girls run past us waving a long wooden paddle.  Japanese kanji decorate one side, on the other ‘yaoi’ is written.  Several long-haired boys in purple uniforms see them and bolt inside, like spooked antelope, nearly knocking down a group of swordsmen in blue and green tunics, who raise their swords and shields shouting ‘Varlet’ in protest.

“Yeah, but sometimes it’s enough to keep hoping anyway.  Something like . . . if we forget who we long to be, we won’t find who we really are.”

“Which is gay.”

“Yeah,” I nod.  “Yeah, I know . . .”  We cross the street and pass through a small park.  Yellow metal children twist and curl about what seems to be a lamp post, marking the city’s contribution to artistic impressionism.  Waterfalls and fountains splash against stone walls at the opposite end; brick steps lead down to turbulent pools where more costumed conventioneers pose with ornate umbrellas.

“. . . but not as gay as that.” A thin otaku wiggles past us, wagging his rear from side to side, swinging two attached raccoon tails.  A bell jingles from a collar around his neck.  He joins the crowd near the water and growls with um . . . paws raised: Rowr!

“No that takes the cake.  So what can you deduce about his hopes and dreams?”

“Whatever they are.  They best keep far away from mine,” I shudder.  “Perhaps as a house cat in La Casa de Dasad.”

“Whatever.  No one can say anything about me.  I look perfectly normal.”

“Nerd badge,” I cough quickly ducking into a nearby restaurant.  Horrified Dasad pulls off the convention badge and stuffs it into his pocket.  After a few furtive looks, he shrugs and goes inside. Another year, another con.  Resting our weary feet, we relax a bit toasting a successful morning with a large pitcher of sangria.

Word Families

bookopen2Every family possesses a language all its own, independent of its own nation, region, or race. Here in the U.S. despite the fact that we all (supposedly) speak the same tongue, we rarely understand one another. As Mark Twain reminds us during one of his visits to France: In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language. Perhaps French families teach their children a different form of the language then our American textbooks teach us.

Our family is no different; in a house of eight kids (give or take several) and two frazzled adults (not to mention aunts, uncles, cousins, and a multitude of friends), our home rivals the population of a small mid-west town. As such, variations in language emerge everyday to confuse and bewilder those foolish enough to believe that vocabulary should remain static. The following represents only a small chunk of aberrations of speech typical of the Murphey family:


A – (noun) abbreviation for ass or mule, an irritating individual

Etymology – a truly worthless substitution used by Mother Murphey in order to insult someone like my brother Sean without being crude (i.e. actually saying the word ‘ass’). Though the insult endures despite the replaced terminology, Mom still affirms that it is a much politer method to degrade an insufferable twit.


Mo-gift – (noun) a gift or present given to another solely for the benefit of the giver (presumably because both individuals live together)

Etymology – derived from the Christmas gifts given by my Aunt Mo, such as a blender to her husband, an iron to her daughter, and a Steel Magnolias DVD to her son


Ijit – (noun) A poor driver (i.e. one who drives too slowly, cuts others off, sidles between two lanes, drives without headlights in the rain, or generally reads, texts, shaves, applies makeup, picks nose, cleans car, or checks email all while driving)

Etymology – typically an ijit applies only to others never the speaker regardless of how many infractions he or she commits while condemning others.


Warsh – (verb) to clean, wipe clear

Etymology – origin unknown; however, Mom affirms that this word is quite common across the country (none of my college friends can confirm this despite their state of birth). Often mispronounced by the general public as ‘wash’ (note the absence of the ‘r’); after years of usage, this word earned several younger Murpheys poor scores on their Spelling Bee’s

See Also: Warshington D.C., Warshinton state, General George Warshington


Moth-van-bush-wooken – (part.) to shove up in one’s face

Etymology – created by Pat’s good friend Matthew, who irritated by the tendency of ESPN newscasters to make up words (i.e. winningest) wished to illustrate just how easy it is to report the sports when proper diction is no longer required.


Which-come – (noun) a missing object; a lost tool or instrument so well hidden that its very name eludes the speaker

Etymology – My family’s word for anything we cannot remember: “Ok, so we have our hammer, nail gun, and the jigsaw . . . where’s that whichcome I left here?” “Your iced tea is behind you, Dad.”


Japanese porn – (noun) manga or anime

Etymology – Sigh. Ok, so one little misunderstanding and my hobby deteriorates into an activity for freaks or deviants . . . anyway, term derived by Murph’s brothers and sisters after browsing through some Love Hina comics he had received for Christmas. Despite my constant and continued protests, this appellation continues. I am so sorry Mr. Miyazaki.

