Thursday, December 22, 2005

Zara's Torso (pen on paper, 5 x 4").

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Sarah (pen and acrylic on paper, 3 x 3").

Thursday, December 15, 2005

This past Saturday I awoke at 4am to catch my 6:20am flight to Denver. A beautiful view appeared out my window.

The Grand Canyon....

A short time later we passed by the snow covered Rockies....

Kim picked me up at the airport and we had a wonderful time running around Denver. We had lunch at one of my favorite places, Old Chicago's, where I was able to feed my addiction to their cheese sticks and calzones.

In the evening, Kim took me to the Denver Zoo to see the Zoo Lights.

Despite it being chilly for this Cali-kid, we had a fun time checking out the lights and hanging with the animals. While the outdoor exhibits were lit only by the moon, there were plenty of animals inside. One of the most interesting was the nautilus. While I was familiar with the shell, I had no idea what was actually inside it.

We perused through the rest of the grounds....

I was able to hang out with some of my other fave animals like rhinos, hippos, and giraffes. Afterwards we ate dinner at Mezcal. Good ambience and food. It was also the first time I drank a mojito (I know, I know -- I'm way behind the times. You'd think that my admiration for Hemingway would have led me to the front).

On Sunday we dropped down to the 'Springs to see my parents. It was great seeing them although the time always goes by so fast and is always too short.

We spent Monday afternoon in downtown Denver and as usual, I dropped some money in the Tattered Cover. I flew out that night. It was nice being back in Colorado.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I saw the plume emerge this morning and captured the first glimpse with my camera phone.

I grabbed my real camera and took a picture as I drove along El Cajon Boulevard.

Heading north on 805, I crossed the span that arches over Mission Valley, and spotted the smoke's origins. It was adjacent to Qualcomm Stadium.

Upon arriving at work, I read what caused the mini-inferno.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Street in Villefranche-sur-Mer (gouache and pen on paper, 5 x 8").

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

If I told you that my experience at the grocery store last night was difficult, you’d probably say, “Of course, it’s right before Thanksgiving.” But it wasn’t difficult in any way that I would have anticipated. It was a bizarre scene.

I pulled into the grocery store parking lot and finding all spaces full with a number of cars hovering, I decided to park on the street. Since I needed to buy a few things I thought about grabbing a basket, but opted for a cart just in case. I pushed my cart without encumbrance through the store. It was busy, but not crowded.

I swept through the store when I paused to look at something at the end of an aisle. An elderly Black woman whose cart was adjacent to mine struck up a spontaneous conversation with me. She said that she wasn’t able to find an inexpensive turkey that was on sale. She then withdrew the sales ad from her cart and pointed at a picture of four different brands of turkeys, each with ascending price. She wasn’t able to find the two inexpensive turkeys. I told her that they may be out of them, and she may try checking again, but I could offer neither a solution nor solace. I spoke with a very patient and calm tone, trying to help as much as I could. “I guess I need to talk to a poor person,” she said. It caught me off guard, as I didn’t know what was implied or what made her think that I was indifferent to her plight. She said it with no malice or ill will – just a very practical and logical tone. I told her that she might check with the deli people, as they may be able to help. She thought that was a good suggestion and walked across the aisle to chat with them.

Strolling from one end of the store to the other, I had accumulated many groceries. I went to the checkout and saw that each line had the same depth so I selected one where the first person had about twenty-five items and the second person had only one. I was third in line.

And that made all the difference.

The twenty-five item person moved through the line quickly and efficiently.

And then there was one-item man. He was a man in his 40’s, and slightly stilted and awkward in his actions and small talk with the cashier.

On the conveyor belt sat his one box of Imodium A-D.

The cashier rang up the box while the man swept different cards through the personal card machine.

“Nine dollars,” said the cashier.

“But it should only be six” replied the man. “Oh, I forgot to enter my saver card number into the machine.”

The cashier looked on his screen and said, “This shows that there isn’t a discount on this item.”

“There should be a three dollar discount,” the man retorted.

The cashier called over a bagger and asked him to check the price on this item. The bagger ran off with the item in hand.

And then we stood. And stood. And stood. The man looked at me and said that he was sorry that this was taking so long, “but the difference is three dollars.”

I thought about just throwing the guy three dollars but there’s really no way to do that without looking like an asshole.

So we stood some more. Finally the bagger returned with two boxes in hand and explained that the box the man had selected was actually nine dollars, but the box just to the left of it was the one reduced in price. The man stood perplexed, and decided to return to the aisle to investigate.

Now he was out of the way.

The cashier started ringing me up. I looked at the screen and saw that the cashier had rung up the Imodium A-D but had also subtracted the cost so that I started at zero dollars.

He ran up all $122 of my stuff and the bagger had done a great job of bagging my groceries and placing all of my stuff in the cart. I tried sliding my discount card through the slot but it wouldn’t go through. I told the cashier this and he took my card and entered in my number on his keypad.

He then tore off the receipt and thanked me for shopping.

“But I haven’t paid,” I told him.

“What do you mean you haven’t paid? This is your card isn’t it?”

“That’s just my discount card,” I began, “that isn’t my credit card.”

“Then what happened?” the cashier asked.

I then realized what had just occurred.

“You didn’t clear the guy’s credit card information. You just charged all of my groceries to the Imodium A-D guy.”

“Oh no,” the cashier said, his face having just gone pale. “The guy told me that his credit card didn’t go through but it must have. I didn’t think his credit card went through.”

The cashier called over his manager. The Imodium A-D guy returned and we called him into the scene. Upon hearing the situation the manager thought a little while and then came up with the bastardized plan to just give the Imodium A-D guy $122 in cash. I tried explaining the situation to A-D guy but he couldn’t grasp what had happened.

The manager handed the guy $122 in cash and the guy started to hand it to me. “This is yours, right?”

“No, it’s yours,” I began, and then continued to explain the situation again. It was pointless. The cashier rang the guy up for his discounted $6 medicine and he was on his way. He probably just thought that he got $122 for free. He may be surprised when he spends all the cash and then gets a credit card bill for $122.

Due to the ineptness of the cashier and his manager, I knew the answer to my next question but thought that I should still ask.

“Can you just enter $122 into the cash register and I’ll pay that,” I began, “or do you need to re-ring all of my stuff?”

The manager said that he’d have to re-ring all of my groceries. Of course.

They had to call in a second bagger to separate my paid groceries from my unpaid groceries. The whole scene was a cluster-fuck.

And all this time, the line behind me grew considerably.

Here is the scary thing. The second time they rang up my groceries my total came out to $118. Say what? I was too tired to say anything. I just wanted to leave.

They bagged all of my groceries, placed them all in my cart, and I got the hell out of there.

And it was then that I realized that I faced another problem. Since I live in the ghetto, the grocery store had an electronic perimeter installed so that if the shopping cart passes the edge of the parking lot, a device on the wheel causes it to lock up.

I had parked on the street.

I got the shopping cart as close to the sidewalk as I could, and then made a few trips between my cart and my car.

