Friday, July 31, 2009

Passing It

I dusted off my brittle and stale Disney annual pass last night for a quick, after-work trip to Disney's California Adventure. To have not gone in almost two months....well, let's just say I was feeling the subtle effects of the DTs (Disney tremens). My friends Clark and Shane joined me for an evening of decent Mexican food (only after waiting 40 minutes at another restaurant and being told it would be at least another 30 minutes), two fun rides attractions, and the purchase of a new potential obsession:

A vinyl Mickey Mouse. The have three different sets of these small ones, plus larger, 12" figures with the same designs, each painted by a different Disney artist. The head and arms move, too.

The boxes tell you what might be inside so each one is a surprise. This little guy appears to be sporting a bright yellow hazmat suit, designed by artist Randy Noble. Caesar's is painted black except for the white torso which is covered in Japanese calligraphy. He remarked that it looked like a bottle of saké. And the Disney artists have created 36 of them.

Must...resist....collecting....

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Quite a Bit of Spam

And I man that in a good way.
After finishing our chores and grabbing a bite to eat to discuss our collegiate years, we rushed back home to change for a quick drive North to Los Angeles to see Monty Python's Spamalot. We left early, around 6PM, believing that with LA traffic, we would just barely make it to the theater on time. But no. We arrived with an hour to spare. And found parking without any difficulties. So we did what any other guest at the Music Center would do -- spent almost $20 on a brownie, a turnover and two bottles of Orangina. I guess they hadn't heard about the recession....

We ate our desserts, wandered about outside for some time then finally handed over our tickets to get into the theater. As we were walking in, a man walked out wearing Killer Bunny Slippers with big fangs and cutesy eyes so we headed for the Spamalot merchandise. Stuffed rabbits, a complete miniature cow tossing game, t-shirts, CDs, books, light-up necklaces -- enough schwag to choke a horse. I added a souvenir brochure to my growing collection while Caesar opted for the Killer Bunny Hand Puppet. We then happily found our seats in the center of the mezzanine and leafed through the programs until showtime.

For those who have never seen "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", stop reading, rent a copy immediately and watch it. go ahead; I'll wait.

Shoo!

Back? Okay.... Take what you've just seen, throw in a few extra numbers, a plotline about having to stage a Broadway show in order to pass through a forest, steal a song from another Monty Python film, and you've got Spamalot, one of the funniest shows I've seen in a long time. And I mean rocking-in-my-chair-with-my-eyes-squeezed-tight-because-my-sides-hurt-from-laughing-too-hard funny. All those classic scenes from the film -- the plague victim who isn't dead yet, the French taunter who "farts in your general direction", the Knights Who Say Ni, and the Black "It's Just a Flesh Wound" Knight -- seemed incredibly fresh and even funnier than I remembered. The entire cast was superb: John O'Hurley as King Arthur, Rick Holmes as a very fey Sir Lancelot, Ben Davis as the narcissistic Sir Dennis Galahad, James Beaman as the easily frightened Sir Robin, Christopher Sutton as Not Yet Dead Fred/Prince Herbert, Jeff Dumas as King Arthur's "horse" Patsy, and of course, Merle Dandridge as the diva Lady of the Lake. They had so much fun with the songs and with each other -- the scene where the French taunt King Arthur is truly one of the funniest things ever devised -- and the audience laughed right along with them.

I doubt we've had as good a time at the theater in quite a while. We continued talking and laughing about the show as we left the theater, walked a few blocks to the underground parking, rode the elevator, sped along the freeway and then more the next day.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Book Review: Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Eden Moore grew up knowing that the three ghostly women who always hovered somewhere near were tasked with protecting here. For a long time, she believed they were protecting her from her Tatie Eliza and her cousin Malachi who attempted to kill her when she was younger, both believing her to be as wicked as her great-grandfather. She should have felt at peace with the protection of the women, but dreams of a mysterious book with a severed hand at the back and the mystery surrounding her Mother's death and those of the three women pique her curiosity. She sets out on a dangerous course through an abandoned hospital and her Tatie Eliza's antebellum mansion to discover the truth about herself and her family before the past comes to take control of her.

