Location Vienna, VA
School. UC, Los Angeles
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We are the sum total of our individual experiences. As a result, everything we think, interpret and say is tainted. While we may try to offer objective "facts", these facts are inevitably arranged and presented through the prism of our own experiences, and as such it is our own subjective perspective of the truth.
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When naming your kid...
Monday. 7.14.08 8:32 pm
Paul, David, Dennis, Steven, Kevin, Bill, Richard. These are nice All-American names. Indeed, these are the names of my classmates as I was growing up in LA in the 1960s at a Japanese missionary school where all the students had an ethnic make up of at least one-quarter Japanese. While illegal--and immoral--by today's standards, up until the 70s, restricting admission based on race was not an issue. In fact, we might have considered it affirmative and empowering. Back in the early 20th century. there was a strong resistance and hatred toward Japanese immigration. This sentiment reached its peak with Executive Order 9066 when all Japanese and their US born offsprings living on the West Coast were required to move inland or be incarcerated in detention camps. Faced with a society and government that showed little love for them, it was comforting for Japanese Americans to go to a school where they could study without fear of discrimination.
Still, by the 1950s and 60s, after WWII, these sentiments had subsided if only to a modest degree. Second generation Japanese Americans--replete with memories of government mandated incarceration--felt compelled to show their patriotism in any way they could. This, of course, is a major reason why most Japanese American baby boomers speak little to no Japanese. Is there a more obvious and plainly recognizable validation of one's alien affiliations than language? Japanese American's looked like the enemy--be it Japanese, Korean or even Vietnamese--so every other element of their existence leaned toward emphasizing their Americanism.
This even extended to names, which is why my friends had great All-American names. Some didn't even have Japanese middle names. Not that this is good or bad. I am simply setting up a story of my own name... which is, as I think about it into this third paragraph, rather ridiculous, because I have no intention of revealing my real name--even though many of you already know what it is. Please don't shout it out. I call myself Ray Kanzaki here, but the name is more classically European, a name that is very rare in the US. Indeed, it would be more closely associated with a name like Maximillian or Raymunde, than Bill or Paul.
Now some may say that Max or Ray is a fine name, and maybe even a cool one, but in the 1960s in a sea of classmates with names like John, David and Steven, a Maximillian or a Raymunde not only stood out, but would be the target of endless teasing. I used to lament my name. Interestingly, that is not even my first name. Unlike my classmates whose Japanese name, if they had one, was a middle name, my first name was Japanese: Taro 太郎, which is a typical name given to the first born son because it virtually means "first son". (Okay, okay, for you Japanophiles out there, I realize that Taro literally means the "rich/thick/large son", but in use it means the "first born son" because it is synonymous with the aspirations a parent places in a first born.) The bottom line is that the name is totally vanilla and lacks imagination.
Why did you give me that name? I asked my mother. And the answer was pretty straight forward. As an immigrant from Japan, my mother knew little of the ways of the US. In Japan, after you give birth to a baby, you have about one month to register its birth with the local public records office. So most parents look at there baby after its born, consider its gender and maybe its looks and "personality" to come up with a name that is then registered in what would be the Japanese version of a birth certificate. This is what was in my mother's mind as she was being wheelchaired out of LA's Japanese Hospital in Boyle Heights back in 1955. Imagine her shock and discombobulation when the nurse told her that she couldn't be released until they had a name for the birth certificate. In such a confused state, she was bound to make a fatal mistake.
And she did. She turned to my father for help.
"What'll we do? We need a first and middle name?"
"Okay, um, let's see..." My father was just as perplexed as mother. When I first heard this story, I imagined a nurse, arms crossed, drumming her fingers. "He's the first born son," he said as if no one had yet realized it. "Yeah, that's it. How about Taro. We'll just change the character for 郎 (ro) to 朗 (ro) to match his Godfather's name."
Mother was in no condition to protest, so they let the nurse know the first name they came up with, and she duly noted it as my first name.
And for that other name?
"I came up with the first one," father said relieved, "Why don't you come up with an English name."
"I don't know anything about American names," mother protested, and again she turned to father.
"Most of my friends are Japanese so I don't know any good names either. Hmmm..." He thought about it for a while, but soon turned to mother with that all-knowing grin of his. "Remember the priest who married us in Kyoto?"