I was exhausted and fatigued when I got home. I lugged my groceries from my car to condo and started unpacking. It was then that I understood the price difference.

They forgot to ring up my chips. Damn them! Damn them all to hell!

My orphaned chips are probably still sitting in some sort of conveyor belt limbo. I will miss them.

Monday, November 21, 2005

On Wednesday afternoon, Kim and I threw our bags into the back of the Mustang and headed north on I-15.

We clipped the northern tip of the Mojave Desert. I found it to be surprisingly beautiful.

The landscape could be both subtle and dynamic, sometimes simultaneously.

We passed by Whiskey Pete’s in the town of Primm. Companies give marketing groups millions of dollars to research and produce product names. I’m pleasantly surprised to find a casino named Whiskey Pete’s. I would have loved to have been in the room when that name was decided.

Let’s call it Provence.

Oooh – that’s good – but how about
The Florencian?

[Guy in the back] What about
Whiskey Pete’s?

Booze. Gotta like that. Simple. Direct. Pete. A name you can trust. Hey, Pete – what are you up to? You going to the game, Pete? Yeah, yeah – let’s go with that – screw all of those names that scream out class and sophistication. Let’s name it after my drunk neighbor who pisses off his balcony.

After five hours on the road, we reached our destination.

Las Vegas.

I am guided by a tenet that sleeping in Vegas should be done cheaply. It puts you more in touch with the Vegas experience. It also leaves more money for gambling. With that principle established, I booked a room at the San Remo Hotel for thirty-one bucks a night, despite all of the other strip hotels starting at $150. Was I suspicious? Yes. Was it unwarranted? No.

I booked the hotel on San Remo’s crudely constructed website and fortunately printed out the receipt page. Despite having entered my email, I received no email confirmation, and the receipt page said, “Thanks for making your next stay Hooters Hotel and Casino.” I was confused.

I called a day and a half later to confirm my reservation. They had no record of it but said that that wasn’t unusual. Sometimes it took a day to propagate into their database. I said that I could give them my confirmation number to verify, but they replied that their database didn’t accept confirmation numbers. I figured that we’d drive to Vegas and hoped that it worked out when we got there.

Here is the good thing about booking a hotel room for thirty-one dollars. It’s thirty-one dollars.

Here is the bad thing about booking a hotel room for thirty-one dollars. It’s thirty-one dollars. For that price, you’re forbidden to complain about anything. Every response has the same ending… I can’t believe there’s a clan of wolverines living in the bathtub, but then again, I only paid thirty-one dollars. It soon becomes a mantra.

Whenever I travel, I work hard to place myself in a great location, and I was successful with the San Remo. It’s a block from the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue – very close to some of my favorite casinos like the Luxor, Monte Carlo, and NYNY.

We pulled into the San Remo parking garage at 6pm, amid scaffolding and wooden planks. We grabbed our stuff out of the trunk and worked our way inside to the front desk. I retrieved the sheet of paper that I printed out from the website booking, and handed it to the desk clerk. Tentatively I asked if they had my reservation. She replied that they did and started typing into the computer, stopping occasionally to write numbers onto a piece of paper. She strayed from the terminal a few times to go talk to a manager in the back room. She also picked up the phone to call housekeeping. It was an elaborate process.

She returned and said that she has a room for us.

“Is it ready?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Not right now,” she replied, “it will be ready in an hour.” Mind you – it’s 6pm.

Inside my head I repeated the theme: “I can’t believe that our room isn’t ready, but then again, we are only paying thirty-one bucks a night.”

She printed out our room information and had me sign the bottom. Fortunately I read over it because they had us down for only one night. “Excuse me,” I said, “but I made the reservation for two nights and this reads only one.” I pointed to my receipt printout to support my argument. She looked at it and agreed. This spawned more computer typing, phone calls, number writing, and talks to the manager, as the queue behind me grew. Eventually everything got worked out.

I asked the girl why my receipt read “Hooters Hotel and Casino.” She told me that the San Remo was being renovated and would change names. Kim and I discussed the pros and cons about such a transformation. Kim said that if it just involved waitresses walking around in Hooters uniforms that it shouldn’t be a big deal because women expect to see that at any casino.

I understood the marketing allure, but thought it would cause issues – especially if you tried to book it for you and your significant other.

I kept imagining that it would probably spawn a thousand conversations like this:

He’s sitting at the computer, having just booked a hotel room online.
Her: Did you book a hotel yet?
Him: Yep. It’s all taken care of.
Her: So where are we staying?
Him: It’s right next to The Strip.
Her: What’s it called?
Him: I don’t remember. Something Casino. It’s a block from The Strip.
Her: But you just booked it. You don’t remember the name?
Him: (mumbled) Hooters Casino.
Her: What was that? I couldn’t hear you.
Him: (less mumbled) Hooters Casino.
Her: What?
Him: Umm… Hooters Casino.
Her: Are you looking for a divorce?

Kim and I returned to the car, threw our bags in the trunk, and both famished, we drove over to my favorite place to eat in Vegas: the Brew Pub in the Monte Carlo. The wait was short and we got a great table. We each ordered a 23oz glass of the High Roller Red, toasted, and relaxed. After the drive and hotel commotion, we could now enjoy ourselves. We were in Vegas.

After dinner we meandered without agenda through the casinos. Eventually, we found ourselves at the Luxor – a shared fave. Anxious to throw some money down, we sat at an empty blackjack table and each quickly lost forty dollars. We continued on, largely retracing our steps until we returned to the car and drove back to the San Remo.

When gambling, ambience and environment are very important to me. Not aesthetics, but vibe. Despite my initial apprehension, we found a great gambling scene at the San Remo. It wasn’t crowded. The table limits were low. Everyone was friendly. And the capper – there was a live cover band playing. They sounded fantastic. We found welcoming stools at a blackjack table and traded for some plastic red chips. We got an interesting collection of dealers – one of which kept making errors in both directions – sometimes you benefited and other times you didn’t. This is bad in general, but more so for me because I’m horrible at counting my card totals. If there are more than three cards involved I have to ask the dealer how much I have (Kim likes to tease me that I’m the only engineer in the world that can’t add). Sadly, I couldn’t rely on this dealer to determine my total. I think we caught most of her errors that affected us adversely, and kept quiet on those that didn’t.

On Thursday morning we awoke to the very loud sound of construction going on outside. While I have no proof, I feel fairly confident that they were using a jack-hammer next door which spawned my comment, “I can’t believe how ungodly loud they are, although we did only pay thirty-one dollars.”

Kim walked over to the window and pulled apart the curtains to reveal our beautiful view of… well, nothing. Between the previous night and this morning, they had put a thick piece of acetate across the window. While allowing light to pass through, you couldn’t see through it – like a blurry screen that they use for shower curtains.

Thirty-one dollars.

Our morning started with a drive over to the Paris Hotel and Casino – one of my faves. While many of the hotels do the faux street scene inside – Caesars, Venetian, and Aladdin – I think that the Paris pulls it off the best.