Cherie Priest's debut novel is pure Southern gothic horror, complete with a crumbling mansion filled with family secrets as well as hidden rooms, a hospital haunted not just by the history of what happened there but by an angry spirit sent to harm the heroine, a creepy swamp, ghosts both good and bad, and dark magic. Her heroine, Eden Moore, is smart, strong-willed, no-nonsense and incredibly likable. Tatie Eliza and cousin Malachi are the perfect obstacles for her, blinded by family birthright, tradition and the belief that what they are doing is just. When Tatie smiles at Eden, you can feel the hatred dripping from her lips.

I also liked the pacing. Nothing seemed to drag and the action/suspense had me reading every word to make sure I didn't miss anything (instead of glossing over them like I sometimes do when I feel the book needs to be moving a bit faster).

Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a fun story, filled with action and supernatural thrills that I think fans of ghost stories and horror novels should take a chance to read.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Grammar Ain't Easy

During lunch yesterday, Caesar and I got to talking about our college majors. HIs was Social Work, while mine was the more obtuse French. (I say obtuse because -- and this is twentysome years later -- I found no job whatsoever that would require a degree in French. I'm not sure it was such a good idea.) I told him that throughout high school and college, I never encountered a problem either speaking, reading or understanding French. But my grammar sucked. My papers were always returned marked up with A's and B's for the ideas but C's for the actual language used. Looking back, even though I tried my best to know when to use the accent aigu instead of the accent grave or the dozens of other turns of phrase or word placements, and my sentences seemed more American rather than French.

Our discussion must have clicked something in my head because after we returned to the apartment, I spent an hour writing this post for my company's blog about résumés and spellcheck. And I also thought back to my own posts on this here blog. I'm one of those who will write something and edit along the way, post it, re-read it, go back and edit a misspelled or an incorrectly used word, re-post, re-read, and start the cycle again. I want what I write to be perfect -- or as close to it as can be.

Does anyone else feel like that when they write a blog post or any other form of writing?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Away We Go
Finding ourselves with a few hours to kill before babysitting duty in the evening, Caesar and I caught the last matinée screening of Away We Go.

Burt and Verona are expecting their first child. Unsure of what kind of parents they will be, the two set off on a trip across North America to meet with friends and family, hoping to find a new place to call home and to discover someone that can give them guidance. Instead, they learn much more than they bargained for and ultimately realize that they need to rely on each other to create the home that they want.

John Krasinksi and Maya Rudolph worked together wonderfully as Burt and Verona. The filled in the gaps for one another like a real couple and brought their characters to life with much humor and warmth. (Maya should be in more films!!) The supporting cast was equally incredible and wacky: Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan as the most un-PC couple in America; Maggie Gyllenhaal as LN, a naturalist who doesn't believe in strollers or separate beds -- for the entire family; Catherin O'Hara and Jeff Daniels as Burt's parents. We laughed hard during most of the film just watching and listening to them!

This turned out to be a very charming and funny film from director Sam Mendes. Very thoughtful and the perfect escape from all those Summer blockbuster special effects extravaganzas.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Book Review: The Birthing House
Hoping to repair his damaged marriage, Conrad Harrison explores homes as far away from Los Angeles as he dares to go, winding up at a little town called Black Earth. Following the directions from a few of the locals, he makes his way to a large Victorian mansion that once served as a birthing house, a home for unwed mothers to have their children. Something about the house seems to click with him, and he decides then and there to make an offer, and within a few weeks, Conrad, his wife Joanna and their two dogs, Alice and Luther, find themselves moving into their new home.

While his wife is away at an eight-week job training in Detroit, the house's former owner, Leon Laski, drops by to give Conrad a crate of items that belong with the house, including an old photo album. Leafing through its pages, Conrad discovers with horror the face of his wife staring at him from one of the older pictures, a stare filled with hatred and malice. That's the night it starts: glimpses of the woman from the photo disappearing throughout the house, the sound of a mysterious baby crying, a small faceless doll attacking him in the middle of the night.

Something in the house has plans for Conrad, and in a series of terrifying events, he's about to discover the secrets buried inside The Birthing House.

