Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Evolution of an Idea

I was surfing through the movie listings on my Tivo (what, like you have something better to do on a Saturday night?) and I came across listings for all five "Death Wish" movies. I would like to share their synopses here, for their instructional value in what they say about the creative process:

Death Wish: "A New York architect turns vigilante hit man after thugs attack his wife and daughter."

Death Wish II: The architect from New York turns vigilante in Los Angeles after more brutality too close to home.

Death Wish 3: The vigilante architect shops by mail for what he needs to waste punks in the streets of New York.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown: The vigilante architect targets Los Angeles drug rings after the death of his girlfriend's daughter.

Death Wish V: The Face of Death: The New York vigilante goes back to work after a mobster's thugs kill his girlfriend.

Now, laying aside the filmmakers' troubling inability to commit to one numbering system, and the fact that in real life a vigilante architect would be significantly more likely to be targeting members of the city planning department than mobsters, I think they may be on to something here. Frankly, I feel it's a shame that they didn't get a chance to extend their vision to Death Wish 12 and/or XII: The Death of Death Wish, in which the vigilante architect turns even more vigilante to avenge his own murder at the hands of a ruthless graffiti cartel, and also the use of glass bricks in his latest building when he clearly specified cinderblock.

Truly, a loss to the world of cinema.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Return to Tempura Island

I realize I allowed my tempura-based obligations to lapse last week; it happened to be a week when life decided to punch me in the face a couple of times, and I thought it might have affected my taste buds. Also, I didn't feel like it.

Hotaru Japanese Restaurant
33 E 3rd Ave
San Mateo

I keep thinking I've covered all of the restaurants on a particular block, and then I will drive by and notice one or two more that I missed. So it is with the first block of Third Street, and this place, plus at least one more. I'm not sure how I missed it-- it's not particularly inconspicuous. A friendly, smallish restaurant, with a good crowd for a Wednesday by the time I was done eating.

Food: The good news: reasonable prices (16.95 for the tempura/sashimi combo), the option of choosing your fish for the sashimi (I went with the salmon), large servings. The bad news: average, overbattered tempura, poor vegetable selection (two pieces each of green pepper and broccoli), severe sogginess when it got cold. Not appallingly bad, and the sashimi was quite good, but the sort of tempura that makes you wonder why some restaurants bother to serve the dish at all.

Tempura Grade: 3/10
Overall Grade: 4/10

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good Dog, Else

Else (pictured, front, with Caddie) 1995-2008

Not the best picture, perhaps, taken in action on Christmas morning with the traditional gift of a cow femur, cut in half, but definitely Else at her happiest. In fact, I don't think any animal has ever been as happy as Else with a bone. When she had that, it was like nothing else existed in the world.

She was not, perhaps, a good dog, in the sense of being very obedient or calm or quiet, but she was a Good Dog, and she will be missed.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Glengarry Glen Smurf

[Dave Moss explodes at Ricky Roma and shouts]
Dave Moss: You're smurfed, Rick. Are you smurfing nuts? You're hot, so you think you're the ruler of this place.
Shelley Levene: Now wait a minute, Dave.
Dave Moss: Shut up!
Shelley Levene: Okay...
Dave Moss: You want to decide who should be dealt with how, is that it? I come in the smurfing office today, I get humiliated by some smurf-off cop. I get accused of... I get the smurf thrown in my face by you, you genuine smurf, because you're top name on the board?
Ricky Roma: Is that what I did, Dave? I humiliated you? Oh my Smurf, I'm sorry.
Dave Moss: Sitting on top of the world. Sitting on top of the world, everything's smurfin' peach fuzz.
Ricky Roma: And I don't get a moment to spare for some bust-out humanitarian down on his luck lately?
Dave Moss: Oh, smurf...
Ricky Roma: [cutting him off] Smurf you, Dave. You know you got a big mouth. You make a close, this whole place stinks with your smurfs for a week - how much you just ingested. Oh, what a big man you are! "Hey, let me buy you a pack of gum. I'll show you how to chew it." Whoof! You're pal closes, and all that comes out of your mouth is bile. Ooh, how smurfed-up you are!
Dave Moss: Who's my pal, Ricky? Hmm? What are you? And what are you, Ricky? Huh? Bishop Sheen? What the smurf are you, Mr. Slick? Who - what the smurf are you, "Friend to the working man"? Big deal! SMURF YOU! You got the memory of a smurfin' fly! I never liked you, anyway.
Ricky Roma: What is this, your farewell speech?
Dave Moss: I'm going home.
Ricky Roma: Your farewell to the troops?
Dave Moss: I'm not going home. I'm going to Wisconsin.
Ricky Roma: Have a good trip.
Dave Moss: Aw, smurf you! Smurf the lot of you! Smurf you all!
Ricky Roma: [to Shelley] You were saying?
Shelley Levene: Huh?