One of my very favorite morning rituals in the real Paris was to stroll along the sidewalk and dip inside a bakery to buy a pain aux raisin. It’s like a flattened cinnamon roll with raisins. In the casino version, they have a great bakery that also had authentic and mighty tasty pain aux raisin. I was in faux city heaven. I’m also a journal whore, and I found a shop that had some great ones. I bought three.

We walked north on The Strip, stopping at the brand new Wynn Casino. It’s a beautiful place. They have a miniature mountain out front with a densely populated forest and a waterfall cascading down the side. We entered their main hallway when I spotted an inconspicuous art gallery. The admission price read six dollars. I thought that I had misunderstood because admission at the Bellagio art gallery – which Wynn also founded – was fifteen dollars. I asked the cashier and she confirmed the price. Great deal. I bought two tickets and we went for a browse.

The gallery consisted of two small rooms with about eighteen amazing paintings. A veritable who’s who of painting. Rembrandt. Matisse. Renoir. Warhol. Manet. Monet. And one of Picasso’s most famous paintings, La Reve (upon my return home I did some research and found out that the painting was purchased in 1997 for $47 million). Included in the admission price was an audio tour narrated by Steve Wynn himself. It was a great experience.

Kim found the perfect lunch place located at the Fashion Valley Mall. It was a Spanish restaurant called CafĂ© Ba Ba Reeba! A sign outside advertised its paella and sangria – one of my all time favorite combos. We left feeling both full and slightly drunk.

We walked through casinos on the west side of The Strip when I noticed a disconcerting trend. When I stroll through a casino floor, one of my favorite things is to casually throw loose quarters into random slot machines. Kind of like drive-by gambling. The problem is that quarter slots have stopped taking actual quarters. I find it absurd. The quarter slots holes have all been covered so the machines only take cash currency. Quarter slot machines that take quarters have become extinct.

On a related note, I have another favorite thing to do which is quickly becoming more difficult to do. It probably doesn’t make sense to anyone but me, but when I sit at a machine, I like to cash-out after every win. I’ll put quarters in the slot every round, and if I win, I hit the cash out button. I just like the sound of the quarters hitting the metal tray. It’s an affirmation of a small victory. But now, not only are the quarter slots disappearing, but you can no longer receive actual cash when you cash out. Instead you are issued a receipt by the machine for the amount you cash-out for.

Now, I don’t mind being subtlety manipulated when I’m in a casino. Pump all the oxygen into the place that you want. You’re more than welcome to load me with gallons of free alcohol. Make it difficult to find the entrances. Remove all clocks and anything indicating time of day. But there is a point when you stop being modestly manipulative, and you’re just an asshole. The casinos are starting to make it painfully difficult to get your money. What’s next? I have to walk across hot coals in order to reach the cashier? I have to swing on a vine across a piranha filled swamp? Something involving an enema? Please stop it. Now.

Later in the evening we returned to our hotel room to rest our weary feet. You don’t realize how much you walk in Vegas until you start desperately searching for a saw to cut off your feet.

Our evening schedule was simple. We’d watch Survivor on TV and then return to the San Remo casino floor to resume our gambling. After winning our millions, we would buy an isolated beachfront cabana where we could run around topless and never fear the paparazzi.

We turned on our TV and discovered that the satellite was down for all the rooms so we couldn’t get any of the normal channels. Shocking. I know, I know – we only paid thirty-one dollars.

However, later that night, amid sawdust and hardhats, I found paradise at a blackjack table.

It can be difficult to obtain because so many variables have to line up perfectly. But when all variables coordinate, gambling at a blackjack table can be a Zen-like experience. It is what I search for. It is what I hope for.

I sat at the blackjack table and placed a twenty-dollar bill on the table. The dollar gave me four red chips. Wait – let my qualify that – the dealer gave me four magical red chips.

A cool, laid-back guy from Los Angeles sat on my right. A low-key guy sat on my left. We were all supportive of each other on every hand and wished each other good luck when we needed to take a risky hit. The make-up of the table is essential to achieving the perfect vibe. Some people get so caught up with losing money that they are unpleasant to be around. Others are just annoying. It all has to line up.

The cover band launched into their set. Every song was golden. Every song was fun. The whole casino was moving to the music, occasionally singing along.

And then came the cards. All three of us were on fire. There was one time when all three players were dealt 14’s. We all hit and all won. Another round and we were all dealt 15’s. The dealer busted and we all won.

I was making perfect decisions. I hit when I should have hit and stayed when I should have stayed – each decision resulting in a win.

At one point in time, a guy who stood behind us watching, came up and asked if we all knew each other. “Nope,” said the guy on my right, “ why do you ask?” The bystander said that he had never seen a group of people play blackjack so flawlessly. “You guys haven’t made one mistake since I’ve been watching,” he added.

I fluctuated my bet a lot during the night. Sometimes I simply bet five dollars. When you get a blackjack they give you time and a half. This results in getting fifty-cent pieces when you hit a blackjack. When I walked away from the table I had fourteen fifty-cent pieces. This means that I was dealt at least fourteen blackjacks. It was an unreal night.

I was in pure bliss. Pure heaven. I’m sorry U2, but I did find what I was looking for. Who knew it was covered in felt? It was a perfect zone. It was perfect Zen.

One thing that I’ve always been curious about is how dealers feel when they pool their tips. We got one dealer who was great. She was friendly and cool and made us a lot of money. I tipped her and asked about pooling the tips. Pooling tips means that all of the tips earned that night are placed in a bucket and then divvied equally.

You get some dealers that are amazing and you want to share your newfound wealth with them. They are outgoing, funny, and supportive. You get others that are absolutely horrible. Zombies have more personality and a crying baby on a plane is better company. If I were a dealer, I would loathe the fact that I get a lot of tips because people enjoy what I do and I work hard at being affable, and then there are miserable dealers who get no tips, yet we all still get paid the same.

I asked her how she felt about this topic and she said that she really liked pooling tips because it takes the randomness out of the equation and provided consistent results, more or less. She said that you could get stuck at a high roller table with huge tips or sit at an empty table all night. You just never know how it could work out. Pooling tips provided a balanced solution.

Friday morning Kim and I left our beloved San Remo and its paint fume filled hallways, and searched for a breakfast place. We found one while driving west on Tropicana Avenue. We ate breakfast with the beautiful and engaging Vegas hills in the background.

We then got on I-15 and headed south.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

One subject in two media....

Two Lilies (One Open, One Closed).
Mixed media (pen, ink, marker, and acrylic) on paper. 8 x 5".

Two Lilies (One Open, One Closed).
Oil on canvas board. 16 x 12".

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Some recent pen and ink drawings....

Christina Reclining (pen on paper, 8 x 5", November 2005).

Lisa Leaning (ink on paper, 8 x 5", November 2005).

Sarah Sitting on Stool (ink on paper, 5 x 8", October 2005).

Prague (ink and pen on paper, 5 x 8", November 2005). This is a study for a future painting.

Watertower at Night (ink and pen on paper, 5 x 5", October 2005).

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Meercat (oil on wood, 12x16"). If you're interested, here is an ink study.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I spent this afternoon at one of my favorite places. San Diego's Balboa Park. I find a visit there to be instantly calming.