"Yes! I don't think I've ever heard anyone besides him with that name. Wouldn't that be a great name for our son? Taro Raymunde. Kinda rolls off your tongue, no?" father said in a voice that betrayed his confidence as a senryu teacher.
Mother wouldn't dream of arguing the rhythmical value of these two names, so she nodded to the nurse and she inserted the name of a priest as my middle name. My mother was finally free to go home.
Now, I've heard of parents thinking about the perfect name for their child, some agonizing for weeks if not months. But according to mother, the above episode took less than ten minutes--A whole eight or nine minutes to come up with a name that would torment me throughout elementary school. Still, I'm not complaining. These days, the name serves me very well. In a sea of colleagues with names like John, Peter and Richard, the name Raymunde stands out. But if you prefer, just call me Ray.
Query: Got a story about your name?
Summer Rerun: The Yakuza and the Wimp
Sunday. 7.13.08 5:09 am
In the previous post, I had a little fun at the expense of an innocent passerby--I do not assign any ulterior motive to his actions. Well, in the interest of fairness and openness, I should reveal that I too have had my own embarrassing moments when I did not realize with whom I was speaking.
A few years ago, I wrote about bathing at onsen, Japanese hot springs, and SammyStorm left a comment about men in tatoos, which led to the following, a slightly edited excerpt of a post from April 2004.
SammyStorm: The first time I went to a sento, I saw a guy with tattoos all over his body, and you know what that means. But for some reason I wasn't really embarassed about being naked, but as you said, I couldn't get used to the really HOT water.
O-man: Yeah, the water can be REALLY hot. But body tattoo, yeah, that's scary. Tattoos equal yakuza... But I was hoping for someone to make this exact comment... the perfect segue.
Around 1992, when I was working at a thinktank in Tokyo, our section went to an onsen (hot spring) for our annual summer retreat. I love Japanese companies. They really know how to relieve stress. Here, in the States, a retreat by a company usually involves seminars on how to make the company better. Well, at this retreat, all we did was drink, eat and drink more to get drunk. I'd like to say we debauched, but we were a rather saintly group...
On our way home, our director told us there was one more onsen he wanted to go to. It was further in the mountains and we had to backtrack a bit, but he insisted it was a great place... and who were we to go against our boss? So we went to this little hole-in-the-wall of an onsen. It wasn't dirty, but it was old and--for lack of a better word--rustic.
Well, as our boss had promised, it was a nice onsen. Hot, intimate and comfy. Back then, I wore glasses instead of contacts and in the onsen, they would fog up, so I usually left my glasses in my clothing basket and entered the bathing area with only a strategically positioned tenugui--the long cotton Japanese hand towel--and a significantly diminished visual acuity.
So I'm chatting with a colleague in the small bathing area when I smell cigarette smoke. Now I'm no prude, and at the time I too smoked as well. But there is a time and place for everything, so I was rather pissed that someone would be ruining my enjoyment of the onsen with tobacco. I squinted my eyes and look around and saw a skinny guy with a dark towel over his shoulder sitting at the edge of the bathing pool taking long deliberate drags on his cigarettes.
I decided that I should tell him nicely but firmly that there's a sign that says "No Smoking" and that he's screwing it up for everybody else.
So I get up, walk over and sit myself right next to him, dangling my feet in the hot water like him. I turn to him as nonchalantly as possible and was about to speak my mind when I noticed that it wasn't a towel hanging over his shoulder. In fact, it wasn't any kind of cloth at all. It was a tattoo. *Gulp*
おい、何だ "Yeah? Whaddya want?" he asked in an annoyed tone.
いい湯ですね "Nice bath, isn't it," I managed in a voice about an octive higher than usual.
I got up, walked back to my friend, and enjoyed the rest of my bath, relieved in the thought that I would go home with nothing injured but my pride.
Male or female
Friday. 7.11.08 6:05 am
I just read a post by California Gal about her son. She posted a photo of her son and asked if he looked like a girl. He's a cute looking kid but still looks like a boy to me. But then, maybe non-Asians can't readily see the gender difference in Asians? They need other cues like clothing, cosmetics, or voice. This reminded me of an embarrassed look I received a few months back.
