Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Le Spectre de l'Orange

If you are from Mid-America, you can always feel at home in Orange County since it's just like Mid-America except more so. It's got even more crazy right-wingers, evangelicals and sprawl than you'll find in suburban Kansas City or Cincinatti.

Today, I started off early by making a talk at 7 a.m. at the high-toned Pacific Club in Huntington Beach, down the street from John Wayne International Airport and where the Duke himself was reportedly a member. After a day of many meetings, I had a quick respite in Laguna Beach (documented earlier) before I settled in to the weirdest La Quinta on the planet in Irvine "Old Town". Someone got the bright idea of putting the motel in an old...grain elevator! Now haven't you always wanted to spend the night in a grain elevator? Besides having some rough hewn concrete walls, it's a generic motel room with a great view and audio of the Metrolink whizzing by. I try to pretend I'm in an old New York flat next to the El.

This evening I decided to venture over to the Irvine Spectrum, an Italian themed outdoor shopping court with many of the familiar big city shops but with an Orange County twist.

Some things are just like they are in an urban area, such as H&M. Their "eurosizing" conversion chart is the same as it is in SF or NYC:

XXXL = Medium
L = XS
M = Suitable for an embryo to wear

I stepped into Urban Outfitters and was dazed. It was brightly lit with cheerful music and all the clothes -- even the sale items -- were perfectly ironed, in perfect order and easy to reach. The clerks greeted me with smiles.

Clerks in Southern California and the South greet you with the same five words, but the cadence is decidedly different:

The South "How may I help you?"
Orange County: "How may I help you?"

I strolled down the Umbria lane of the Irvine Spectrum and decided to have dinner at Maki Maki where I had Makeral Yaki, but my Ecuadorean server had trouble understanding my Japanese. First they offered to seat on the outdoor terrace which sounded great since it was a gorgeous night in the low 60s to high 50s. I stepped on the terrace, and they had outdoor heaters going, and it must have been 98! I quickly objected, since knew my sushi would be broiled the second it arrived. Outdoor heaters are annoying enough in San Francisco but truly ridiculous in Southern California.

I strolled further through the Spectrum, noticing the line outside the Cheesesteak Factory just like in Overland Park or Union Square and all the faux European ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds with a hint of a patina of age, but that patina well scrubbed enough to avoid look actually old.

It was a bit of a shock to notice no stores or restaurants had signs in their windows such as "No Outside Food" or "Restrooms for Customers" only.

Strolling further past the Beauty Planet I noticed Torrid (or was it Torrid!) Plus Size fashions. I'm curious if the torrid refers to the customers or the fashion.

These thoughts filled my head as I drove away, recognizing as I exited the parking lot to get on the 405 that the Irvine Spectrum is at the intersection of Fortune and Enterprise. If time allows tomorrow, I may go to the Alpine Village and know I have really made the most of my free time in between appointments.

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What We're Seeing...on Laguna Beach

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Monday, April 27, 2009

I'm Here Tonight

Missing the Bow, thinking about how I should be doing a lot of things in life differently, thinking about the brevity of life, thinking about changes, thinking about and doing not enough yoga, thinking about not thinking so much

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

What We're Seeing in the Mission

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

It's Called a Mikoshi

The past week I have been still sort of on a high from last Sunday's Cherry Blossom Parade and the finale of those burly, scantily clad, grunting Japanese men hoisting that portable shrine. Today I learned from (of all sources, the Bay Area Reporter - gasp) that that shinto shrine is called a mikoshi and is filled with saki.

Since my slide show of the parade wasn't from the greatest vantage point, I offer the above video caught about 50 feet west of me by Warren. However, I think my photos of the mikoshi were among the best shots I got that day, obviously fueled on by some higher power as I pushed forward through the crowd.

I also learned today that the Yoshida Brothers are coming to town in three weeks! Although I am a huge banjo fan, nothing equals that twangy sound of two boys playing the shamisen.

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Some Things Are Better as Remakes

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What We're Seeing in the Mission

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Can We Just Share The Love?