While strolling through the park, I witnessed bipolar sights. One left me entertained to no end while the other had me concerned about the fate of the earth.

There were many dogs in the park, with the numbers increased by the congregation of the San Diego Dachshund Club. A large sign posted on the corner of President's Way and Park informed me of their meeting which was helpful. Otherwise I would have been freaked out by the inordinate number of wiener dogs enveloping me. Despite their concentration, there was a very diverse collection of dogs walking with their owners.

On my way to Spanish Village, I saw a tiny dog sitting next to a woman in the grass. A person asked her what type of dog it was.

I knew that the apocalypse was approaching when I heard her response.

Miniature chihuahua.

I don't know who to blame for this tiny dog plague, but I would like it stopped. Now.

You can find out a lot about people by asking them what kind of music or movies they like. The same can be said for owners of these pathetically tiny dogs. That dog is a megaphone informing the world of your personality. Let me say this. It's not good.

I entered the zoo and was exposed to the other end of the spectrum. You're asking: What sight entertained me to no end?

I saw meercats humping.

While the humping itself was quite amusing, the best part was watching parents react. The meercats were one of the biggest kid attractions in the zoo, due largely to the success of The Lion King and its meercat character, Timon. Once the parents saw the meercats making passionate love, the parents quickly whisked their kids away despite the kids' screaming and white fingered grip on the metal railing. When one kid asked what the meercats were doing, a resourceful parent said that one meercat was giving the other a foot massage. The child, feeling very content with the explanation, informed other approaching children of this fact. All nodded in agreement.

A very different scene occurred at the conclusion of the lovemaking. There was no tenderness. No cuddling. No sense of longing. Only aloofness and silence. You could cut the tension with a knife.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Pigeon (oil on wood, 16x12").

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cutting Board (oil on canvas board, 16 x 12").

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Ginger Sitting (pen on paper, 5 1/2 x 8").

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Some drawings from today's life drawing workshop....

Lisa Laying Down (pen on paper, 5 1/2 x 8").

Lisa Sitting (pen on paper, 5 1/2 x 8").

Lisa Kneeling (pencil, colored pencil, and Conte pastel on paper, 8 1/2 x 9").

Monday, September 26, 2005

San Francisco (pen on paper, 5 x 8.5").

Sunday, September 18, 2005

I have found a new sort of noise.

I live in a neighborhood where no car was built post-1995, yet they all have car alarms (that go off frequently). Across the street sits a business with a small parking lot. The parking lot has no trees, yet they still hire a man with a leaf blower three times a week. The incredibly loud leaf blower man starts his job at 7am and it takes him at least an hour.

This morning I heard the random plucking of strings. I looked out my window into the alley, and saw below, a well-dressed man with ponytail holding a ukulele. He plucked at it tentatively – like it was the first time he had held it. He studied it. Tucked under his arm was something in a paper bag. I asked myself the following questions: “Why is a well dressed man holding a ukulele? Did he just find it? What’s in the paper bag? And why o’ why is he doing all this in the alley below my window?” He played this instrument without rhythm or musicianship for two minutes. He then pulled a 40 oz. bottle of beer from the paper bag and chugged the remaining contents. Pony-tail man then kindly found the closest trash-can and sat the bottle on top.

Surprisingly, the ponytailed-well-dressed-ukulele-beer-chugging-possibly-homeless man was still only the second oddest person I'd seen in my new neighborhood. There's still the guy in the park who walked his pet rabbit on a leash.

It will take some time to become familiar with all of the sounds in my new neighborhood.

And some high quality ear plugs.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Being that I like to both write and draw, I'm a sucker for sketchbooks and pens. I have an infinite and diverse collection of both, despite being highly particular (my left-handedness has made me quite picky about my pens due to potential smearing). Recently, I added a new sketchbook to the collection. I'd been suspiciously eyeing the Moleskine line for a while. It advertises that it was the choice of Picasso and Hemingway. While seeming to be an attractive endorsement, it made me leary since it appeared like a trendy line (and they were also on the pricey side). But I bought in, and picked up their large sketchbook. Thus far, I'm lovin' it. It's a fantastic product. The sketchbook itself has great heft (it has to feel good holding it in your hand). The covers are rigid, and the pages smooth and thick. The binding allows every page to be folded out perfectly flat. My only problem is that the paper doesn't absorb water (it sits orphaned on top like the paper was a tarp) so I have to forgo watercolors. But it makes me excited to draw, which is the best compliment an art supply can be paid.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Over the last six months, I've developed an evening routine where I fall asleep to the midnight showing of Cheers on TVLand. There is just something so lulling and comforting about the show that it makes me fall peacefully to sleep.

A brief Cheers aside. I am definitely pro-Diane and anti-Rebecca episodes. Second aside. There are shows that I grew up with and loved. But I watch them now and their allure is lost on me. Family Ties was a TV staple for me, but it didn't age well. I watch it and constantly ask myself, "I once found this funny?" There are several other shows in this category. However, I must say that I still laugh outloud at Cheers. It's aged perfectly. Sam Malone is one of the greatest TV characters of all time.

Anyway, the braintrust at TVLand have decided for one reason or another, to destroy my sleep routine by intermittently removing Cheers and replacing it with random crap. This causes me much distess as I am then unable to turn off my brain and it runs all night.

Sometimes I find a placebo in E!'s midnight airing of Saturday Night Live. However, last night I was completely orphaned. Not only did TVLand show some crap on Sunday night, but E! decided to show their crapumentary, True Hollywood Story.

E! is the worst run channel on the dial. First, they're cheap. Secondly, it shows. For their crapumentaries, they refuse to pay money to use actual footage or music. Instead of paying for clearance to use said footage or music, they'll pan across an archived photo accompanied by narration. Or even worse, they'll perform a reenactment. I loathe reenactments. Try watching one of their top 100 countdown shows. Tell me the number of times they show actual footage from an event they talk about. It's painful to watch.

Let me return to last night. E! didn't run an SNL rerun. Instead they opted for a True Hollywood Story. On Paula Abdul! But it gets better. The show was two hours long.

Really, E! President of Programming? That's the best you could do? Two hours on the life of Paula Abdul? Really? What's next week? A four hour expose on Mindy Cohn? You're killin' me, Smalls.

Monday, August 15, 2005

For two weeks in June, this was my hotel room view….


A strange and fantastic place.

I flew there for a two week business trip. My flight to Japan went well, assisted by a simple itinerary: San Diego to Tokyo via San Jose. The first leg revealed a beautiful view of Catalina Island.

I experienced an odd phenomenon when traveling. I never worried about arriving at my destination. At that point instinct, adrenalin, and excitement took over. Instead, I worried about everything leading up to landing. Would I make it to the airport in time? Would I have enough room in the overhead for my bag?

My anxiety was amplified this trip because I had only a half hour layover in San Jose. It turned into a non-event. I walked off one plane and directly onto the next. Gotta love small San Jose airport. It doesn’t get much simpler.

A blonde, American woman named Beth sat next to me. She was a Navy helicopter pilot currently stationed outside of Tokyo. She had lived there for three years.