The preceding was brought to you by The League For Getting Some Smurfing Decency Around Here (TLFGSSDAH)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New Poll: What Do You Hate About Your Hair?

I have what is known as "wavy" hair. You know those TV ads where the women have hair flows in long shiny waves that they flip around in bright sunshiney places full of flowers? That's not what my hair is like. In this context, for "wavy," read "does whatever it damn well pleases, even if it violates one or more laws of physics." So I end up either straightening it (and having it revert to "wavy" at some point during the day) or trying, with products and scrunching, to make it curly (which I have not yet quite mastered, and generally end up looking like I slept under a bench in a windstorm). But, contrary to all evidence, this is not about me. I know that everybody has something they hate about their hair, and because I care so much, I want to know: what bugs you?

(Okay, I guess I need to be at work to put up a poll. Look for it here tomorrow.)

What Have I Become?

Apparently, the kind of person who makes an LOLcat homage to an XKCD comic:

see more crazy cat pics

The nice men with the van should be here any minute.

(Note: the text looks fine when I preview it; I have no idea why it doesn't work on the blog.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


So, we had this grand plan for our Sunday in the city, involving getting up early and taking the ferry to Alcatraz (I've never been, despite having lived in the Bay Area most of my life) before the lines got long, then coming back in time to have our traditional tea and get Megan back for her yoga lesson.

Well, we made it for tea.

In my defense, I should point out that my modest excesses of Saturday night did not have any noticeable effect on me in the morning, beyond a mild headache (a fact I attribute to the vast amounts of water I drank before going to bed). But even being in perfectly good shape, it is hard to get motivated to leap out of bed first thing in the morning after a late night to go and do something you could do any weekend you happened to get around to it, especially when you've got a nice comfy bed to stay in.

Short version: I still have never been to Alcatraz.

Instead, after the rather standard chafing-dish buffet in the hotel dining room (uninspiring, but included), we made our way out for a day of casual shopping downtown. First stop was back to Macy's, because I needed socks and where I happened to also acquire a pair of shoes. I have no idea how these things happen to me.

I'll spare you the complete blow-by-blow account, except to say that we made an entirely predictable stop at Anthropologie, increasing my ratio of pretty dresses:events to wear dresses to, to about 15:1. But you never know; at any moment my life might transform into a whirl of cocktail parties and gala openings and what-have-you, and if that happens I want to be prepared.

We did make it for tea, at the restaurant at the top of Neiman Marcus, where we were seated next to a group of ladies there for a baby shower. Which was fine, except for the part where one of them, the honoree, I think, got into a detailed description of the urinary habits of her small child, which she clearly found absolutely fascinating.

Remember, folks, children make you insane.

And that, my friends, pretty much wraps up our weekend in the city. Sure, there were things I left out, like me trolling through DSW for shoes for Megan, or the large and inexplicable group of people of all genders dressed in bridal gowns roaming the streets on Saturday, but I think you get the idea.

Next time: Yosemite?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Saturday, Part Two: High Times

It was still early in the afternoon when we were done with Pier 39, and since we were being tourists it seemed like an appropriately touristy thing to do to go climb Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. We saw the parrots fly by, but didn't spot them in the trees along the stairs, though we did see a red-tailed hawk circling with an eye to a parrot lunch.

Coit Tower: Iconic idiosyncrasy of the San Francisco skyline, affording views across the city, the bay and beyond. My comment, upon arriving: "Traffic is pretty light on the bridge today."

We didn't pay the admission and go into the tower, because we didn't feel like it, so after one circuit around the base we went back down by the other stairs and made our way back towards Downtown. On the way, we passed through Chinatown, which has to be one of the few neighborhoods in the city that has totally resisted the encroachment of the new "modern" businesses. There are no ironic hipster bars, no tiny minimalist galleries, no restaurants specializing in "fusion" of any sort. Just groups of old men playing Mah Jong, storefront businesses offering in explicable services, a guy crossing the street with a crate of chickens (dead and plucked) (the chickens, not the guy), and the exact same tourist-trap shops selling the exact same cheap t-shirts, change purses and bamboo back-scratchers as they had when I came here on grade-school field trips.