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Did You Learn This in Banana School Too?

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Friday, April 24, 2009

What We're Seeing in the Mission

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Interactive Friday: We're Changing Our Name to: Junk Thief!

Apparently the biggest buzz about the new Kia Soul! is not its performance or appearance but the exclamation point in its marketing. We wrote here earlier about similar use (sometimes late in the game) for movies like Tora! Tora! Tora!, Star!, Hello Dolly! and Boom! Sometimes marketed at BOOM!!!!

While the ampersand is often celebrated here, the exclamation point and ellipses are two of the most annoying forms of punctuation. What do you consider to be some of the worst overuses of exclamation points in marketing? I've heard rumors that Sarah Palin's return to the national stage is going to be fueled by rebranding herself as Sarah! Palin!

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where's That Cake? Here's That Cake

Robert Happysad expressed concern that my recent tea party tableau looked so lovely but was missing the all important cake. Hello Kitty! dropped by this evening and took care of that. She also left a hamburger. She left a lot more, but we're saving that for just now.

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What We're Seeing on Market Street

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What We're Seeing in the Mission

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Best Song About Thin Ice Since Yoko Ono Took on the Issue

The vocorder makes me think of Imogen Heap, and I'm really smitten by Andrew Gregory, who is featured in the duet with Katie Couric. Apparently his main gig is as a folk singer in Brooklyn, but he does well as someone terrorized by global melting.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We All Had Lapses of Judgment in 1980

Perhaps if Leni Riefenstahl had been on hand to direct things might have gone differently.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I'm Becoming Henry Darger!

This evening after work I needed to nab some things in the land of Big Box Stores (sorry, I own a fuel efficient car and I vote), and afterward I could not resist driving to the other side of the 280 and stepping into DAISO. I spent barely $50, but my bounty was huge. This is not even 5% of it. And with barely anything priced over $3, they make it so hard to resist. Expect a really cool episode of Junk Thief TV in the near future.

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Adrift at Home, Comforted by Chaos

The death of Empire of the Sun author J.G. Ballard on Sunday reminded me of how deeply I related to his semi-autobiographical book that was turned into a not completely bad film. The airing of an old interview with Ballard on Fresh Air today hit on many of the aspects of why that book felt like my own biography. Torn from a life of privilege, he found an odd freedom and respect for his captors in a Japanese prison camp and never felt able to be at home in England or with his family afterward. I've enjoyed several of his other books, but none struck the chord this one did. Just as I was excited when Christian Bale emerged as an adult actor but has never come close to equaling his debut.

Growing up in Oklahoma and Missouri, I always felt alien and found the locals to be far more surreal and incomprehensible than Martians. What interested them made no sense to me, and I've yet to find a place where I've felt completely at home. Okay, maybe Barcelona and Buenos Aires and parts of Shanghai. But the Shanghai of young Ballard is the one I want to live in.

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Interactive Tuesday: Let's Hope Susan Boyle Doesn't Add a Dance Routine to Her Act

Okay, this will be our last post featuring scantily-clad men for a while...

Over the weekend, Bryce Digdug and I were discussing the specifics of Scandinavian culture, and he insisted that Norwegians are the most light-hearted and Swedes are more dark and brooding. It's sort of like asking if you think it's Strinberg or Ibsen wrote the funnier one-liners.

I'll leave it to you vote.

Would you prefer watching flatbreads and the most unlikely inclusion of the tune "Kung Fu Fight" ever...

....or a teenage girl channeling Michael Jackson?