“How do you like living in Japan?” I asked.

“I hate it,” she said.

Despite her current disdain for living in Japan, Beth was very pleasant and informative. She gave me great suggestions on things to visit, look out for, and experience. Technically and financially I loved being an engineer. Socially, I loathed it. I was often tempted to pull a George Costanza and say that I was an architect or marine biologist. I was fascinated by her job. I asked her about landing a helicopter on a moving battleship tossing about at sea. I asked her about her adventures and places she visited on assignment. She was kind and reciprocated the questions, asking me about my work. But it was boring. It was all low-concept. I sat in a cube and typed.

On the flight I completed J. Maarten Troost’s non-fiction book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals. He told his unique experience living with his girlfriend on a small atoll in the Equatorial Pacific. It was an entertaining and engaging read. I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction travel books lately.

Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area in the world, packed with over thirty-million people. Despite its massive size, it was the easiest introduction to a city I’ve experienced in my travels. I quickly passed through immigration and bought a shuttle ticket in the main hall. I took four steps out of the airport and onto the awaiting shuttle. The bus drove an hour and a half through Tokyo and dropped me off four steps from the hotel entrance.

Narita airport sits a considerable distance from Tokyo’s center, but I enjoyed the beautiful drive. It was like an unguided tour. The hillsides and trees were lush and full, infused with seven different hues of green. Vineyards are one of my favorite sights. I’m infatuated with their symmetry and setting. Japan possessed its own equivalent with its rice paddy fields.

The city was different than I had anticipated. I expected an enormous collection of skyscrapers to be heavily concentrated in a central area, but I found the tall buildings distributed in random patches. Due to its population, I knew the city must be dense, but I wasn’t prepared for the visual actuality of this fact. Being in Tokyo you quickly realized how valuable space was.

Rain poured when I arrived at my hotel. Tokyo looked beautiful. The rain gave it a great film-noir vibe.

I don't want to give Paris any more publicity, but the Tokyo Hilton was a fantastic hotel. I stepped from the bus to find attendants taking my luggage off the bus and into the hotel. I entered the automated sliding glass doors, triggered by a doorman standing by the entrance and greeting me as I walked through. I stood in line and was quickly received by the front desk man who politely took my information and described all of the services that I received for free due to my long stay. I walked over to grab my luggage and was politely interrupted by an attendant who said he would take it up to my room for me. While I appreciated the sentiment, I felt awkward receiving such personalized attention. The elevator ascended briskly to the twenty-fourth floor. The attendant knocked on the door a few minutes later and set my luggage up properly on a dresser. All the people at the hotel were incredibly helpful, polite, and kind.

I stayed in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, a vibrant and energetic locale. I had a beautiful view from my window. I faced east towards the skyscrapers and Shinjuku Station. My room was small but cozy. The window had two sliding paper walls to cover it.

My only hotel issue was that my room didn’t have a dedicated iron and ironing board, so every morning I called the front desk and got one delivered. Twenty minutes later I received a knock on the door. The housekeeping person politely walked in, set up the board and plugged in the iron. I hoped that once they delivered it, they would let me keep it until I departed. But every evening I returned to find it gone. I attempted trickery on the second day by hiding it in the closet, but it evaporated before I returned home that evening. I realized that my only chance to keep it would be if I acted like a man going to prison and keistered it before I left for work.

Cash ruled Tokyo. Very few places accepted credit cards. Since the Japanese used an ATM card with a different format, it could be difficult to locate one that accepted the American type. I worried about acquiring money but a few internet searches turned up a 24-hour Citibank ATM located five minutes away.

The Japanese currency was the yen. The exchange rate was roughly 100 yen to a dollar. This made conversion easy as you simply added or removed a decimal point.

Before I left the States I bought 5000 yen from a colleague. This provided good seed money to hit the ground running. The shuttle to the hotel cost 3000 yen and I arrived late in the evening. Concerned about running out of money and absolutely starving I sought refuge in a Japanese fast food restaurant. I walked to the front counter and simply pointed to a picture that looked reasonably safe. In Japan, you quickly learned the power of pointing. My first Tokyo meal was a fish sandwich for 320 yen. It staved off hunger for the evening.

I went to bed with the romantic vision of falling asleep to skyscraper lights. Little did I know that in Japan the sun rose at 4:30 a.m. As morning light exploded into my room at 4:30 a.m., I rose from the bed.

For future nights I closed the sliding opaque walls that encased the window to create a cave.

That morning I walked to work.

When the elevator doors opened, you were confronted with a wall of packed people pressed to the precipice. In America, you would let this elevator pass and simply catch the next one. In Japan, you push in. If you were to wait for an empty elevator, you could stand there forever.

Due to population density and lack of space, I found that our meaning of personal space and privacy were lost. People stood infinitely close and getting bumped was just a part of the game. It wasn’t personal. In the Japan office, I had my own workspace. But it wasn’t a cube in the conventional sense. The work space consisted of long desks with multiple people seated along its length. There were belly high dividers where if you stood up you could see everyone on the floor.

In most American elevators, the open and close buttons aren’t connected to the wiring. They’re purely cosmetic. In Japan, not only were the buttons connected, but they’re operated with the dexterity of a 14 year old playing X-Box.

The person closest to the door assumed control. He or she patiently held the door open until everyone was safely inside, but as soon as that last molecule of cloth crossed the plane of the elevator door, the close button was pressed. The buttons were then jostled at every stop to minimize the amount of time spent on any one floor.

Since Tokyo is so expensive to live in, most workers commute long distances to work. They’ll spend 1 ½ to 2 hours on the train each direction. And it’s not a productive commute where you can sit casually and read a book. Those two hours are spent standing and squashed. Between the long work hours and commute, many works rarely see their family except on weekends. They leave before their awake and arrive at home when everyone is asleep.

When I lived in Silicon Valley, people changed companies like they were running from the law. Three years was considered a long stay. In Japan, the highest achievement was to spend a lifetime at one company. My two Japanese counterparts had been with the company for twenty years and fifteen years, respectively.


Bowing wasn’t as predominant as I had anticipated. If the act was done at all, it was very subtle. More of a respectful head nod than a bend at the waist type of thing. The great thing about bowing was this: It covered up a multitude of mistakes. If you committed a cultural faux pas, all it took to be forgiven was a simple bow.

I’m sorry for not understanding what you’re trying to tell me.


I’m sorry for taking so long to figure out the value of my coins.


I’m sorry I slept with your girlfriend and ran over your dog.


It’s all forgiven. It’s all good.


I haven’t verified this fact, but on the airplane Beth told me the population of Japan was 99.5% Japanese. In Japan I was known as a gaijin.


Living in diverse California, I’ve been a minority at work and have lived in neighborhoods with no ethnic majority. I have never worked for an American-born boss. Yet, I have never felt like a minority. Not even close. Being a white boy in Japan, it’s obvious that you’re a minority. I always wondered how it would feel being a true minority. In truth, it made me feel special.