Christopher Ransom has crafted an intriguing ghost story filled with both ghostly terror and psychological trickery, and set in a place I'd never even heard of before the book: a birthing house. (With all the life and death that must have gone on in such a place, no wonder he decided to use it.) The manifestations of the ghost from the small, faceless doll clicking across the bedroom floor to the dogs agitated and angry as they scratch and dig at a wall in the basement sent goosebumps coursing across my skin with each page. Throughout the novel, Conrad never seems to quite understand what's happening -- did a woman resembling his wife just disappear into the shed or was it his wife, who should be in Detroit? What happened to Laski's wife and all their children that made him eager to sell? Did the ghost leave a knife at the foot of his bed with a note attached reading other mother must go, or did he set the knife there himself? Conrad's confusion is very apparent but, at times, works like a double-edged sword.

While the confusion added to my empathizing with him, I also felt confused at some of the events. Through much of the book, Conrad discovers a strange attraction to his neighbor's pregnant daughter, Nadia, which appears to be mutual until they rush to her boyfriend's home. She says a few things that made me scratch my head as to her character's true intentions because they didn't mesh with previous fifty or so pages, but then it's glossed over as if it never happened. I re-read the scene a few times just to make sure I hadn't read it incorrectly.

Despite this, I enjoyed Ransom's story, wanting to see how Conrad's relationships with his wife Joanna, his neighbor Nadia, and the spirit of the house would play out. Anyone who enjoys a ghost story with filled with unexpected twists and turns will definitely find this a worthwhile read.

And I wouldn't want to find myself anywhere near that house!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chu-Chi, Woo-Chi, Ooo-Chi Face
We weren't going to allow a little stone to keep us from our plans so Saturday, after the doctor visit, a quick trip to Target and some relaxing around the apartment, we headed to the OC Performing Arts Center to catch a performance of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Based on Ian Fleming's children's book (yes, that Ian Fleming) and the movie co-written by Roald Dahl, the musical follows inventor Caractacus Potts as he restores an old junkyard car his children have found. After finishing the repairs, Caractacus and his children take the car for a test spin, meeting the beautiful Truly Scumptious -- with whom Caracatcus has already weathered a few run-ins -- along the way, and the children convince her to join them. Meanwhile, two agents from the land of Vulgaria have been sent to find the car that Caractacus re-built in order to present it to Baron Bomburst as a birthday present. When the two agents mistakenly kidnap Grandpa Potts, mistaking him for the inventor of the car, Caractacus, Truly and the children must find a way to save him and unexpectedly discover that the car, which the children call Chitty Chitty Bang Bang because of the engine's noise, can fly and soon, they're off to Vulgaria to save Grandpa Potts.

This was a very slick production, with imaginative sets and staging which delighted both Caesar and myself. The Potts' home used a few dangling cogs of varying sizes to show that Caracatus was an inventor; when Chitty "drove" across the stage, the bicycles, joggers and other passersby rode/walked/ran backwards making the car appear to move forward; and the best surprise of all, the car actually flew! That was some wonderful handiwork because it looked so incredibly real as the car rose off the ground, twisting into the night sky and off to Vulgaria. We both also loved the music, much of which was taken from the Sherman Brothers' score (yes, those Sherman Brothers). A few times, though, when a large portion of the cast was singing onstage, we couldn't understand the wrods. I thought it was just me, but Caesar mentioned the same problem after the show.

The cast performed well, with the standouts being George Dvorsky and Elizabeth Ward Land as the Baron and Baroness Bomburst, he the childlike leader of the country and her the doting wife; and Dirk Lumbard and Scott Cote as the Boris and Goran, the two bumbling spies who seemed straight out of vaudeville. The Childcatcher played by Oliver Wadsworth looked incredible in a scary black outfit, top hat and pointed hook to snatch any wayward children, but neither of us could understand anything he sang either because he didn't annunciate or he encountered mic problems.

As we gorged on red velvet cake afterwards, we talked about how much we enjoyed the show in spite of some minor sound problems. We need to re-rent the movie just to see how closely they match.