It raises the question: how many countries have a "Got Talent" show? I hear there is a guy on "Lichtenstein's Got Talent" whose performance of "Baby Got Back" on a tuba is amazing and there is an Ewe female comedian on "Togo's Got Talent" who tells fou-fou and guinea worm jokes that will make you fall on the floor laughing.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Day at the Hunky Buddha Pagaent

Last Sunday it was Easter and the Hunky Jesus Pagaent in Mission Dolores Park. This Sunday it was the Hunky Buddhist Pagaent on Post Street in Japantown. Well, it wasn't really, but the last big entry in today's Cherry Blossom Parade came at the end of its two hour duration with a bunch of grunting, chanting Japanese men in loin cloths. This was definitely a lot more fun and sexy and sweet at the same time than those dreadful fetish fairs down on Folsom Street and Dore Alley. And while the men at those festival in their harnesses resemble an array of Easter hams, the Cherry Blossom Parade featured various drummers, shrine hoisters, swordsmen and others who looked yummy in their loin cloths.

Add to all of that two parade grand marshals -- George Takei and Hello Kitty -- and it was a day that made me forgive the heat.

I attended with Bryce Digdug who gave a shout to George that was rewarded with the above wave from his convertible. When I leaned ahead to the right and let Bryce know that I could see a certain eight foot mouthless feline with a pink ribbon below her ear, Bryce nearly knocked me over with excitement.

Some other highlights:

* The kids of the bilingual (Japanese-English) Rosa Parks Academy in a big pirate ship singing "We Are Family". Bryce and I agree that we need to make a career shift and be the music/dance instructors at Rosa Parks and teach those kiddos some of our favorite hits from the 1970s and 1980s. Expect to see them singing "I Want Candy" and "I Eat Cannibals" at next year's parade.
* A seemingly endless contingent of people in anime costumes.
* Several contingents of buff drummers beating their instruments with full force with long sticks.
* Most of our gay or gay-positive local politicians. Mark Leno looked especially tan and happy, and I never realized he is Japanese.

During the parade, a very nice Japanese-American woman named Joanne chatted up Bryce and me and gave some helpful insights about the anime characters. At one point she said, "I want you two to know that I am completely accepting and tolerant of your people." After she left, I turned to Bryce and said, "Well, I certainly hope she wasn't implying that I'm Norwegian too."

Afterwards, we braved the crowds and heat of the "mall" and I got these bits of loveliness at the Kinokuniya Bookstore. My favorite clerk waited on me, and, as usual, she was wearing her gas mask. Expect to see these as part of the sets in an upcoming Junk Thief TV Episode.

In the meantime, here is a video review of the day's parade.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

And Since We're Talking About J-Pop

This is my absolute favorite song by my favorite Japanese band -- Oh, Penelope! -- that I discovered in Hong Kong about 15 years ago. I just listen to this and hear an Asian re-interpretations of the Beatles and 1000 years of Western culture in a much purer light. It just makes me happy trying to imagine what on earth the lyrics are about.

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And How Are Your Blossoms?

Sunday is the Cherry Blossom Festival on Geary Street in San Francisco -- complete with Grand Marshalls Hello Kitty (the real thing, not an imitation) and George Takei and his boyfriend. Tonight I've been listening to a lot of Mistinguett (totally unrelated) Shiina Ringo and Ken Hirai (totally related). Notice how Ken manages to have a lot of scantily clad women in his videos, yet they never meet. There are a lot of "questions" about Ken, many of which I would like to ask. If I can catch George's attention tomorrow, I'll ask him for his opinion. No need to ask Kitty. She spilled the (red) beans on this topic long ago.

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Aging, Paris, Kentridge, Basenjis, Revolution, Caffeine, Hemispheric Incongruence

Sometimes I bemoan the fact that I live in a cultural backwater that has the audacity to call itself the "Paris of the Pacific" (sorry, that's Santiago), but then I am sometimes surprised by the offerings right here in this little berg by the bay. This weekend has been a good example.

This morning I dashed down to be early in line for the SFMOMA presentation of William Kentridge - Five Themes that so many of my friends have been raving about. (And most of my friends are raving, raging or some unseemly combination of both). I had a good feeling about the show when, as I was Twittering on my TREO as I advanced in line, I looked to the right and saw a basenji walking by and looking up at me as if she knew she was peering into the eyes of one of the cult of guardians of the African dingos. The Kentridge show is worthy of all the hype -- a heady mix of drawrings, short films (that include homages of that superb Parisian George Melies and that benign German Lotte Reiniger), assemblages, puppet shows, constructions, musings on aging and other stuff).