It was February in Virginia. As usual, I was running late to school. I had just taken a shower, thrown on my clothes and gather my stuff for the day. The day was sunny and bright, but cuttingly cold with a brisk breeze, so I threw on my knee-length parka, wrapped a wool muffler around my neck and put on my sunglasses. I didn't have time to dry my shoulder length hair so instead of putting it in a pony tail and risk letting it get all smelly, I did as I usually do: I let it air dry.
The walk to the Metro is a short seven minutes, and with the wind blowing, my hair was drying rather nicely despite the cold. As I was about to enter the Metro station, a rather big burly black dude abruptly approached me, as if to ask me something.
When I stopped, he asked, "Hey, babe, you gotta light?"
Okay, I'm not that skinny, but I guess a long puffy parka can seem to hide a girlish figure. My sunglasses perhaps would disguise the fact that I was not wearing make-up. Still... Babe? *sigh* So with my long hair flowing in the breeze, I responded:
His eyes grew large, and all he could do was sputter, "uh, oh, uh, okay," and he walked away, face looking rather flushed. Dude, I thought, I swear I didn't mean to embarrass you.
Tuesday. 7.8.08 5:43 am
A couple of comments asked about the corneal scar I mentioned in a previous post. Well, it isn't as dramatic as Onigiri might imagine--no, I did not get stabbed in the eye like your cousin. Whew! Now that would be a story to tell. My story is much more mundane, but the effects of this "malady" are much more amusing... well as amusing as a handicap can be.
My memory is not perfect, as my regular readers know, but there are photos of me when I was around 5 years old with my right eye patched up with gauze. I vaguely remembered--and I later verified this with my mother--that the eye was suffering from an infection, and I had to wash out my eye two or three times a day. Mom would pour a solution into an eye cup, after which I would face down to place my eye socket onto it and then while holding the cup tightly to my face look upward blinking two or three times as the solution bathed my eye. I hated this ritual, which is probably why I remembered it.
One day in the summer of 1973--those glorious days of high school when I was basking in my new found independence and stupidity--I was returning from the beach with my girlfriend, Aileen, when suddenly I realized that I was seeing double. I would see two sets of railroad tracks but would only feel one set as I drove over them. For three days, my vision was strangely blurred. I hoped that it would just pass, but when it didn't I finally screwed up the courage to see an opthamologist. After a battery of tests, they determined that my vision problem was based on a small scar on my eye. He showed me a blown up photo and pointed out a small imperfection. He said it was smaller than a grain of sand, but that was enough to refract light in a way that would blur my vision. He asked me if I had injured my eye, but when I told him I didn't, he told me that it was probably the result of an infection when I was younger. When I got home, I recalled the eye patch and the eye baths when I was kid. I pulled out old photos and showed them to mother, which is when she confirmed the infection for me.
So this is the cause, I thought. But the sad thing of this predicament was that the scar was not curable. Perhaps, if laser technology was as it is today, then I may have been able to do something about it. But back then, it was what it was, and you learn to live with scars and injuries. Besides, after a week or so, my vision seemed to revert to normal. I thought it had healed itself, as any scar would heal, and I continued on with my merry summer of '73.
But life, as I was to learn, was neither so simple nor forgiving./p>
A few years later, I began to notice that I had trouble gauging depth. I had knocked over more than a couple of beers, but I attributed this clumsiness to being drunk. I mean, what else would I attribute it to? Then one day I went to Westwood to see a movie with two of my buddies, Cary and Sam. We were a little early and so we were strolling around the shops and small malls. At one point, we were going to leaving a shopping area that was on the second level. I strode forward and found myself tumbling down a short flight of brick steps. My friends rushed to my side.
"Ray, you okay?" They asked as they helped me get up. "What happened?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I fell down these steps? I don't get it. I could have sworn it was a ramp."
"Woah, what?" Cary asked.
"Shit, you know these stairs? If you stand right in the middle, the lines kinda blend together and they don't look like steps anymore."
As Cary and Sam came up to see for themselves, I explained to them that from this particular point of view, the vertical space between the bricks looked like one continuous line making the steps look flat, and thereby appearing like a ramp. But when my buddies stood next to me, they laughed.