Throwing Stones...Again

Caesar and I spent a few hours Saturday morning at the Urgent Care. I'd been experiencing some abrupt and acute lower back pain since Thursday accompanied by a color change in my urine. Friday night, I talked myself into waiting until morning to visit a doctor -- the pain was subsiding, the color was returning to normal. Then, I woke up Saturday, used the bathroom and off we went to the the doctor.

Of course, we arrived to an empty parking lot, thinking that 8AM on a Saturday was a good time. I hobbled up the steps and hand my hand pulling on the door when I noticed the hours posted on the right. We were an hour early. I hobble back to the car, my lower back wincing with each step, and we headed to Polly's for a leisurely breakfast so that by the time we returned, the clinic would be open. And wouldn't you know it, we return a few minutes after 9AM, and about 10 people sat in the waiting room.

WARNING! You may want to skip the next paragraph!!

After an hour, the nurse called me back, checked my vitals, showed me to an exam room, handed me a plastic cup and directed me to the bathroom. I unscrewed the lid, setting on the back of the toilet, and started to give a sample. I'm almost through when I see a large lump painlessly plop into the cup, scaring me enough that I nearly dropped the entire thing into the toilet. I cleaned up, screwed on the lid while gazing in awe at the almost kidney-bean sized lump at the bottom of the cup. That came out of me?!

I showed the nurse whose mouth dropped open. He asked if I felt any pain while going, and I told the truth, the I didn't feel a thing. He taped a label across the lid and asked me to wait in the exam room, that a doctor would be with me shortly.

I tried to read while waiting for the doctor, but the room lights clicked off every few minutes thanks to my sitting motionless on the table. To keep them on, I finally stood and walked around the room as I read until the doctor came in. I told him what was happening, described the lump in the sample cup and waited. He listened to my breathing, asked if I had any fever or felt nauseous, had me lay down on the table while he pressed both sides of my abdomen.

"It could be a kidney infection," he said, but his eyebrows were knitted together so I'm not sure he believed it. "Usually, you'd have a fever and some nausea or vomiting to go along with the large amount of blood in your urine. It's more likely that you're passing a stone." AGAIN!?! "What appeared in the cup was a blood clot. It's possible you may have already passed the stone since you don't seem to be in any pain now. But, we are sending your sample off for further testing in case it is an infection and not a stone. I'm also prescribing an antibiotic just in case."

Kidney stones again, a year after passing the last one. Someone needs to invent a drink that will just dissolve all those deposits in my kidneys so I will never, ever have to suffer through this again!!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Book Review: Dirty Little Angels
Dirty Little Angels from author Chris Tusa presents a very dark side to being a teenager: Hailey Trosclair, growing up in New Orleans, is forced to deal with some heavy issues at her age. Her mother's miscarriage has erected a wall between her and the rest of the family; her father can't seem to find a job, or, to put it bluntly, isn't really trying to; she discovered her father's infidelity with a waitress; and her brother Cyrus takes to running with a local hood. At least she has her best friend Meridian to talk to. At least, until Meridian finds out that her boyfriend shows a decided interest in Hailey whenever she's not around.

I found the book to be rather bland. All the characters spoke with the same uninterested monotone, and I never found myself connecting with them or finding much of anything to like. Having Hailey narrate the entire book probably added to my feelings because she never showed much emotion and that transmitted to the other characters. Then again, a few times it appeared she suffered from some emotional problem that was never addressed or explained.

Tusa's descriptions of settings and locations were very detailed and presented the way a teenager would. I love his description of Moses' car: "a ratty green Omni with bald whitewalls and a broken taillight. It had yellow racing stripe, silver hubcaps, and diamond studded mudflaps." Those brief moments were my favorite parts of the book.

About the last 30 pages of the book, the story kicked into high gear with Hailey throwing everything away for an act of revenge -- something that, to me, didn't fit with the character I'd just gotten to know. I'm not sure why she went to such extremes. And worse yet, I wanted to know more. The story finally nabbed my attention but was over in a flash. I seemed as though Tusa tired of his characters and wanted to end the book.