It was a great show, but there was no time to doddle and I rushed off to MUNI to that charming arrondissement footsteps away from the Pacific, West Portal, where I ventured to catch the matinee of Faubourg '36. I went to get my ticket early and asked the agent if I should return quickly to ensure I got a seat. He rolled his eyes and said, "Uh, that's probably not going to be an issue." (Confirmed later when the lights went down on me and the three other people in the theater. I guess I over estimated the appeal of musical comedies about the clash of Fascists and Leftists in the first third of the 20th Century Paris.)

So I headed over to Fresca (which bills itself as Noveau Peruvian Cuisine) for a nice Peruvian crab salad. However, instead of Twittering, I got into a sort of nasty argument via IMing with one of my exes in Park Slope over my distaste of the clash of cultures at Fresca. Granted, the food and service were good, but they were playing salsa music and served me chips and salsa. Wrong hemisphere and continent. "Oh, it doesn't matter, it's still Latino," W___ in Park Slope texted back. "Would you say that if you were in a restaurant in Tokyo and got bruschetta while they played polka music but defended because it was all from the Northern Hemisphere?"

"Oh, GB, you obsess about things that just don't matter," W___ texted back.

"Oh, and by the way -- noveau Peruvian Cuisine? Excúseme, si no es: ¿el nuevo cocinar de los Peruvian?"

Well, at least Faubourg 36 (marketed in the U.S. as Paris '36 since apparently the distributors thing people in the U.S. are so dumb they barely know where Paris is, let alone being abl to locate one of its better known arrondissements) did not disappoint and was what it should have been: a sentimental two-hour tale of peasants occupying a theater taking it out of the clutches of a Fascist landlord. The number just kept getting bigger and loonier. And, like any self respecting musical, it had big number about going to the sea.
While its charming yet infirm middle-aged male stars were in long swim trunks and tank tops, they outfitted male (sexily Leftist) star Clovis Cornillac in a revealingly thin strip of brief beachwear. Only then did it connect of who he reminded me of -- gay porn legend Jeff Strykker.

Though Cornillac was cast as the "fetching young male lead" he is nearly 42. And it reminded me (going back to Kentridge's themes on aging and Melies) that the French have long had a history of allowing both male and female stars to play such roles into a time when, well by comparison in the U.S. , they'd have Cloris Leachman on Dancing with the stars. I could not help but think ofArletty at nearly 50 playing the "babe" in Les enfants du paradis. Or consider Mistinguett in this clip at 60 playing a young mother singing to her "baby". Perhaps they felt that by casting a nine-year-old girl as the baby, no one would notice that more than one spring had passed since her coming out debut.

These thoughts filled my had as I hopped on the K-train from West Portal (a neighborhood that is surreal to me like most western San Francisco Arrondissements because they feel so non-San Francisco) and then to the Balboa Park BART and then up to Ritual, where it has become a ritual for me to meet up with Friendatella Saturday afternoons to gossip and share insights on the meaning of life and culture. We've debated about the meaning of this roasterie's logo. Is it the flag of Turkey or the hammer and sickle or a gangland razor swung upon the throats of hypocrites. I used to despise this place because of the long lines, abundance of 20-something hipsters pecking away on their iMacs with the self-righteous grandeur of the cult of the Apple/Fuhrer Herr Jobs, and disdain for those of us with speckles of natural highlights in our hair. But Friendatella and I have discovered a row of three tables in the back near the bathrooms and with a scenic view of the burlap bags filled with the beans from Lago Atitlan and Vietnam where our elder faces will not diminish the views from the wall-to-wall windows in the front. Sitting their with my legs crossed in the European male way and nibbling my Madeleine, I felt the spirit of Mistinguett take over me the desire to put on one more show before the fogs of the summer return to Topeka on the Pacific.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'm Rethinking My Opinon of Les Miz

A quarter of a century ago when many were raving about Les Miz, I dismissed it as West End/Reagan/Thatcher schlock that raped the imagination of Victor Hugo. I put it just a notch above Cats and Phantom but that's not saying much.

