It’s 3:00 p.m., a lazy Saturday afternoon, and no one is really sure what to do for fun. Jet’s visiting, and probably would be completely fine with spending the rest of the day on the living room futon. This quiet reverie is suddenly and loudly interrupted by the abrupt arrival of kakumei, who pounds on the door and dictates that we will be going somewhere today, or die.

The word of the day, kiddies, is Portland. Oregon, that is. Curse and salvation.

Flashback to January 2000, when Jet, LKT and I made an ill-advised trip to visit Mount St. Helens. Anyone who has an iota of brain will realize that January is possibly the least appropriate time to visit a mountain range.

Assaulted by the early onset of dusk and terrifyingly huge snowdrifts, we started our retreat, and in an attempt to salvage the day turned south to Portland.

In a nutshell, we got there around 7, ate dinner at a pizza restaurant, dessert at Häagen-Dazs, and headed back to Seattle. And it was fantastic.

So now, armed with the backstory, you realize that the present-day trio had a lot to live up to.

The trip to the Rose City is about 170 miles one way, so we crossed the state border at around 6 p.m.. Of course the longer hours of the summer allowed us some nice vistas of Portland, which is really a beautiful city; an elegant skyline rising organically out of the Willamette River and surrounding hills. The group of two years ago unanimously agreed that this would be an ideal place to retire to some years in the future. Can’t say that my feelings are any different by the light of day.

First stop was Powell’s City Of Books, famously huge and situated in a section of town filled with boutique bookstores and record stores. Powell’s is definitely king of the hill here, taking up an entire city block and housing (according to their website) over a million new and used volumes under its roof. I probably could have spent hours there, but was a little conscious that my tripmates weren’t quite as enthralled as I was. I did pick up John Christopher’s The Pool of Fire, a nice trade paperback of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four (the 1990 edition), and Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (terrible, but totally a guilty pleasure for me). All used. Then we were off again to look for dinner.

Let me tell you something about dinner. Jet and I resolved, two years ago, that the next time we went to Portland, we would try to replicate our experience of 2000, for nostalgia’s sake. By nostalgia, of course, I mean that there was a certain pizza waitress involved: a “Jet-factor”. The problem was, we didn’t know which restaurant it was. We’d gleaned the name, Pizzicato, from his credit card records (fortunately remembered from a random IM conversation from earlier in the year), but couldn’t narrow it down from the large list of that chain’s locations. I jotted down a couple of likely candidates in the few minutes before we headed out the door, but of course none of them was the one. So here we were, driving around the streets of Portland with no particular idea what we were doing. Suddenly, Jet says that something “feels right” about the particular street we’d turned on to; I was doubtful at first but a minute later, I started to feel the same tug at my brain. Before we knew it we were outside the restaurant.

23rd and Glisan. 23rd and Glisan. Remember it well.

Pizza was good, a “Quattro formaggio with Sausage and Mushrooms.” Yum. We learned that S. Pellegrino Aranciata is no substitute for Orangina. As for his search for the waitress, it ended ambiguously.

The Häagen-Dazs was history, and in its place was something called the Moonstruck Chocolate Bar. Can’t argue with that. Now, I’m not a chocolate person, but it was easy to forget it in there. No need to do anything more than follow the link to understand.

Chocolate labs and toffee cats!

Tired, but satisfied, we returned to the friendly environs of Seattle. The trip? Sure it was insane. It was also tons of fun.

Song of the day: Papaya, “Hero” (from the DDR 2nd Remix)


Bad sign

Apparently, according to the staff at Tojo’s, I am now a “regular customer.”

It seems that stage one is complete.


Faux cuisine

MSNBC - Chefs cook up gourmet ‘fakes’

In this age of gourmet everything, a restaurant menu offering Argentine steak, wasabi-encrusted fish, or a cheese plate of camembert isn’t unusual.

It is, however, impossible.

That is because wasabi is almost always horseradish; it is illegal to import beef from Argentina; and U.S. law bars cheese makers from using the raw milk that is an essential ingredient of real French cheese.

A great article about the stuff you’re probably shelling out the big bucks for when you go out to eat.
[thanks Mike]


Cognitive dissonance

Oh my god, I’m listening to a Hindi cover of “Mony, Mony” right now. Actually, it might be better described as a “free adaptation,” but there’s no ambiguity about the source material.