Diluted Sins

img_2377“What did you give up for Lent?”  An honest response to this question typically requires a fair bit of chagrin, a prolonged sigh, and an explanatory tale that often begins with “Well, it’s like this . . . ”  Regardless of their beginnings, no two stories are the same even though — more often than not — we all wind up innocent in the end.

Once again, this year Dasad and I have not managed to free ourselves from this fate.  However, unlike everyone else, it’s not our fault this time.   Truly.  Seriously.  Look, if you can spare me a moment or two, I can explain . . .

Lent for us Catholics is typically a time of sacrifice, fasting, and forgiveness, a decidedly textbook definition for what amounts to using God to enforce those pesky New Years’ resolutions we’ve long forgotten over the last two months.  As a kid, this usually meant giving up candy, video games, or the internet for forty days and forty nights, the same time period Noah suffered storm-tossed seas and a boat-load of the world’s fauna without the aid of Dramamine, sails, or steel cages.  After mounting a particularly towering wave, the world’s last pair of unicorns slide into the lion paddock, promptly removing magic (and many a childhood dream) forever from the gene pool.   By all rights, getting by with one less bag of Twizzlers doesn’t seem so bad.

iced-teaThis year in addition to striving to run two miles each day, I decided to halt my weekly purchase of novels and considered diving into some of the older tomes I have left to gather dust  over the years.  Thus, no new novels for forty days.  In hindsight a more effective sacrifice would have constituted banishment from the bookstore entirely, but my on-going addiction to Borders iced tea prevented such a bold stroke.  Instead while shifting through shelves of manga one afternoon — keeping a wide berth between the rest of the stacks (Mr. Bradbury, you know why) — my eyes tantalized by several new titles,  I considered what exactly constitutes a ‘novel’ per se.  My thoughts traveled back to EN212, Birth of the English Novel, and some vaguely remembered definition concerning plot and character, an eight-page paper citing specific examples in 12pt font, Times Roman.  At any rate no mention of ‘Japanese’ or ‘comics’ appeared in the slurry of words so I grabbed a handful of books and raced to the check-out counter before any divine arbitrator could consult the fine print.   Afterward outside the store, amid the blustery spring breeze and cloud-streaked skies, I walked bag in hand, swelling with my new purchases,  confident in my adherence to the letter-of-the-law even while gut-punching the much ignored spirit-of-the law with two rights and an uppercut to the chin.

To my credit, over the last fifty days or so, I ignored the graphic novel section (collected anthologies of Superman, Spiderman, and other comics) entirely.  Here my half-hearted arguments that graphic novels did not strictly constitute novels failed; in the end I could not escape the nomenclature.   Besides, nothing good (i.e. Batman’s ‘Heart of Hush’ book) arrived in the stores until at least the end of April at least . . .  and in the absence of temptation one finds strength.

Still despite my own innocence in this affair, I still felt the twinge of guilt, a smidgen of complacency in my actions; thus I sought out Dasad, prompting his confession and shared guilt with the similar question:

“Wait, so you’re only giving up videogames on Saturdays?”  I wrote to him on IM one morning, a week and a half after Ash Wednesday.

“Well, it’s like this, man,” he typed with a speed reserved for computer programmers and courtroom stenographers.  “It used to be everyday, but once Resident Evil 5 came out, I decided to alter it a little.”

“A single day sacrifice though?”

“Well, when the game came out, I thought of just abandoning the whole no-gaming sacrifice altogether, but considering a potential wrath-of-God-slash-karma blacklash, I just decided to tweak it a bit:  ‘No games that I already own, will I play.’  There.  Now we have a loophole . . . and my console is RE5 ready.”  For most individuals Lenten appeals do not need to be stated aloud, resting solely on the honor system.  In our case, we require written contracts for the sake of bragging rights.

“What about Gears?  Don’t you already own that?” I wrote with a smile.

viva_pinata“Uh yeah, I thought of that too,” he typed after a pause.  “That would put a serious dent in our Friday nights so then I considered ‘No games released before 2006,’ but that only really eliminated that pinata game and Madden 2005 . . .”

“Both of which you haven’t opened yet, if I recall correctly.”  Dasad collects games almost habitually, like a schizophrenic stockpiling voices, or old Mrs. Martin and her cats.

“Yeah, not much of a sacrifice, right?  So then I reconsidered and decided that I would only play games on Friday and Sundays.”

“Ok, so what went wrong with that?”

“There was nothing on TV last Wednesday.” I picture my friend flipping frantically through his 1 million channels, his mounting anger that nothing NOTHING was on except another abysmal season of American Idol.  Then finally after dousing the lights and shutting the blinds, he switches on his Xbox for a quick Horde match.  No one will ever know . . .