One nice thing was that there wasn’t any pretense that I would know the language. In Europe you went through those initial awkward greetings before the person knew that you didn't know his or her native language. In Japan they immediately knew that you didn't know the language, so communication began under that condition.

On some level, it was odd being a minority in Japan. While the people were always incredibly kind and helpful, you were completely invisible. If you walked down a crowded street with a thousand people heading towards you, no one would ever make eye contact. Again you were, and always would be, a foreigner.


If there was a place to stay in Tokyo, it was the Shinjuku district. The place had verve. I explored the area my second night. Walking in Shinjuku, I felt like a moth. I simply followed the lights and found myself randomly walking down one street, only to turn down another that appeared brighter and more electrifying.

Shinjuku contained Tokyo’s Red Light District. Signs involving all senses let you know you had entered this area. Visually, you saw a change in the buildings color. Instead of the light gray or sand color of surrounding buildings, the base was dark.

Occasionally you walked down the street and got randomly blasted with a pocket of air that smelled like ass. I knew not from where it came.

And the last reason I knew I was in the Red Light District? A well dressed and very polite man approached me and asked in staccato fashion….

Him: “Do you want a talent show?”

Well… hey… who doesn’t like a talent show?

Him: “Erotic dance?”


Him: “Do you like sex?”

In general or right now?

And it’s then that I realized I was being questioned by a well-dressed, and very polite, pimp.


Faithful readers of my travel journals know that I’m fascinated by toilets. My intrigue could be boiled down to a single point. As long as there’s been man, there’s been man pooping. To me, the toilet was like the wheel – you would think that at some point it would converge into a single efficient design. But throughout the world, toilets were as varied as flavors of ice cream.

Five years ago, my German friend explained the reason for the formation of the European Union. He said that its goal was to try and align countries on common areas to create efficiency and reduce overhead and redundancy. They were getting in each others way when they could help each other out. An example he gave me was currency. Each country had its own. After having traveled in Europe, my personal hope for the new European Union was that they would reach a common consensus on toilet design. Vienna had its stair step toilet. France had that damn bird-bath apparatus next to the toilet. And many places had a simple hole in the ground. But now that France rejected the new EU constitution, my hopes for a unified common European toilet have quickly disappeared.

In Australia, you sat on a seat so high that your feet didn’t touch the ground. A tiny pool of water sat lifelessly in the very bottom of the bowl. An enormous reservoir waited eagerly in the large tank at your back. When you pulled the lever, a torrential blitzkrieg of water avalanched into the bowl, taking with it everything. A black hole can’t compete with the sucking power of an Australian toilet.

When I flushed a toilet in Sydney, I had the vision of an entire lake disappearing to leave only a layer of mud and flopping fish.

In Japan, the toilet appeared simple enough, until you sat down and realized that an entire panel of buttons hovered next to your hip. From a Japanese toilet you could control satellites, remotely guide a stealth bomber through a canyon, or split atoms at a particle accelerator. Of course, I was just guessing since the labels were written in Japanese. However, if I understood the illustrative diagrams correctly, it seemed that you could give yourself a powerful enema.


In every city, there were simple pleasures that I relished and embraced, and missed upon leaving. In Paris, I liked the formality of saying bonjour and au revoir when entering and leaving a shop. I liked ordering a beer for 80 cents in Prague and savoring it amid good conversation. I liked ordering gelato on a beautiful evening in Florence.

In Tokyo, I loved eating with chopsticks.

I’m damn good with chopsticks. I didn’t have a mirror to prove it, but I thought I looked dead sexy wielding a pair of those wooden instruments of surgical eating precision. It’s funny, because when I ate, I noticed local people focusing on my hands to see if I struggled. I just wanted to say to them, “Sorry to disappoint you folks, but I put on a good show.” I could remove a dust particle from a gnat’s back.

Language made eating tricky. In France, I could make out at least 25% of the menu, even with my minimal knowledge of the language. In Japan, if there weren’t English translations or pictures you could point to, you stood no chance.

When I traveled, I tried to vary restaurants, but when I found a place that was good and cozy, there was nothing like making it my own local spot. I found such a restaurant in Shinjuku, located in the basement of a tall building, at the end of the hall. The food was good. The ambience was simple and nice. The environment was laid back and allowed me to take my time and write in my journal. The wait staff was very kind and hard working. Plus, I got to use chopsticks.


On a Friday night, you learned two Japanese words in quick succession. The first was biru. The second was kampai. Translated respectively: beer and cheers. I went out to dinner with a couple of my Japanese work peers and we had a great time. The menu was completely in Japanese. They ordered lots of great and interesting food for us. I ate everything that passed before me. I wish I had a camera there to take pictures of the dishes that arrived on that table.


As I worked late every night, I didn’t get much time to play around Tokyo so I eagerly awaited the weekend.

I began Saturday battling the subway ticket machines. For some reason I became obsessed with how to tell the machine where I was going. I felt that I had to tell it my exact destination – enter the exact station name – and then it would display a price that I would pay. The problem was that both the subway map and machine buttons were in Japanese. I scanned the map again and noticed that a price was listed next to each stop. I then discovered that the machine didn’t care about my specific destination, it only needed to know the price associated with my desired stop. And even that could be approximate.

The Tokyo subway machines were very forgiving. If you didn't pay enough for your ride, you got stopped at the destination turnstile and were able to go to a nearby ticket machine and paid the difference. If you didn't pay the right price at a London Tube station they beat you with wooden batons, stripped you down, and made you sing Abba songs while standing on a plastic milk crate.

On my U.K. visit three years ago, I went with Dancing Queen.

After obtaining my subway ticket, I traveled to the one must-see destination I had on my list. As soon as the subway doors opened at my destination I knew that I had arrived. I could smell it. The overwhelming scent of fish.

I walked up the stairs, rounded the corner and entered a whole new world.

The Tsukiji Fish Market. You ain’t seen nothin’ like it. It was chaos on an enormous scale.

Below is a picture looking down half of one aisle. The other half is behind me, and there are two dozen aisles. And this is just one of the buildings.

They held tuna auctions in another building. One tuna could sell for as much as a new car.

Besides the scale and the number of people involved, one thing that made the fish market so chaotic (where I constantly felt like I was sheer inches away from losing a limb) was the highly maneuverable fish carts. They behaved like a hummingbird, instantly able to travel in any direction, in a seemingly random fashion.

From the Tsukiji Fish Market, I walked to Ginza, the most expensive real estate in the world. It’s Tokyo’s version of Rodeo Drive. I wasn’t in the shopping mood, so I continued onto the Emperor’s Palace.

The grounds of the palace were beautiful, amplified because of their context: the middle of Tokyo. The palace and its immediate grounds are closed to the public except for two times a year, but there were still a sizeable amount of surrounding area open.

The beautiful Emperor's Garden in the southeast section of the park....

I continued north to the Jinbocho Booksellers’ District. I walked along a street filled with many narrow bookstores where every space was filled, every nook optimized. I turned onto another street with guitar shop after guitar shop, and streets filled with college students. The place had a great vibe.