For those intensely curious, it’s “Koi Nahin Aisa,” from the soundtrack to Dillagi.

(Good grief, now it’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” Same movie.)



Daylight. No rosy-fingered dawn, this; the transformation of the sky over the past few minutes has been from cold, brittle darkness into cold, brittle light. True to form, I’ve emerged from my pre-trip all-nighter fully packed (just in time), and barely awake enough to drive. In just a few minutes I’ll be heading out to the airport to grab a flight to New York.

B. will be at JFK, waiting, hopefully, to carry me and my luggage home.

Obviously, I’m looking forward to the weekend. I have been, for several weeks now. No doubt we’ll dine with mattereaterlad and valerie, the newly settled. Perhaps I’ll visit ground zero for the first time, before they turn it into a park. Maybe, if fortune smiles, I’ll even get enough quality alone time in.

So then why am I sitting here in misery? Why can’t I sleep on these long nights before I set out?

Oh, for some NyQuil.



B. bought me a membership in the Harry and David Fruit-of-the-Month Club, and the first shipment (a box of “Oregold” peaches, very buttery and tasty) was waiting for me when I pulled back into Seattle tonight.

New laptop is supposed to ship tomorrow.

Lonely, tired, and pretty sick, but things are looking up.

The nutshell view, because sleep can only be a good thing:

Highlighty: Chat ‘n’ Chew. Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Dim sum. Tripe, tripe, tripe. Old friends. TLC.

Less highlighty: Getting sick. Incompetent Staples cashiers. Heat. Having to leave.

Also, the following snippet of conversation, to a trainee bus driver from her mentor, as we were being shuttled from our flight to the main terminal:

See that plane coming in? That’s the kind of thing you have to watch out for.


Royale with cheese

Contrary to popular expectations, there is a Quarter Pounder with cheese sandwich served in McDonald’s restaurants in Egypt. The odd thing is that right next to it on the menu is a completely different sandwich called a McRoyale (to all intents and purposes, equivalent to the not-so-accurately monikered “Big ‘n’ Tasty”). For a second, I almost considered ordering it, but the resemblance was too great.

Now, one could ask (and quite rightly) why an American traveling abroad would choose to sup at that most American of establishments, especially in the middle of a huge cultural and commercial area like Midan Tahrir. First: yes, it’s truly and excessively sad, but I do enjoy springboarding a conversation with ridiculous situations like that. More importantly, I actually find foreign versions of familiar things to be really fascinating and possibly more exotic than the authentic cuisine of a region.

For instance, say you’re in London and you’re confronted with the choice between a dead-to-rights vindaloo (available at who-knows-how-many fine Indian restaurants in any decent-sized U.S. metropolis) and a Lamb McCurry burger from the golden arches.

“A-ha!” you exclaim. “Presented that way, obviously the latter!”

No? Ah, fine.

Though it’s certainly how I chose, I’ll admit that that may not have been the most appetizing example. At any rate, you’re never going to find a McChicken Korma on this side of the Pond, or a kimchi & bulgogi pie in an States-side Pizza Hut. Given the chance, I’ve tried them all — even the Burger King bean burger (a lot tastier than it looked!).

On this night, however, it was not to be. As exotic experiences go, this Cairene McDonald’s was a giant letdown; aside from the aforementioned McRoyale, there was nothing even remotely strange on the menu. Alas, B. was tired and didn’t have the energy to find another restaurant, so there, in the shadow of the pyramids, I dined on a Big Mac and fries.

I blame Quentin Tarantino.


Frozen moments


On Saturday, fifty-two weeks to the day, we burned money and incense for the dead. I think it’s time to heal now. In a sense, it’s already long since happened.

Last September 8, B.’s father passed away after a brief, agonizing battle with liver cancer. I heard the news while in Vancouver, and booked the first flight to New York City that I could, which happened to be the redeye on the 9th. Early morning, September 10, I arrived at JFK airport.

On the 11th all hell broke loose.