"No, seriously. Stand in the middle. Doesn't it look like a ramp?" I said flustered. How could they not see it?
"Ray, the only way this is going to look like a ramp is if it was a 2-D picture."
A wave of events suddenly washed over me, blending together in a very intertextual manner--irreparable scar on cornea, the belief that the scars had healed, knocking over glasses of beer and now this. Was I perceiving the world in two dimension? Was I looking with only one eye? Leave it to my friends to help me put things in perspective, even if it was only a two dimensional one.
With this new insight, I began to figure things out. I fell down the steps at dusk when there are no real shadows. I had knocked over beers only at bars where the light was dim. Did that mean, perhaps, that during the day I would consider other factors unconsciously to calculate distance? The shadow of the can of beer is three inches, and the can itself is five inches, A² + B² = C². Ah, Pythagoras, who knew! I also began to think that some of my other senses were heightened. I have always been able to hear things that others could not--In a car with the stereo up high, I always heard a siren well before other passengers. My olfactory senses seemed pretty sharp even though I was a smoker. I mean, I could smell rain before it actually did--I learned later that it wasn't really rain, but bacterial spores that are emitted after a long dry spell--not an unusual situation in LA--when the humidity rises right before it rains. Or something like that. But the point being, I could smell things others seemed to miss.
More importantly, I realized that my brain was playing tricks on me. I went to the optometrist to get new glasses soon after. They took photos of my eyes and they asked me if I knew that I had a scar on my cornea.
"Do you not have trouble seeing? It's the size of a poppy seed."
Now what the heck would an optometrist know about poppy seeds? I thought for a moment but was soon overcome by the realization that the scar had grown from a grain of sand to a poppy seed. Oh crap. I am seeing the world in two dimension. But what intrigued me most is that I had not even realized it. My brain would take into account any and all sensory information, then adjust my 2-D world into a 3-D one. The only time it would fail me, I deduced through my own--albeit unscientific--observations, was when I didn't have enough information, like when there were no shadows to measure. Or when I had headphones on and could not hear other sounds.
Or when I watched 3-D movies?
An Aside..Our school holds an orientation for incoming freshmen every year, and yesterday I participated in the Major Fair, an event where new students have the opportunity to talk to faculty about majors they are interested in pursuing. I was there with a Chinese colleague, a late 20-something, single, and attractive--I am particularly vulnerable to Chinese and Vietnamese women. We had our share of students interested in studying Japanese or Chinese, but as you can imagine, the numbers do not come close to those interested in the "popular" fields such as, say, psychology or political science. Go figure.
Anyway, when there were no students asking us questions, we had an opportunity to chat and get to know each other better--just because we're in the same department, doesn't mean we hang out. She is a native of Taiwan and claims her English is not very good, although I would beg to differ. Her English is quite good. But she told me that it can be quite awkward at times when she is the only one in an English speaking setting that doesn't get the joke. Man, can I relate with that.
Back to the story
Back in 1973, I went to see Andy Warhol's Frankenstein in 3D with Aileen, Diddly and his girlfriend. It was relatively amusing to watch a tree pass by right in front of your face, and body parts jump off the screen. Well, amusing enough for a 17 year-old. But 16 years later, I went to Disneyland in LA and went on the ride, Michael Jackson's Captain Eo. This too was in 3D. I didn't really notice much in terms of the 3D effects, but the ride jostled me up and down, left and right, and the lack of 3D didn't seem to matter. It was fun anyway. But another ten years later, and it became all to obvious that I was being left out.
"Did something happen?"
Seriously, do you know how sad that is? I was like my Chinese colleague, the only person in the room who did not get the joke. Perhaps I had been fooling myself all along. I mean, I had come to terms with my lack of depth perception, but the adjustments in the brain more than made up for the visual acuity I needed to function in everyday life. I felt that I was able to enjoy anything and everything life had to offer. I was wrong. But, hey!--and maybe I'm just trying to rationalize my situation--3D is not the end all of life. It just seemed like it would be a little more fun.
Unfortunately, it turned out that my vision affected more than my enjoyment of 3D effects. So I had an operation.