“Dude, that’s sad.”  Sincerity aside, I am laughing when I write this.

“Hey look, the whole Lenten season is rife with loopholes.  No meat on Fridays except seafood and if St. Patrick’s Day falls on Friday, then the Irish are given special dispensation to eat corned beef.  Moreover, on Sundays you are free from your Lenten sacrifices anyway.”

“Yeah . . .” I consider, trying in vain to differentiate the rule from the habit, “. . . but I think that’s only for elementary school kids.  As adults we’re expected to keep the sacrifice every day no exceptions.”

“Ha, another bias!  Damn it all, I’m having pastrami tonight.”

In the end, I think Dasad faithfully maintained his original pledge and abstained himself from gaming throughout the last forty days.  Every now and then I saw his avatar logged onto Xbox Live but he swears that was merely to watch a movie — which he reminds me does not constitute a game at all.  Frankly I believe him, though for the sake of my own heathen soul I like to pretend otherwise.  Hell, I hear, is a quite a lonely place with a very poor library — the constant humidity is murder on the pages.  In the absence of reading materials, amid the screams of the damned, a sympathetic ear means the world to us sinners.

Economic Value

The man approached us while we stood in line, our arms plump with books like old-time school children – bibliophiles that we are. I had come to the bookstore early that afternoon to stock up on several new manga volumes. A story sickness had overtaken me over the last few weeks, and my visits to the neighboring Borders and Barnes & Nobles could not arrive soon enough. After copious cups of iced tea and several hours wandering the stacks – limited funds led me to gather twice my current wares and replace half – I found my way to the check-out counter.

. . . whether I should try peach syrup with my iced tea.

. . . whether I should try peach syrup with my iced tea.

Our visitor held aloft a $25 gift card and offered to give it freely in exchange for a twenty.

“You earn five bucks,” he explained, while my fellow bibliophiles gazed nervously at each other.

“How do we know that anything’s left on that card?” the woman behind me asked.

“I’ll stay in line and pay for whatever you have there,” he said. “It’s all there. Does anyone want it?” I kept quiet and stared at a woman on the cover of National Geographic, her face glimmering in gold paint.

“I have a twenty,” a man in the back spoke up. “I’m not much of a reader, but I suppose that my girlfriend could use it.”

The man filed in beside his newfound patron.

“I lost my job last week,” the man confided. “Right now, I could use the money. Books are less important to me.”

My turn at the register had come. I walked away, paid for my purchases and left the store. Getting into my car, I regretted not talking to the man. I had no hard cash in my pocket, merely credit, but I felt ashamed at my silence.

Throughout my life, fear has always been my bane – ice cream too, but let’s not get into that. Of course this is true of anyone (of fear, not of ice cream unless you’re lactose-intolerant). I fear speaking up, speaking out, making myself known to the world. Thus, often it is turmoil merely to announce myself to others. Especially when I feel that my voice will do nothing.

People often wonder why I read fantasy and manga. Most individuals assume – wrongly – that I have a penchant for dragons, unicorns, and cat-eared forest girls. This is not so . . . . well, I do like my cat girls. For the most part, these are mere decorations, trappings that give a story color or excitement. The true whimsy lies in the characters, those few chosen individuals full of courage, strength, and fidelity that they risk all for the sake of others. Therein lies the true fantasy; those noble souls, these heroes are akin to manticores and chimaras, the stuff of legends and myths.  Yet despite the impossibility for such creatures in the ‘real’ world, I continue to hope and prowl the bookstores. Perhaps one day a bit of their nobility will rub off on me in the reading.

I tend to get distracted.

Honestly though, in these tight times, I cannot say which is more important to me food or books. With my small paunch, I could probably last a week or so without meals, provided ample coffee or iced tea was available. Without caffeine, valuable reading time might diminish. There’s also a good chance of death too, which could really ruin that novel I’m reading.

I worry sometimes about a lot of things: the economy, my life, the arrival date for the next volume of One Piece, and whether I should try peach syrup with my iced tea. I mean, Border’s raspberry tea tastes quite good – unlike Nestea, which is actually lemon extract, excessive amounts of sugar, and toilet water – but I wonder if I should reach a little outside my comfort zone. No one becomes happy without being brave. Next time I visit a bookstore perhaps I should ask for something new, a mint-peach syrup combination maybe. It may confound the barista a bit, but the dissolution of weakness deserves the extra tip. Especially in these hard times, we need all the virtue that we can lay our hands on.