The wake and burial, originally planned for Thursday and Friday, didn’t actually happen until the following Monday and Tuesday. By then, there had been so much death and grief that I didn’t think I had any left to give. In the end, of course, I was wrong. Somehow, though, I believe that all these events allowed for an idea to slip into my mind that to this day still affects how I live my life, and helped me (and B. to some extent, I believe) in those first few days to deal with the tragedy.

We all have a need to know that on some level or plane, someone cares about and is looking out for us. For some, this translates into religion, or a belief in a higher order. On a simpler level, it could refer to people we have known and loved, be they living or dead. I’m not particularly religious, but this idea, call it grace or whatever, is one I’ve been giving a lot of thought to of late.

In the case of B.’s father, if indeed he had to go, perhaps he chose that particular time because it was right.

Consider the following:

  1. He had been hospitalized at what became the main staging ground for medical aid after the attacks. Any later, and he wouldn’t have been able to receive proper care or attention in his final hours.
  2. Several members of the family live outside of New York City, mainly in California. Any later, and nobody would have been able to fly to New York in time for the funeral. Any earlier, and who knows if any of them could have been on a doomed flight.
  3. On the morning of the 11th, I was supposed to stay with a friend in Battery Park City, a few blocks from the World Trade Center. B. would have picked me up the following morning at around 9 a.m. Inexplicably, however, at the last minute we decided that the three of us should stay with B.’s sister in Brooklyn instead. To this day, I’m still not sure how this happened. An unseen hand?

Now, none of these dangers were necessarily likely, although all were in the realm of the possible. This gnawed at me for quite a while, but in the end it does seem to suggest (at least to me) that we were all somehow touched by a moment of grace.

A part of me hates to even think about it in these terms, because for every soul who can relate a similar story there are hundreds more for whom there was no such intervention. But it’s something that I can and need to latch onto. To heal. To overcome.

In the back of my mind, I know that I would have been out there, right there in the shadow with my camera to document everything. In retrospect, it’s easy to forget, but in that single hour between the impacts and the collapse, it seemed impossible that those mighty structures could be brought down so easily. B. knows it too, and I think that to this day still wonders what might have been.

In the funeral procession I was seated in the car meant for “friends of the family.” I wouldn’t have expected more; in fact, until the wake there were a great number of B.’s relatives I had never met. However, a “friend of the family” is not truly part of the circle; the opportunities to express grief are limited and insufficient. Being able to share one’s mourning with others is a catharsis not available to outsiders, and I was acutely aware that I was one.

The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York City was for me in many ways a similar experience. Many have compared it to a funeral, although there is little consensus as to the identity of the deceased (the city itself? the thousands slain? innocence? America?). I? I was certainly an outsider in this, as well. But I had grown to love the city and its people; I too was there during the tragedy, and lived through it. Just as I knew and loved B.’s father.

Where’s my catharsis?

Sorry. I’m just venting spleen and it’s late. Or early, depending on how you look at it.

I’m afraid, you know. Afraid to sleep, because I don’t want to wake up and find out that something terrible has happened. Afraid to stay awake, because I don’t want to be watching something terrible happening. Afraid that if something does, that there won’t be any grace for me this time.

The rational part of me says that nothing will happen. Nothing will. Right?



If you feel you can handle it, you absolutely must see 9|11, an extraordinarily powerful, feature-length documentary by brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet. Originally a project to film the progress of a rookie firefighter, the filmmakers ended up in the middle of everything on 11 September, catching much of the harrowing event (including what is probably the only extant footage of the first plane hitting tower one) on videotape. Not merely a study of the day itself, it tracks the firefighters from mid-June through the aftermath and cleanup on the WTC site, and features lots of commentary by those most directly involved. Nothing exploitative here, just profound human drama.

It’s out on DVD right now, with bonus interviews. Thanks to Tony for the recommendation.

Okay, I promise I’ll stop dwelling on this subject now. Thanks for listening and for the support over the last couple of days, everyone. And I promise I won’t delete my previous post.

P.S. First entry from the new laptop!


That cat game

A rousing game of EPYC (“that cat game,” says Mrs. Hacker, who reacts to the full name with distaste) at Dolce Vita yesterday afternoon. Klar, and Col. & Mrs. Hacker were in attendance; one would think that four people is not an ideal number for this particular game, and that would be right, but it was still a lot of fun. We’ll definitely revisit this one at a later date.