I don't think I've ever finished a book feeling so unsatisfied.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Brief

  • Blogging: In what can be seen as exciting news, I'm now an official blogger for my company's blog. Read my first two posts on my author feed.
  • Books: I'm more than halfway through The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom and like it so far. Except for the one sentence: "MySpace is so gay." Spoken by a teenager, it just seemed out of place with the storyline -- glaringly out of place. But I am enjoying the book.
  • Video Games: I finally finished Theresia for my DS. Good horror storyline, trying to find my way through a trap-laden maze, with beautiful static illustrations. Good interactivity. Could have used a proofreader for the scrolling text, though.


  • Okay...back to work....

    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    Book Review: Williwaw
    At the age of 19, I was finally taking the actual in-car driving test for my license just before my sophomore year of college. When Gore Vidal was nineteen, he served as a first mate of a U.S. Army freight ship in the Aleutian Islands and writing his first novel, Williwaw.

    The novel tells of an Army vessel transporting a few officers across the Arctic Sea. With snow and cold winds howling along the passage and flaring tensions between crewmen who've been in close quarters far too long, the ship attempts to make the Big Harbor of the Aleutians in a few days time. Until a strong Arctic with -- a williwaw in the native language -- swoops down from the mountains, relentlessly pounding the ship, its crew and passengers to the breaking point.

    A great story filled with vividly drawn, tense characters, pointing out the distinctions of those military men constantly in the thick of action compared to those sitting behind desks deciding which base to close or what troops to send where. It also proves to be very satisfying for those of us who enjoy a good man vs. nature story. But Vidal takes the tale one step further, adding a crewman's death under mysterious circumstances at one point during the storm, that moves the story into the realm of human nature. How much can a person endure before cracking - both physically because of the relentless wind and mentally because of a mutual dislike of one another? How does the crew handle the death and the aftermath?

    Not exactly what I would expect from the mind of a 19 year old

    Williwaw is a surprising debut novel from one of the masters of fiction. HIghly recommended.

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    Backlog of Books
    We returned from our play date with our friend's twins on Saturday afternoon, and sitting atop the mailbox was a thick hard envelope from St. Martin's Press with another book for me to read and review. This time, it's The Birthing House from Christopher Ransom -- yet another spooky haunted house novel. (The folks at St. Martin's really seem to know what I like.) I started reading it last night and am slowly getting into it. Yet, I can't help but feel guilty about all the books I've recently finished and haven't found the time to write my reviews. So I'll knock those out of the way beginning tonight so I can be all fresh and guilt-free for this new tale of terror.

    Sunday, July 12, 2009

    Don't Feed the Plants

    A few weeks ago, I casually asked my Brother if he and his wife would like to join us for a little theater outing. To my surprise, he said yes. (I expect his wife pointedly nudged him into that answer.) So last night, the two of them joined us for a quick dinner at CPK which, for some reason, had its ups and downs: the "ups" being dinner with my Brother and his wife as we don't manage it often enough; the "downs" being how Caesar spilled half a glass of red Zinfandel on his light blue shirt.

    A glass of soda water and some bbq chicken pizza slices later, and all was good with the world.
    From there, we headed to the Carpenter Center and the opening night of Little Shop of Horrors, a jaunty little gem about a man-eating plant that manipulates a meek little guy into helping him take over Skid Row and the world. I've seen both versions of the movie (love Roger Corman's classic) but never the live stage musical, and I thought it would be a fun time for us all. Which is was. The music was fantastic, catchy '50s flavors with very witty lyrics. The sets were from the National Tour as were the puppets for Audrey II, the man-eating plant. (Amazing how they made the plant seem so realistic, and what a great voice from Michael A . Shepperd.) The actors did a fine job: Stuart Pankin as Mr. Mushnik; Peter Paige as Orin Scrivello DDS (along with almost every other character); Lowe Taylor awed everyone as Audrey; and Danny Gurwin played a wonderfully meek Seymour Krelborn. And not to forget Meloney Collins, Kamlah Marshall and Fredericka Meek as Ronette, Crystal and Chiffon -- kind of like the Greek chorus as a '50s girl group. We enjoyed the show -- my Brother even said so! -- and I'm thinking this opened the door to possible more shows with the four of us in the future.