On our way back we stopped at Macy's, to get Megan some going-out-in-the-evening clothes (she had only packed for tourism) and to take a look at their flower show display. They must spend a lot of time sweeping up petals. Then it was back to the hotel and some rest for our much-abused feet (as much as I love the comfort features of my new shoes, even they can only do so much), at least until it became clear that the walls of our room were too thin to stand up to the conversation of the people next door, and we had to call down and get ourselves moved. Then, back to the resting.

For dinner we settled on Anzu, in the Hotel Nikko, because it got a good write-up in my Zagat's for its sushi and because it was only about a block away. That part was important. So yes, I had Japanese for dinner, and no, I did not have tempura. It wasn't on the menu, for one thing, and I for one was just fine with that. Instead, we both went for the raw option; we each chose a roll, and I had the sushi assortment, while Megan went for the sashimi. Her sushi roll had spicy tuna in it and a thin slice of jalapeno on top, to which she added as much wasabi to each piece as I had in my entire dish of soy sauce. She offered me a piece, but I declined, in the interest of being able to taste the rest of my dinner. My sushi was delicious, with wonderfully fresh and clearly high-quality fish, though the chef did have an unfortunate affection for putting cucumber in things. I don't like cucumber. I don't like it so much that I spent about a third of the time at dinner eating and the rest poking cucumber out of pieces of sushi with my chopsticks. Megan made fun of me, calling me Daisy "Hates Cucumber" James, but as I pointed out, Megan "Hot Enough For Ya?" Sampson really shouldn't be talking.

The whole point of having a weekend in the city being to have, you know, a weekend in the city, our evening did not end with dinner. On Megan's recommendation we made our way to the bar at the top of the Hilton, where the view is as gorgeous as the drinks are overpriced, though at least we were lucky to get in early enough not to have to pay the cover charge. I had gotten a head start on the the drinking at dinner and with no driving to do I saw no reason not to press my advantage. I was not, I should point out, what anyone would consider wasted. Tipsy, I would say, or perhaps somewhat inebriated, but even after we abandoned the Hilton and stopped for one more at the crowded and yuppified Redwood Room in our hotel, I was entirely lucid, if perhaps a little happier than normal. And I will admit that Megan, who was taking it a little easier, declared me to be "cute," which is perhaps not the usual adjective used to describe my personality. But we both agreed that it was a much better idea to do this sort of thing when you are not particularly young and stupid (or at least young). For one thing, you can afford it.

Next: Hmm, weekend day in San Francisco, what will I do? Why, I just can't imagine. . .

Daisy and Megan in the Big City

Saturday: Part One

Our Monterey Adventure having gone so well, Megan and I decided that our next weekend trip would be to somewhere more urban. So on Saturday morning we travelled by train from Berkeley to the fine city of San Francisco for a weekend of touristy fun. I had come across a deal at the Clift Hotel, which happens to be where my mom used to stay when her family came down to the city. Unfortunately, aside from the still-impressive Redwood Room (the bar paneled entirely with the wood from one redwood tree), I don't think it would be recognizable as the place where she and my uncle Bruce dropped hats down the stairwell. But it was a nice place to stay, in a modernist-hipster, lots of funny chairs sort of way, even if they did charge for internet (hence the blogging delay).

It was only around eleven in the morning when we got there, but we were able to get into our room (somewhat delayed by the pair of girls ahead of us in line at the front desk who clearly didn't think eleven in the morning was too early to start having fun of the chemical sort). But we made it through eventually, dropped our bags off in the room and headed out take a look at the town.

Did you know that it's St. Patrick's Day on Monday? To be honest, it had kind of slipped my mind. Which is why I was surprised and confused by the closed-off streets and the sound of bagpipes, but the giant green novelty hats clued us in soon enough. We walked down along Market, against the direction of the parade so that we got a kind of speeded up version of it going by. It was indeed a parade, with marching bands and fire trucks and the mayor out of his car and walking, so as to prove he was a man of the people, especially those people who really believe that friendship means sharing, and a largely male adult cheerleading squad.

We stopped for lunch at Megan's favorite dim sum place downtown, the first of several intensely calorific meals of the weekend. We didn't really have any set plans for the rest of the afternoon, but since we were headed East we continued in that direction down to the Ferry Building, marveled at that onetime ordinary municipal structure turned-world's largest yuppie food court, then made a sharp left and walked along the Embarcadero to Pier 39. There we threaded our way through the tourist crowds, perused the shops with their goods of marvelous tackiness (since I gave Megan a hard enough time about her love of teh cute in our last adventure, I won't even mention about how we went into the Department 56 store, especially since she didn't buy anything) and stopped to greet the now world-famous sea lion colony, who I must say were shamelessly playing to the crowd.