Back in 1993, as I was working on my dissertation, I would get severe headaches. My eyes would tire easily and I came to realize that I was actually reading texts with only my left eye. Indeed, following the cursor on a computer while editing large portions of texts with only one eye was neither an easy nor a comfortable task. Doctors told me the only way to fix the problem was to get a cornea transplant. I did not like the idea of going under the knife, but the headaches were becoming intolerable so I was willing to confront the issue with an open mind. But of course, nothing is easy. There was a waiting list, and for me a rather long one at that. Since I had one functioning eye, I would perpetually be pushed back--those who could not see through either cornea due to injury, age or illness were always bumped up to the front of the line. I was told the wait would be about three years.
I initially went through a battery of tests: they gave me a physical exam as well as visual tests to determine the health of my eye. I have to admit I found the experience very interesting. Since the alphabet is not the standard writing form in Japan, the eye chart is a bit different as you might imagine. There are a variety of charts in Japan, some using the Japanese syllabary, others using a combination of numbers and alphabet. But I was particularly stumped by the broken circle chart. You tell the tester where the break is: left, right, top, bottom left, top right, etc. When vision is blurred, it is virtually impossible to tell where the break in the circle is.
Another thing about the Japanese medical system is the waiting. At a local clinic in Japan, there is no such thing as an appointment. You go in, hand your health insurance card to the receptionist and wait... If you're lucky, you'll get seen within half an hour. If not, then you wait... and wait... and wait. Fortunately, at a major university hospital, they actually have appointments. I was skeptical on my first visit to meet the doctor who would perform the surgery, but after handing my insurance card to the receptionist, they called my name in about five minutes. そうこなくちゃ！ Now this is what I'm talkin' about, I thought. They instructed me to go to the next room where... there were more people waiting. Yikes! I sat myself down, glad I had brought a manga just in case. In about 40 minutes--I was almost finished with the manga--they called my name. Whew! I was led into a dim hallway that had cushioned benches lining one side and doorways to small examination rooms lining the other. And yes, there were more patients sitting on the benches waiting! Aargh! I finally figured out the strategy. By moving you from room to room, they create the illusion of movement, of getting closer to your appointment. I finished the manga and decided that next time I should bring a novel. I closed my eyes to rest, maybe even to doze off. Kanzaki-san, Please step in to see Dr. Murakami. It had taken almost an hour and a half to see the doctor. I had many subsequent visits to this hospital, but I learned that this first visit was relatively quick. I can still recall having a 1:30 appointment and after exams and waiting--again--for prescriptions dispensed by the doctor, I'd be lucky to leave by 4 o'clock. The shortest wait was always at the cashiers window. That will be 1500 yen please. I wonder why...
After the preliminary exams checking my fitness for the procedure, I was set to have surgery. You can understand how nervous I was. Today, Lasik eye surgery is ubiquitous and seemingly mundane, but back in 1993 I found nothing mundane about a laser that would cut a thin layer off the surface of my cornea. Japan is notorious for babying its patients. In the US, women who give birth to a child without any complications are regularly sent home on the very same day, but in Japan, a one week stay is not unusual. So I was shocked to learn that mine was an outpatient procedure--Check in, then check out after the operation if there were no complications. I guess free surgery meant free surgery.
I was led into the operation room, but it looked more like an empty conference room. It was clean but did not comfort me with the sense of sterility or competence that an actual operating room would convey. There was no heart monitor. No IV stands ready for action. None of the trappings of ER or Chicago Hope or even Dr. Kildaire. Only an operating table, a tray with utensils, three or four computer screens and a humongous laser machine with overhead lighting. Besides the doctor and a nurse, there were three suits monitoring the computers--were they government people monitoring the operation? Representatives of the laser machine company, to make sure the laser operated properly? When I think about it now, I should have asked more aggressively who everyone in the room was. Instead, I just lied down on the table as instructed, like any good guinea pig would. While the nurse put a patch over my left eye, the doctor forced open the eyelids of my right eye to place a ring directly onto it to prevent my eyelids from closing should I get the urge to blink during surgery. He then put some eye drops in my eye to desensitize it. Local anesthesia? I asked. Yes, it should be more than enough.
How exciting, I moaned beneath my breath.
A few moments later, I felt a sting in my eye. Did you feel that? The doctor asked. Hell, yeah! I wanted to growl back, but I just nodded. Apparently, he poked the side of my eye with a probe to see if the anesthesia had kicked in. He added some more drops in my eye and five minutes later I felt the same sting again. Before he could ask I told him firmly, Yes, I can still feel it.