Tomorrow: last-minute ticket to a Mariners game, courtesy of Klar. The team may be dead in the water, but a day at the ballpark is always fun.

Song of the day: Blind Man’s Bluff, “Semi-Charmed Life”

What a crock

I am convinced, as of the moment, that there is nothing quite so divine as coming home after a tiring day of work and having the deletectable aroma of a home-cooked meal wash over one’s face at the door. This Dream is usually denied me; obviously, even when I do cook I have to get home first. Today, that all changed.

All hail the Rival Corporation and that most inspired of inventions: The Crock Pot.

It wasn’t about the Dream at first. In fact, the Device was originally procured entirely for ease of use. The promise of having a succulent stew or chili or a perfect pot roast with no more effort than a little prep and a press of a button was too much for me to resist. I still remember B.’s disapproving look as I pulled up to the checkout aisle at Target with that “pricy, electronic pot.” That was over a month ago.

For awhile, it looked like the Crock Pot would join the Williams-Sonoma Bread Machine (used exactly once in almost three years) in the category of Things We Don’t Talk About. If not for Mrs. Hacker and the recipes she snuck me at EPYC yesterday, that probably would have happened. As a result, this morning found me chopping up some veggies & meat veggies and throwing the raw ingredients of a pot roast dinner into that ceramic chrysalis, knowing it would be at least eight hours before I knew whether I had a butterfly or, well, a dead caterpillar.

As soon as I opened the door, though, I knew something had gone right. The Dream, you know.

Quick reality check: the food wasn’t anything special (though it did smell wonderful!), but it was good, solid and filling, with plenty left over for lunch tomorrow. More importantly, I know I’ve got ideas on how to make it better next time. That’s already one up on the bread machine.


Why god?

It occurs to me that in a year or two kids born in the nineties will be starting high school. This easily qualifies as the worst revelation of my day so far. Wasn’t it only yesterday that eighties-born high schoolers were the mind-boggling stat of the day?

Time marches on, and I think I’ve just been trampled.



Currently taking a break at the midpoint of a long meeting, in which the phrase “put a stake in the ground” was uttered no less than twelve times in an hour and a half.

That makes two tents pitched so far. Maybe we’ll have a whole campground by the time we’re finished.



Friday night was kakumei’s birthday, celebrated by the consumption of red meat and, later, a movie.

This is all well and good, but where’s the party? I’m not talking about going out on the town, getting drunk, going clubbing or whatever passes for adult birthday celebrations these days. What I’m talking about is the good old “birthday party” of childhood days passed, symbolized by Show-Biz Pizza and bowling alleys and arcades. Cake, preferably of the ice cream variety. Slumber parties. “Truth or Dare.” Watching naughty movies after lights-out. Party favors. Dirty jokes. Infantile, maybe, but isn’t the post-25 birthday ritual all about the denial of aging?

I hereby declare that bowling will be the official celebratory event at my birthday. There’ll be pink party hats and 80s music; if not at the alley, then at the slumber party afterwards! Big hair is optional. And definitely plenty of ice cream cake. Mint chocolate chip.

Consider this fair warning.



A brief catalog of facts learned in the 36-hour pursuit of puzzle-solving:

  1. John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” march has lyrics.
  2. Edo Nyland and his (simplified) VCV dictionary.
  3. H. G. Wells has a lunar crater named after him, whereas Orson Welles has one on Mars.
  4. “Tainted Love” was originally performed by Gloria Jones.
  5. Angular frequency is denoted by a lowercase omega.
  6. The Great Moon Hoax of 1835.

Generally bad idea

DVD commentary tracks are a wonderful thing. When they’re good, they make for an entertaining viewing experience separate from the film itself. The bad ones are an effective sleep aid, since there’s nothing quite as soporific as a director who essentially narrates his entire film in a disinterested monotone.

I have a lot of foreign movies in my collection. The obsessive collector in me gets great personal satisfaction in procuring items that are rare or difficult to find, and this certainly carries over into DVDs. While Hong Kong flicks have always had a healthy import market here, gems from Korea, India, Russia still exist in something of a titillating “off-limits” world, ripe for harvest.