Next: It's All Uphill From Here

Friday, March 14, 2008

Going. . .Going. . . Going . . .

It's been about a week and a half since the big layoffs announcement and the exits are well and truly underway. Some people send out goodbye emails, some wander around the building saying their farewells, some I don't even know they're going until they're gone. We had a kind of mass going-away party in the conference room for all the Research layoffs yesterday, with beer and food and a slide show of photos from happier times, and it was all very depressing. Maybe once you've been through a few of these you get better at it, but right now, asking people what they're going to do next, listening to myself say cliche crap like "you'll probably look back and think this was the best thing that could have happened," I don't think I want the practice. Making it worse was the fact that I wasn't totally clear on who all was going causing situations like when I was having a conversation with someone for about ten minutes before I found out she was leaving, at which point I started backpedaling like it was an Olympic even and I had a shot at a medal. So, yeah, not a fun party, but I guess I shouldn't be complaining. I can think of some people who probably enjoyed it a lot less than I did.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tempura Thursday IIX: Back to San Mateo

Restaurant Mutsu
279 Baldwin Ave.
San Mateo, CA

Tonight my primary criterion for choosing a restaurant was parking. It was starting to rain and, being me, I hadn't bothered to wear any sort of jacket, so I wasn't about to take a spot three blocks away from where I was going. Which meant the main drag downtown was out, so I ended up wandering a little farther afield. The restaurant was on the corner of a relatively quiet street, and it wasn't exactly crowded, but I didn't necessarily consider that a bad sign. The decor was midcentury-family room, with fake wood panelling, formica tables, well-worn chairs upholstered in floral plastic. Hipster bars spend thousands trying to achieve this level of authenticity.

Food: So I wanted to like this place; it was exactly what you would expect your secret special find of a great hidden restaurant to be. But things started looking down when the food started coming, beginning with the pickles, which were more like chunks of cucumber in vinegar dressing, and continuing with the uninspiring soup. So by the time my dinner arrived my expectations had been readjusted, in a more realistic direction, as it happened.

First, the good news. The selection of vegetables in the tempura was large and varied and the lychee sorbet they had for dessert was delicious. The tempura itself, unfortunately, not so much. As usual, it wasn't bad at first, but it was heavy and greasy (the napkin they put down under it was entirely soaked in oil by the end of the meal) and became nearly inedible when it got cold. Also, the batter kept coming loose from the pieces, and you really should pull the strings from green beans before you serve them. So the place wasn't exactly a winner, which was why I was surprised to overhear one of the other people there say that they come here all the way from San Ramon (!) for the sushi. So I'll give it the benefit of the doubt on that, though I will say that the sashimi they served me was unexceptional. (I wonder if ordering a tempura/sashimi combo marks you out as someone who doesn't know their stuff, and therefore gets you the lesser pieces of fish.)

A pity, really; it would have been nice to find a good place with parking.

Tempura: 4/10
Overall: 4/10

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

There Were Chaps, Who Did Taps. . .

It's easy to despair for the kids these days, with their text messaging and their Miley Cyruses and their light-up sneakers, but I am here to tell you that I have found a redeeming aspect to today's youth culture: This generation, if given a chance, could be the ones to save modern dance.

No seriously. There's the ballroom cheese of "Dancing With the Stars," the highly technical criticism on "So You Think You Can Dance" and now, on MTV, that bastion of trash-culture, the over-named and ludicrously padded-for-time "Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew" feeding the kids complicated choreography with a tasty hip-hop coating.

My personal favorite team is the highly-skilled if poorly spelled "JabbaWokkeeZ" (Lewis Carroll: The original gangsta? Discuss.) who I think could give any NEA-funded, body-painted arm-wavers a run for their money:

Admit it: change the music to something plonking and tuneless and dress those guys in pink body-stockings and the highbrow-artsy people would be going nuts for them.

And then there's "BreakSk8" who, um, breakdance on rollerskates:

Okay, that's not art. But damn if it isn't fun.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

New Poll: How Many Drinks Would It Take To Get You To Sing Karaoke?

(Update: Polling is fixed. Please answer responsibly.)

Last Saturday I went to my friends Wes and Mayanka's shared birthday party, held at a karaoke bar in the city. It was an agreeably dive-y place, with a full-on karaoke setup in the front, and packed to the gills with people. There was a well-thumbed book of songs available for singing, with classics like "Don't Cha" and the entire Neil Diamond oeuvre.