"Do you drink lot of sake?"The doctor asked.
"Uh, yeah. Why?"
"Well, often, heavy drinkers need a larger dose."
Great, I thought. Who knew I had developed a resistance to anesthesia.
The surgery had begun. Unbeknownst to me, the doctor had prodded my eye again, but since I didn't react, he figured I was fully anesthetized. Personally, I wish he had asked.
For what seemed like about fifteen minutes, I saw a beam of light slowly scan my eye left to right, then right to left as the doctor peeled off layers a fraction of a micron thick from my cornea. And all the while, it smelled like my hair was burning. I was an awful odor.
Fortunately, there was no pain. The laser and red light went off, and the doctor taped some gauze over the eye. I then followed him to his office where he gave me instructions to come back the next morning and a prescription for pain killers. I told him that they eye didn't hurt at all. He smiled and told me get the pain killers anyway. I soon found out why.
As I waited for my prescription in the cavernous main lobby of the hospital, my eyes began to sting. I finally got the medicine, and decided to take a dose immediately. It didn't take away the pain immediately, but I was confident that it would eventually take effect on the way home. However, at the Ochanomizu station, the eye began to hurt something awful. Tears flowed down my cheek and the eye patch was soon soaked. In pain, I clenched my right eye shut as I tried to navigate my way through the rush hour throng from the platform to the train with my one good eye. I barely was able to change trains at Shinjuku to get onto the Keio line home. By the time I got to Nagayama station, about an hour and fifteen minutes after leaving the hospital, I was in so much pain I had to grip the handrail with all my might as I descended the staircase leading out of the station, pausing every few steps to muster my strength and will myself further. I thought I was going to die.
When I got home, my then-wife asked rather cheerfully how it was. どうだった? I didn't even answer her. I just walked passed her to the bedroom, pulled out the futon and lied down exhausted. I remember having asked her if she would accompany me to the hospital, especially since it was an outpatient procedure. Indeed, the doctor and nurse asked me why I had come alone. I couldn't remember why she didn't, but it didn't matter at that point. All I wanted to do was go to sleep.
The next morning, the pain was still there, but it had subsided considerably. My then-wife said she'd go with me to the appointment, but I told her not to bother at this point. もう、今さらついて来なくていいよ。 She insisted and came anyway, although I basically ignored her. (Yes, I could be a jerk, I guess.) I had changed the gauze patch two or three times at home, but because of the pain, my eyelids remained tightly closed. But, as I rode the orange Chuo line to the hospital, I noticed that the pain was almost bearable, and somewhere between Yotsuya and Suidoubashi, I decided to see what I could see. As I looked out the window of the train, I gently peeled up the gauze and slowly opened my eye.
I was shocked.
Although it was an overcast day, the autumn leaves never looked so bright, so yellow and red. Even the gray condominiums and office buildings in the background shone oddly brighter. Even stranger, they seemed deformed.The edges framing the structures seemed to stand out in relief. Parts of some buildings seemed to bulge toward me. It was the effect of the new curvature of my cornea, but I concluded at the time that it was my first view of Tokyo in 3D. And that was as good a reason as any. It just all seemed so beautiful.
Ultimately, I had to apply steroids daily to prevent the "wound" from trying to heal itself--or something like that. And for three years, I was fine. Indeed, I felt smarter. Is it me, or is my dissertation coming along more smoothly? I began to wonder if reading text with both eyes--i.e. gathering information through two portals each connected to its opposite cerebral hemisphere--increases cognitive ability? Does comprehension improve when data is retrieved directly through my right eye which is connected to the left, more analytical side of the brain? Well, it sure seemed like it. By 1996, I had finished my dissertation, received my Ph.D., landed a gig on my first go-round on the job market, and started teaching here in Washington DC in the Fall semester of the same year. Sadly, I had trouble getting a prescription from local doctors for the medication I needed. All the documentation I had of the surgery was in Japanese and doctors here--perhaps afraid of being sued--were reluctant to prescribe pharmeceuticals for procedures that they themselves did not perform, or that was based on documentation they could not read for themselves.