Once upon a time, these movies didn’t have much in the way of special features. However, as the DVD market in these countries has caught up with the U.S., a lot of great extra material has crept into the discs. Deleted scenes, commentaries, documentaries — a lot of the same stuff you’ll find on your average American blockbuster hit. Since they’re usually not subtitled in English, however, I haven’t actually watched any of it. Until tonight.

A grand experiment: Korean DVD of a Korean movie, played with the director’s commentary track (in Korean), with Korean subtitles on-screen. I know some Korean, right? No problem. Only, I really know enough to get about 10% of what’s going on, and so does my viewing partner. It’s pride (or shame?), and a growing, morbid fascination with the situation prevents either party from revealing this fact to the other during the film.

A home video version of the Emperor’s New Clothes. A study in the absurd.


The last of it

In lieu of an entry today, some closure on an earlier sentiment.


Inspiration in another room

Have you noticed that when things are terrible at work, it’s easy to write at length about a variety of topics (especially the job itself)? On the other hand, if things are going well and you’re doing interesting things that require lots of brain activity, it’s hard to write about anything at all, even in your free time.

Welcome to situation 2. We’ll see how long this lasts.

In the meantime, random items:

Song of the day: Towa Tei with Bebel Gilberto, “Batucada”


1 a.m.

Spaghetti alla carbonara is so easy to make! “If I had only known,” indeed. Thank you CIA!

It helps if your local grocery store carries pancetta, of course.

The problem now is that I’m filled with delusions of kitchen grandeur. The last time that happened I realized that I was completely incapable of cooking 99% of the dishes in The New Professional Chef.

enigma, who at one in the morning (three his time, and fresh off the airplane) suggested and started the whole mad affair, suggests that this spag is “a gateway recipe.” He’s probably right.



Backs and backstage

Saturday night we saw the Annex Theatre’s Stage Door at the Empty Space in Fremont, which was fabulously entertaining. Definitely see this show if you have the chance; it runs until 13 October.

Watching the play put me into a Kate Hepburn mood, which may seem odd considering that I’ve never seen any of her films. The perfect solution would have been 1937’s Stage Door itself, and enigma’s desire to whip up a gourmet meal for me and lish would have seemed an ideal venue; unfortunately, a quick search revealed to my frustration that the only place to find the flick (not yet on DVD) for rental was Scarecrow Video. A fair trek, and one that’ll have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, the only discs I own that could possibly substitute were The Philadelphia Story (still unseen) and The Hudsucker Proxy (well-loved by me but not a Hepburn film; in it, though, Jennifer Jason Leigh does what from all accounts is a dead-on impression). The Coens won out so it was Hudsucker playing while enigma prepared dinner for three.

Food was a breaded dish reminiscent of chicken piccata, with asparagus and a sweet-hot concoction made with yams and chipotle peppers. So yummy!

Also got to see a few of lish’s private stash of her roles on VHS, including Mass Murder (unsettling! see your friends as serial killers! help!), a documentary, and a short student film by nenie. Payback is fair play, especially after the sharing of the Kung Fu movie and other unmentionable juvenilia.

My back’s been killing me for the last week. I don’t know if I slept the wrong way or RSI’d my left shoulder out of existence, but it’s been a constant annoyance. There are a couple muscles that feel “popped” out of place, one next to my neck and one on my shoulder blade.

The ideal solution to my problems, of course, would be a personalized back repair session by “Magic Hands,” but logistically that would be difficult right now.

My new brilliant idea is superball therapy. Simply put, this is where I attempt to position a jumbo, dead-dot-com superball (snapapplicances.com in da house) directly under my shoulder blade while I sleep.

Yea, darn it, that means this was first appropriate-looking thing I found on my nightstand.

I’m trying it out right now (typing from bed) and it actually feels pretty good. I can roll around a little on top of it and — voila! — instant massage.

Knowing the way I sleep this will probably last all of about a nanosecond after I drift out of consciousness, but it can’t hurt to try, right? Right?

Okay, tomorrow, I’ll look for a real chiropractor. Leave me to my delusions for tonight.


Band quote

“If Simullatio is going to open for Block That Kick, Margaret Houlihan, we’re gonna need a lot more than G-Man.’

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