Over the past 72 hours, I've had more emails and Facebook posts about Susan Boyle singing "I Dream a Dream" from the aforementioned show since 9/11 or the Iraq invasion. I r\emember Patti Lapone singing it in the mid-1980s and thought it was a sweet tune with a sweeping melody but never gave much thought to the specifics of the lyrics. Did anyone really hear anything beyond "I dream a dream" as Ms. Boyle's soared above cheers Saturday night? Did anyone hear her saying that her life was hell as she smiled? This column really gets at the hear of it. And here are the complete lyrics to the song. I suggest following them while replaying her rendition for the 100th time since it helps me understand why she has captured the imagination of millions.

Fantime - "I Dream a Dream"
[Stage Directions: Fantine is left alone, unemployed and destitute]

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame

He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came

And still I dream he'll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

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What We're Seeing in the Mission

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Music! Revolution! Peasants! Paris!

I have the day off tomorrow and plan to see this. I'm getting a bit excited already.

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Stubborn as Garbage Bags That Time Can't Decay

Last night's trip under the bay and up Broadway to Oakland's art deco palace, the Paramount, to see Leonard Cohen did not disappoint, right down to the fourth encore when the show ended after three and a half hours. There may have been a handful of numbers I was disappointed weren't included ("There Is a War", "A Singer Must Die", "I Came So Far for Beauty"and "Take This Longing" all sadly absent), but every other masterpiece from the arc of his four and a half decades of s0ng writing was there.

To see a man pushing 75 able to just stand and deliver tunes would have been a feat itself, but seeing him prance onto the stage and often crouch, dance and jump was a wonder. Cohen falls into the category of singer-songwriters like Tom Waits, Mark Eitzel and even Dylan who are often revered for the performances despite the vocal limitations. For whatever limitations his voice may have had, every precious word of his poetry was crystal clear, and I had no regrets having spent the $200+ for a seat 12 rows back from the stage and with ushers who treated me like someone in first class not as if they were people pushers on the Tokyo Metro.

The show he put on is essentially identical to the recently released Live in London DVD from which the above clip -- part of the final encore -- comes from. This tune was a perfect, and somewhat unlikely, rousing anthem to end the night. Cohen's tunes are more typically associated with regrets, love affairs gone wrong, self loathing, feelings of unworthiness. But "Democracy" (Is Coming to the USA) ended the night on a note of qualified optimism.

Below is a little known but much beloved (by me) 1965 documentary that I've watched many times called Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr. Leonard Cohen, made when he was around 30 and still living primarily in Montreal. He was still billing himself as a poet/stand up comic and had yet to launch his musical career in earnest. It's shock to see his face without a line, feeling like a cross between Dustin Hoffman and Lenny Bruce. It's also a sign that while he's evolved so much over nearly half a century, many things are constant -- he still has the same impish humor, is still a dapper dresser (likely from coming from a long line of Montreal clothiers), and can weave back to deeper meaning of the simplest point.

This is clearly his legacy tour, and I hope he makes a few million to replenish the fortune lost by his previous manager. Among his last numbers was a spoken word version of "If It Be Your Will", delivered humbly as he removed his fedora and spoke softly as if some professor emeritus in the McGill philosphy department, followed by an angelic rendition of the same words by the "Webb Sister", one of whom accompanied herself on a harp.
"If It Be Your Will"

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will.

This review in the Chronicle gives a brief accounting of the amazing band that surrounded his performances deftly and lovingly.

I was reminded of having had the privilege of seeing Nina Simone a couple of times late in her career, and this felt a bit bittersweet knowing that this was a sage for whom autumn is already a dim memory. Yet he has retained all of his faculties, and his words ring truer than ever, beautifully delivered in his tobacco and port burnished voice.

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On My Way to See Leonard Cohen

More later. It was a three and a half hour show and it's a school night.

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