At this point, I decided to head to the Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park (similar in nature to San Diego’s Balboa Park). I encountered a problem in that I was somewhat lost. Lost probably wasn’t the correct word. I knew approximately where I was but couldn’t verify this on the map. Since Tokyo was so large and dense, the map only listed the street names for the main roads. Being lost in Tokyo was disconcerting, but I decided to walk until I found a known road. At this point, the Museum of Western Art became my Wally World, and I was Clark Griswald.

The cool thing about walking your way out of being lost was that you encountered interesting stuff along the way. Like this beautiful shrine and very tall statue that weren’t listed in the guidebook….

I finally walked my way to the Akihabara Electronics District. This was equivalent to being lost in the mountains, rounding a corner, and spotting Los Angeles between the trees. The popular Akihabara Electronics District was an enormous array of staggering buildings and waves of people. If you wanted anything that used electricity, this was where you came. And it seemed like the whole population of Tokyo craved these goods. The place was packed.

Tall building stood next to tall building, each flashing large neon signs and filled with electronics goods. On the sidewalk, salespeople held microphones plugged into amps, trying to get you into their store. Other people passed out fliers. Being an outsider, it was hard to discriminate one building’s wares from another. They each blended into a monotonous mass.

Fortunately, the main Akihabara artery ran straight to Ueno Park, and so I simply followed the road north.

Ueno Park was an interesting place. It held museums, shrines (some hidden and others obvious), a lake, marshes, and a zoo. There were also homeless embankments throughout the park, each established like its own community. An individual shelter could consist of a tarp, a nice tent, or a large box. I could tell that some shelters had existed for some time. A few had connected boxes, arranged like different rooms of a house.

Once in the park, I easily located the National Museum of Western Art, and it was my lucky day because the museum happened to be free. Saw some great European and American art.

After the museum I perused the park and saw some great shrines and monuments.

I became infatuated with this staggered building that sat adjacent to the park’s pond. I took a million pictures of it.

A few random observations I discovered about Tokyo. I never saw any graffiti. It was remarkably clean and I rarely saw any litter. What makes this point even more amazing was that it was very difficult to find a trashcan. I often found myself lugging wrappers and bags with me for extended periods until I encountered the rare trash receptacle. Again, it cannot be overstated how polite and kind the Japanese people were. I never heard a cell phone ring during my entire time, and no one talked on one while riding the train.

What I haven’t mentioned explicitly at this point is that I walked this entire way… starting at the Tsukiji Fish Market, through Ginza, around the Emperor’s Palace, to Akihabara, and ending at Ueno Park. Check on a map. This was a very, very, very long distance. I was exhausted. I found the closest subway station and took the train back to the hotel where I sawed off my feet to relieve the pain.


As much fun as I had on Saturday, I eagerly anticipated my planned Sunday adventure. I would take the train an hour south of Tokyo to see the Great Buddha in Kamakura.

My adventure began where many Tokyo adventures began: Shinjuku Station. It is the busiest train station in the world. Over 2 million people passed through this station every day. That’s the entire population of metropolitan Denver all condensing into a single point. I stayed next to this station and could attest to the fact that it was always busy. Always.

To avoid the process of battling the machine, I wrote my itinerary on a sheet of paper and handed it to a person in the ticket office. 800 yen later I had my ticket. Now, in this overwhelming maze of turnstiles and tracks, I had to find my train. I prided myself on my travel instincts – on my ability to collect information, be resourceful, and make a decision. But I must admit that I struggled to understand the way the trains ran in Tokyo. I still don’t understand it. There were different types of trains (subway and regular train) and different companies running each. However, the main problem was simply that the vast majority of all signs were written in Japanese. Let’s say that you found your train line (not always easy). Trains usually ran in both directions from that track so you had to determine in which direction to take the train. Now this was a universal problem. In London they used cardinal directions (i.e. did you want to take this train line east or west?). Easy. In Paris they used endpoints to denote direction. This wasn’t intuitive because you had to understand the location of the endpoints. If I threw out two names in a strange city, you don’t know which was which. This was easily overcome with some research. You looked on a map and determined where the endpoints were, where along the line your destination was, and where you were relevant to all points. Tokyo used this latter approach. In the subways, signs listed the station stops with English subtitles. But with above-ground trains, this was not the case. They scrolled the station stops along a digital display but they were written in kanji. So I had to ask someone if my stop was one of those on the display. Here’s the problem. It cannot be overstated how incredibly kind and polite the Japanese are. But language differences were a significant obstacle. In addition, the Japanese’s highest life tenet was to maintain order. They strived to maintain peace and comfort. As a result, if you asked a Japanese person a question, they could say yes – not because that was the answer – but simply to maintain peace. They didn’t want to upset any balance. You had to be weary of accepting the “yes.” One key to accepting the “yes” as fact was if the person expanded on the question or his or her answer using English. I found a person who did just that and I was on my way to Kamakura.

The trip took slightly over an hour, with one transfer in Ofuna. Once arriving in Kamakura, I walked a couple miles through narrow village streets until I reached the gate of Daibutsu, the Great Buddha.

I went through the gate and followed a tree lined path until I reached it.

I felt completely humbled. I hadn’t anticipated its grandness or its serenity. I’d seen London’s Houses of Parliament, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Golden Gate Bridge, and other grand icons. But I can’t remember ever having this reaction to a monument. A sense of peacefulness enveloped me. I sat there for a long time.

The statue was cast in 1252 and had survived typhoons, earthquakes, tidal waves, and fires. I departed the Great Buddha reluctantly.

I proceeded through the small town of Kamakura…

… and continued on the path….

… that led to the Hachiman-gu Shrine.

I climbed the steps and entered the shrine. Every shrine had a wish wall. People wrote wishes and needs on cards, and hung them up, in hopes that they would get answered. Since Kim would be taking the bar exam soon, I wrote one for her and placed it on the wall.

Located adjacent to the shrine grounds, I visited the beautiful Museum of Modern Art – Kamakura. They had some interesting artwork in their collection.

I continued up the steep hill to the town of Kita-Kamakura. I was greeted by the magnificent Kencho-ji gate.

The Kencho-Ji temple grounds and buildings were stunning.

The shrine sat on an extensive tract of land that continued up the steep hillside. In order to reach the top shrine, I had to hike an amazing amount of stairs to reach it. This was just one small section…

As sunset approached, I returned to the main road, and continued upward until I reached the next train station. I took the train back to Yokohama but remained stranded there until I could determine which train would take me to Shinjuku Station. I caught one an hour later. I arrived at the train station in time to see a band playing on the sidewalk outside.


In the middle of my second week, I decided to grab some dinner near the train station. Whenever I’m traveling, I tried to eat where locals ate. As a result I found myself wandering through a lantern lit alley.

Nestled on both sides of this alley were tiny hole-in-the-wall bars, housed in narrow alcoves. A bartender, trapped behind the bar, operated with enough room to slide along the bar’s length. Patrons squeezed by each other to enter or leave, pinned between the wall and occupied barstools. They sat shoulder-to-shoulder. Smoke rolled out from each awning as the bartenders turned skewers of meat on old ash-colored grills. Meat that wasn’t being cooked sat raw and orphaned in stacks next to the grill.