I am not a singer, at least not in public. What happens in the safety of my car is nobody's business but my own. But my only previous experience with karaoke was singing backup for "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" at a pub in Edinburgh, and I felt no need to add to that. At most, by the third drink I was receptive to Jora's suggestion that we do a group rendition of "Free Falling", but the facts that I was driving home and the bar was so crowded that you had to wait about an hour and a half between when you put in your song and when you got your chance to sing meant that by the time our turn came around the idea was significantly less appealling. And I have to tell you, there are few things duller than a karaoke bar when you are sober.

So, my question to you is (or will be, when the aforementioned techincal difficulties get straightened out): How many drinks would it take to get you to sing karaoke?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Friday Bonus Tempura

Sugata Japanese Restaurant
1105 Solano Ave.
Albany, CA

As you may have noticed, this week's tempura tasting is taking place outside of my usual range. As it happens, this week was rather busy, and before I knew it, it was Friday (today). And since I had an appointment to get my hair cut today in Berkeley (hey, a good stylist is hard to find), I met my parents for dinner at the Japanese restaurant we used to go to a lot when I was a kid. It's a tiny place and we had to wait about ten minutes for a table, but the people were friendly, if somewhat disorganized.

Food: Tonight was somewhat different than usual, since I was eating somewhere I had been before and I wasn't dining alone. The latter part was a definite improvement, as I could give the pieces I didn't want to my dad and because we could also order some sushi to start. We had the "special California roll", made with real crab (I asked) and topped with tobiko, which all by itself added a point to the overall score. (Mainly for the crab. It's hard to find real crab in sushi, and I don't see any point in eating the fake stuff.)
The first difference, the one about having been there before, actually made the judging a little harder. I knew as soon as I took a bite of the tempura (combo with tekka sashimi, 19.95) that this was the tempura of my memory, and I had trouble getting away from that to judge the dish objectively. Ultimately, I thought it was fairly good, crisp batter, good selection of vegetables, generous amount of shrimp, but hampered by overbattering and ultimately a little bit heavy. The sashimi was also fine, if not spectacular (incidentally, this was the restaurant where I first tried raw fish, in the form of tekka sashimi when I was twelve or thirteen).

There's another restaurant, way down San Pablo Ave. in El Cerrito, where my family used to go when I was even younger, and where I believe I did most of my early tempura-eating (according to my mom, who would know, what I primarily had in Japan was tonkatsu). I'll try and get over there at some point and see how that one holds up.

Tempura Grade: 7/10
Overall: 8/10

ADDENDUM, because I know you care so much:
The haircut I drove to Berkeley to get. I like it. (It's more interesting than in this picture.)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Canned Food Items I Would Not Know Existed If I Had Not Spent the Evening Volunteering at the San Carlos Food Bank

1. "Beef in Juices"
2. Lasagna*
3. Herring with Tomato Sauce

*I was aware of the existence of this before, but not in canned form.

Hello? Hell No.

Thanks to last night's American Idol I, like so many other people, was reminded of Lionel Richie's video for the song "Hello", a video I remembered primarily for the hilariously awful clay bust of the singer featured therein. But when I pulled it up to show to Laura, who did not understand my reaction, I discovered there was so much more wrong in it. So very much that I had to share it with you, inexplicable spoken intro and all:

So, let me get this straight, Mr. Richie. You are a teacher, stalking your blind student to all of her classes, ogling her in a leotard and drunk-dialing her in the middle of the night*, and your idea of a happy ending is to have her pawing at your face? That's so creepy, it's an insult to the word "creepy".

*Yes, I know there was no mention of the fact that he was drunk in that scene, but come on.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Here We Go

This is the fan:

Today, something is going to hit it. I have it on good authority that it will not be me. Stay tuned for further updates.

UPDATE FOR THOSE PEOPLE ACTUALLY READING THIS OUT OF INTEREST IN MY EMPLOYMENT SITUATION*: The thing that everybody knew was going to happen, happened, and the upshot is that my employer is shortly to become the employer of many fewer people one of whom (fortunately) (for me, anyway) will be me. So for my part not much is going to change, except for maybe shorter lines in the cafeteria, but for about half of my fellow workers this has been a truly sucky day.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Reason #385 Why We Need Some Furniture in this Damn Place

Because there are many fine things that can be eaten why sitting comfortably up in your bed, but barbecued pork ribs are not among them.

The World: Going Insane or Already Beyond Saving?

Britain considers warning labels for cheese.

I know one person who is going to be opposing this measure:

More Politics

I know, this is getting repetitive, but I just can't help it. You should just be proud of me for not posting them all. (More are available here, if you, like me, just can't get enough of the real issues in this election.)