4th of July
Friday. 7.4.08 12:59 am
Today is the 232nd year of our nation, the 232nd year since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I kinda pre-celebrated by watching the HBO special John Adams. I don't get HBO but it went to DVD a couple of weeks ago and I devoured all seven hour long episodes in a few days. I thought it was very good, although I have to admit to being a bit of a fan of historical movies, and I mean historical. I'm not much for new history, like 9/11. That isn't history to me; it's recent news.
In any event, I found John Adams quite entertaining and I was rather surprised to see Paul Giamatti actually pull it off. I have to admit I was skeptical. My image of Giamatti is closer to his character in American Splendor and Sideways. Although perhaps I shouldn't have sold him so short after his performance in Cinderella Man, although it was a supporting role. So if you are into US history and you enjoy watching the History Channel, then perhaps you will like this one too.
I also want to go to the National Mall today to watch the Capital Fourth, which includes a free concert and a fireworks display. I've gone three times before, but everytime--and I mean everytime--there was a thunderstorm and we end up not watching the entire event. Indeed, two years ago, the thunderstorm was so bad, it was rumored that the concert was cancelled. So we went home, I turned on the TV and guess what? The concert was on PBS. *sigh* I think God doesn't want us to watch it.
Tomorrows forecast is also calling for thunderstorms according to Weather.com; 50% chance of precipitation. But I think we will try to brave it anyway. I know it's old school, but I wanna watch Huey Lewis and the News. And I wanna beat the odds one of these days, although I doubt I'll be successful. Maybe we should wear clothes that dries off easily, which would mean no jeans, but I don't think I have any pants except for blue jeans. It's like a part of my everyday uniform. I even teach in jeans. Yes, I'm a very dress-down teacher.
Then again, if it looks like it will be too much to bear, I bought some safe and sane fireworks to light up in front of our house. It's nothing compared to the fireworks on the Mall, but it'll do if I don't wanna get drenched.
Everyone enjoy a safe and fun 4th of July.
The death of seven dirty words
Tuesday. 6.24.08 5:38 pm
Back in the '70s, my friends and I used to enjoy the comedy of George Carlin, who died of heart failure on Sunday, June 22. He was irreverent and represented a lot of what we thought back then.
He started out as a coat and tie comedian in the '60s, appearing on such fair as The Ed Sullivan Show. He was not run-of-the-mill but he didn't really stand out either. One of the characters he would play in his routine was the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.
"Tonight's forecast: Dark. Continued dark tonight, turning to partly light in the morning."
Fair warning: The content in the links and text below may contain offensive language... which is what made it all the more fun back in the '70s.
The weatherman was mildly amusing, and typified most of his early routines. But in the '70s, Carlin shed his coat and tie and seemed to take on the persona of the Hippy Dippy Weatherman --long hair and beard--except the new weatherman was less wasted, was more socially opinionated and conveyed a political consciousness that stood up to the establishment, left or right. As a result, many of his routines were considered too radical, and certainly too hardcore for main stream media. He critiqued society, especially American society for it obsessions, such as its fear of germs: "In prison, before they give you a lethal injection, they swab your arm with alcohol!" And he also pointed out that eating unhealthily leads to overweight people: "Huge piles of redundant protoplasm." He was over the top and his humor was very crude, usually insulting large sectors of society while he was at it.
But above all, Carlin was a word-meister, and he was most amusing when he talked about language and how some of it is too politically correct or simply didn't make sense, like legally drunk: "Well if its legal, what's the fuckin' problem? Leave my friend alone, officer. He's legally drunk!" But he was most famous for the Seven dirty words you can't say on TV: Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits. He later added three more: fart, turd and twat. He talked about the hypocrisy of these TV standards. According to Carlin: Even kids know what a "fart" is--taking a shit without the mess--but you couldn't use the word on TV. But you could use the word "prick" because it was only a part-time dirty word; you could prick your finger, just don't finger your prick.
His routines were not for the fainthearted or holier-than-thou crowd, but his humor, in many cases, was simply an expression of a lot of things we had thought of before with new twists, which is what made it so funny. Sadly, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in DC announced on June 18, four days before he died, that they would award Carlin the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in November. I'm sorry that this award will be awarded posthumously.
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