I paced back and forth through the alley, feeling anxious about joining a seemingly local crowd in a place that seemed haphazard. As I passed by one, a female proprietor called out in English and asked me to join them. There was one empty seat deep inside their place at the very end. It was the worst looking alcove. I hovered at the base of the alley, varying thoughts passing through my head. I was tentative, but why? Did I simply want to avoid feeling awkward? Avoid receiving horrific food poisoning? Avoid getting killed? Avoid getting ripped off? The answer to all of these were ‘yes’ to varying degrees.

Violent crime in Japan is almost nonexistent. However, one thing that you had to be careful of was eating and drinking at certain places without inquiring about its prices. At the end of the night you could get handed an enormous bill.

I asked myself, what was the worst that could happen? Travel was an adventure, and I needed to embrace it. I decided to give this slummy alcove a try.

There were three people working in very cramped quarters behind the bar – two women and one man. The space was so narrow that they couldn’t pass by one another. The man asked a customer to slide over a chair so that I could occupy the last bar stool in the back. The bartenders were all very nice and I started talking to the man. They were Filipino. One of the women working was his younger sister. His older sister had lived in Tokyo for fourteen years and owned the place. Him and his younger sister were in the country for four months and would return back to the Philippines in another month. He spoke seven different languages including his native Tagalog, English, Japanese, Spanish, and Russian.

I entered the establishment feeling very guarded so unfortunately I wasn’t able to relax and enjoy the ambience and experience as much as I would have liked. It was a very friendly atmosphere. Everyone was drinking and eating.

I asked how much the beer was and upon hearing a pleasant number, I ordered a beer. The bartender turned to a splintered cabinet behind his head and pulled down a glass. He went over to a closet in the corner and pulled out a hose connected to a cooler and filled my glass with beer. The cabinet behind his head looked like a fractured wooden curio cabinet that had been used to store knick knacks in your grandparent’s basement. And their unkempt glassware resembled that of a poor college student – nothing matched – they had seemingly been acquired from random sources.

The man handed me a small ceramic bowl and chopsticks. I glanced at the dish and saw that it contained lots of tiny unidentifiable parts. It looked like the stomach and esophagus of rats (I’m being literal here – it may have actually been that). In the spirit of adventure I managed to eat a few but it was horrible. The texture was squishy yet rubbery. Occasionally I would bit into something hard. I’ve eaten all sorts of things indiscriminately, but I could not imagine anyone actually enjoying this dish, until I looked to my right and saw my neighbor’s empty dish. I felt bad that I couldn’t finish mine. I tried covering my dish with the thin chopsticks as much as I could. I pushed it close to the rise of the bar to keep it out of view from the bartender. What the hell did I get myself into? What awaited me? Sadly, this made me feel even more guarded.

I talked to the bartender and he told me how to order. There were four different types of meat served on skewers. I asked about the prices. Each skewer was 100 yen. I ordered two chicken and two pork.

There was a kind man sitting next to me who struck up a conversation in broken English. He asked where I was from. I asked him about Tokyo. If either of us had problems communicating to the other, we would default to the bartender and he would translate. My neighbor said that this alley I was on was very old and very important to Japanese citizens. He said that it translated into “Wish Street.”

A row of liquor bottles stood in front of my neighbor and I like a great wall, separating us from the bartender.

My neighbor asked if I liked sake. I told him that I did. He asked if I liked shochu. I replied that I did not know what it was. The bartender said that it was Japanese liquor made from potatoes, similar to vodka.

My neighbor then bought us each a large shot glass of shochu poured over ice. I know that it was a large glass because my new Japanese friend enthusiastically commended the bartender for his generosity as the level of shochu in the glasses continued to rise with the healthy pour. We said bamkai and drank. In response to his generosity, I bought my new friend a beer. My skewers arrived and they were edible. I should have embraced the situation but my guardedness did not dissolve, and I left shortly after eating, saying goodbye to my Japanese and Filipino friends.


With my flight leaving Japan being on Sunday, I still had all day Saturday to play in Tokyo. I religiously monitored the weather in hopes that I would have a clear day to explore. It showed rain leading up to Saturday. On Saturday the weather symbol they showed looked like the coming of the apocalypse. Rain clouds on Friday. But the symbol on Saturday had pictures of the ground cracking open and locusts pouring out. It didn’t look good.

But when Saturday arrived, the weather was wonderful.

I began my excursion at the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Museum of Art, located on the 42nd floor of the nearby Sompo Headquarters Building – one of my fave.

The museum had a special exhibit featuring paintings from the Musee Fabre – Montpellier, in France. When researching the museum online, I loved the artwork painted by their namesake artist, Seiji Togo, and was therefore disappointed when they only had a few of his paintings on display. However, it was more than made up for by the visiting exhibit, their normal collection, and the view from the 42nd floor.

It was unintentional, but I seemed to repeat much of my itinerary from the previous Saturday. I took the train from Shinjuku Station to Tokyo Station, located half-way between Ginza and the Emperor’s Palace.

Being a huge architecture fan, I wanted to check out the incredible Tokyo International Forum.

One of my Japanese peers told me about how mean Japanese crows were and how people avoided them. I walked down a sidestreet when I saw two crows perched on opposite ends. They took turns attacking people as they passed by.

I walked around the Palace Garden hoping to visit the Museum of Modern Art located on the other side. The entire museum was closed due to them installing the exhibit. Typically a museum of this size would shut down a single wing or floor, and not the entire museum.

I went to the street full of bookstores to buy my nephew a Manga comic. I had to be careful when selecting one because some were violent and/or sexually explicit. Japan was a modest society, with sexuality often expressed in subversive ways. As a result, you often saw sexuality represented paradoxically. One of the funny things was looking through these comic books and seeing hardcore sex scenes between men and women, where everything was shown. Everything, except for the woman’s coochie. It would be black boxed (no pun intended) -- and this was a hand drawn comic book. They could show the most bizarre sex acts, as long as they didn’t show penciled vagina. Crazy. I found a safe one that still seemed interesting. I took it up to the front counter and the cashier took the book and laid it onto a large piece of paper. He very carefully and deliberately folded the paper, and made a beautiful book cover for it. That’s one thing about Japan, the service in all the stores was amazing. People took a great deal of pride in their work.

I took the train back to Shinjuku Station and ventured over to the Keio Department Store. Department stores in Japan were amazing. There were enormous and carried everything, from the most exotic foods to the simplest of nick knacks to furniture. I bought a bottle of sake and asked the salesperson on how to serve it. He was very kind and helpful, and showed me how to read the label so that I could determine whether a particular bottle of sake should be served hot or cold.

I finished me evening with a visit to the amazing Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.

I took an elevator to the observation deck on the 45th floor.

From there I had a beautiful view of the Park Hyatt Hotel (featured in the movie, Lost in Translation).

Soon, the thunderstorms arrived.


The next day, I flew back to California. We had a flight attendant that got on the intercom and used a voice that made her sound like a phone sex operator.