    Thursday, July 09, 2009

    Book Review: IM
    A serial killer has been making the rounds of Chicago, using a gay hook-up site to find his victims, and openly gay police office Ed Comparetto is called in to investigate. Things start to go wrong when the claim of a false witness statement forces Comparetto to reluctantly turn in his badge. To clear his name and possibly to get his job back, Comparetto starts his own investigation into the grisly murders, wondering just who that mysterious witness was and what he has to do with the growing number of murders.

    A promising idea for a story from author Rick R. Reed, but something just didn't click for me. All the characters seemed to overact, coming across as overly melodramatic, and I never found myself caring for any of them. Many times the characters even came across as clichéd: the gay cop who's booted from the force for being open with his sexuality and determined to find the killer to get his good name back; the self-loathing serial killer who (surprise) turns out to be gay. And for a former police officer, Comparetto has a knack for not assessing a situation before jumping in, and I found it difficult to believe that he had been good at his job.

    Some of the scenes, though, were very vivid and well-drawn, such as one of the killer's flashbacks concerning what drove him to kill. Effective and creepy, my skin crawled as I read it. I also liked the victim vignettes, giving a glimpse into the different personalities who use the hook-up site -- everyday men, looking for different ideas of love or a good time. And the little twist with the twins just added another good creep factor to a sometimes predictable story.

    Tuesday, July 07, 2009

    Little Wall-E

    It started with the Beautician Bot, the pink one near the center of the picture. When we walked into the comic book store, the squat vending machine with its imprisoned mini plastic figures beckoned to me. I glanced at the Hello Kitty baubles and the Pokémon creatures, but stopped, my eyes growing wider with giddy excitement at the next compartment. Crammed into tiny plastic eggs were mini robots from the movie Wall-E, and I knew. I needed to have them.

    I cashed in a dollar bill for quarters, dropped them into the slot and spun the crank. The eggs jostled. A metallic thump at the tiny door. I peeled away the tape surrounding my egg and brought forth the tiny Beautician Bot. A few weeks passed until we returned. Again, I dropped in my quarters and out popped another egg, this time with Mow Mow. And then, this past Friday when we entered the store, I noticed the Wall-E figures were gone from their compartment, replaced with Spderman and his gang. I almost said something to the clerk until I discovered a box near the base of the vending machine with 50¢ scrawled in large red letters along the front. Inside were dozens of the plastic eggs, many of them with a Wall-E paper showing through the plastic. I dove in, sorting through the eggs, unable to open them to make sure I didn't already have that particular bot. I'm sure the clerk thought I was crazy, a grown many tossing plastic eggs from a box. It didn't matter. I wanted those six remaining figures. And somehow, without being able to verify the contents of each egg, I managed to obtain all the figures without duplicates.

    The picture shows them in all their glory, combined to form a scene from the movie.

    (Okay, so I'm a little bit nuts when it comes to Disney.)

    Monday, July 06, 2009

    The Long Weekend...In Short

    I feel as though I haven't been paying my blog the attention I used to. My life hasn't seemed interesting enough lately to write a post. I'm a bit hooked on Twitter these days, as well as spending much of my free time reading novels (and playing Nintendo DS when not watching Ghost Adventures) and writing reviews of said books.

    With that said, Caesar and I did enjoy a nice, relaxing, three-day weekend.

    Friday I woke at 8 AM (which is sleeping in for me), contemplated dragging my lazy butt form bed to walk at the beach (per doctor's orders), but lingered in bed reading instead. Caesar woke up an hour or so later, and we decided to run a few errands before the big birthday party in the evening. So we hopped in the car, making our way to our favorite little indie comic book store. Cruising North on the 605, we noticed too late a swirling mass of pigeons diving in and out of traffic of the fastlane. One swooped toward the windshield, and I hoped it would get sucked into the upwind and be swept safely over the car. However, the smudge from the brief thwack has yet to be cleaned from the windshield. We finally reached the comic store without any further avian hazards, and Caesar searched for the latest issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer while I rifled through a box at the front the store with plastic eggs containing tiny figures. I found the remaining six mini plastic Wall-E figures to complete my set, with the picture being posted tomorrow in all its splendor. I also purchased the final issue of Locke & Key: Head Games. Caesar shook his head as I opened each egg in the car and attached the figures to their bases.

    Later in the evening, we headed for a birthday party in Koreatown at a small Korean BBQ called Gui Rim. Imagine 20 people, crammed along four tables each with its own grill at the center and surrounded with bowls of kim chee, noodles, egg compote, potato salad, green salad, various spices, sauces and oils. Each group ordered three different meats from a menu banner tacked to the wall and cooked the meats themselves, throwing spices or oils on to add to the flavor of the beef tongue or rib eye or baby octopus or tripe. Once those meats were done, each table ordered more...and more...and more. In almost three hours, I think we sampled almost everything on that menu -- except for the Mountain Chain and the Collar Butt; We asked and still aren't quite sure just what those were -- and created a noise cloud with all our laughing and chatter.

    Saturday we lingered around the apartment until time to head to my parents' house in Laguna for a BBQ and fireworks. The City launches the fireworks over a local lake located in a valley behind their house, and each year, my parents have a few people over for "dinner and a show". And though we were the youngest people at the party, I think Caesar enjoyed watching the bursts of color almost at eye level. He commented that he could feel the explosions thumping through his body, we were so close.

    Sunday, while Caesar visited with his parents, I took it easy, watching an old '70s horror flick with Bette Davis and Oliver Reed, read a little over 200 pages of a book, watched the latest episode of Ghost Adventures, played Theresia, and finally watched a DVD rented way back in April. When he returned later in the day, we both did absolutely nothing productive -- which is as it should be on a long weekend.

    A Little Monday Humor

    LITTLE GIRL ON A PLANE

    A stranger was seated next to a little girl on the airplane when the stranger turned to her and said, "Let's talk. I've heard that flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger."

    The little girl, who had just opened her book, closed it slowly and said to the stranger, "What would you like to talk about?"

    "Oh, I don't know," said the stranger. "How about nuclear power?' and he smiles.

    "OK," she said. "That could be an interesting topic. But let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff - grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, and a horse produces clumps of dried grass. Why do you suppose that is?"

    The stranger, visibly surprised by the little girl's intelligence, thinks about it and says, "Hmmm, I have no idea."

    To which the little girl replies, "Do you really feel qualified to discuss nuclear power when you don't know shit?"

    Friday, July 03, 2009

    Book Review: The Girl Who Played Go
    According to the American Go Association, the game of Go dates back about 4,000 to 5,000 years in ancient Asia. More popular than chess in Asia, it consists of two sets of warring stones, black and white, trying to take control of the gridded game board by cornering and surrounding the opposing colored stones, allowing those stones to be removed from the board. The game requires patience and skill to determine where to place the stones to the best advantage.

    Shan Sa takes the game of Go from the board and sets it in the physical world of 1930s Manchuria. Manchuria becomes the battleground as Japan begins an invasion. An unnamed teenaged girl -- the only girl in her entire town allowed to play Go with the men -- struggles with her budding sexuality and plays against an unnamed Japanese soldier, disguised as a Chinese man in order to hopefully learn some secrets about the resistance movement fomenting across Manchuria. In alternating chapters, their stories unfold like the placement of the stones, with the girl and the soldier trying to understand one another through the game play.

    What begins as a historical drama, set at a time of intense conflict between China and Japan, turns into a surprising love story. While the young girl struggles with her first bouts of love and the soldier battles with the memories of the women he's encountered, the two somehow connect over the ancient game and find themselves growing more attached to one another than two strangers could have expected. The alternating chapters also allow for both glimpses at the struggles going on in China at the time and differing views of those same events -- such as when the two first meet, the young girl decides that her unknown opponent is falling into her game traps, while from the soldiers perspective, he understands almost immediately what she's trying to do with her game strategy.

    This is one of those books I chose because I found the title intriguing. Perhaps not the best method but sometimes well worth it when a novel as engrossing and beautifully written as this comes along.