Category Archives: writings

Peaceful chickens and mockingbirds

So I know it’s been awhile. You might say that the election and its aftermath has subsumed all rational activity. Every day I wake up and take an extra long time to do the mundane crap, extra care for the same old same old, because when you consider the number of people in certain swing states who voted for third party candidates versus the number of votes Trump won over Clinton, or the news that the impending retail job market crash will be #(*&@@!x number of times worse then the coal worker’s crisis, even with the news that Pandas have been upgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable things just seem so awful.

Many years ago I wrote a story where the Aphex Twin was the president of the United States and he changed the name of “The White House” to “Rationality.” The fact that his chief strategist was Klaus Meine (from the Scorpions) made the story a little over the top.

It’s classic June gloom in Los Angeles, but the recent rains have given us poppies, fat blackberries, bees, and tons of weeds. Our gardener is very stressed out. He just wipes his brow and says “Everything keeps growing.”

We’ve planted tomatoes every year but this is the year the squirrels have decided they are good enough to steal. They (the squirrels) have suffered a little bit of a setback the last few weeks because a pair of mockingbirds have started hanging about the yard, another first for us. Usually we get a cooper hawk visiting every spring, which is a beautiful thing to see in the crepe myrtles, but these mockingbirds are assholes.

They attack Stevie the border collie, going for her eyes. They attack the squirrels (OK) and they attacked the cooper hawk (not OK).

They’ve woken up Bing Bing the cat, who for the past six months has done very little other than sleep and vomit, and now she’s climbing up on anything that gives her a front row seat of the mockingbirds beating up on Stevie.

For some reason MO is free to walk about and enjoy the sunshine, being the hippie, solar-addicted bird-lover she is. Or maybe it’s random, right? Like each dog walks out into the yard, and they don’t know what’s going to happen?

The last Trumpian I have spoken to since the night of the election was this guy that walked into the Thai restaurant where I was picking up dinner. He takes one look at the polls on the television (at that point bleak but not apocalyptic, yet), and tells me and the owner that he hadn’t voted yet, “but I’m gonna.” The owner says “White rice or brown rice?” and the guy says “Well, we all know what we’re going to get with one candidate. We know exactly what we’re going to get. With the other one, it’s different. It will be something new.”

It feels silly to end on such a low note, so I’ll put this out there:

Yingelishi is a genius and crazy language opera written by Jonathan Stalling that “works” in both Mandarin Chinese and English. The Chinese phrases read out loud mean different things depending on whether you’re asking the words to produce their meaning in English or in Chinese. For example, my name in English is Angie. An easy way for me to get Chinese people who don’t know English to pronounce my name is to have them call me “Peaceful Chicken,” because Peaceful Chicken in Chinese is pronounced “An Gee.”

The title of Jonathan’s opera, Yinglishi, means “Chanted Songs, Beautiful Poetry” in Chinese, but it also sounds like what he calls “an accented pronunciation of the word ‘English.'” All of this is part of a brilliant effort to teach English using the sounds of the student’s native language, rather than making them first learn romanized letters and their sounds before actually speaking English. I figure this is totally helpful in a large part of China where the English teacher doesn’t actually have great pronunciation, and the students (being nice, eager mockingbirds) simply repeat what they hear.

Let me tell you about what’s wrong with Vanessa Place

Calling Vanessa Place a racist is wrong because it’s not enough. It’s not getting at the root of the problem. She’s using race to call attention to herself, so calling her a racist must tickle her to no end.

She’s definitely a certain type of racist, but mostly she’s a grossly egotistical patronizer, yeah, and a bad artist. But she comes from a whole line of very well paid and respected patronizers, but because she’s not a guy she has to use the next thing down on the totem pole from gender, and that’s race.

At first I was simply baffled by all the backlash against her. Not baffled like I didn’t get it, or that I didn’t think the tweets were racist. They were simply appropriated quotes from a racist book. Not Vanessa Place’s voice. OK. Appropriation is sort of the flavor of the month. But then I realized that all these people going after her for racial insensitivity are falling into the trap she has set. If Vanessa Place didn’t have race to be patronizing about she’d find something else. But she knows that race will get everyone riled up and get her a ton of attention but the anger and the criticism is misdirected.

She’s the white person telling everyone GWTW is a racist text. Well no duh, it was written in a racist period of our country, by a white woman living in the racist south. Do we need yet another white woman to tell us? Do we need an artist from Iceland highlighting the absence of a mosque in the historic center of Venice, Italy? Do we need another all-male panel discussing how women can make it in Silicon Valley? Do we need a nearly all-male Senate or Supreme Court writing legislation on women’s reproductive rights and who can control their bodies?

If other issues, say child labor, food stamps, or bone-shaped flea medication tablets were as hot as the issue of race, Vanessa Place would be telling women this, telling children that, telling animals this and that. That’s what patronizers do. So it’s not stopping the real problem if you allow her to bring the hammer of race down on everything.
Race gives her something to hide behind, something to shield her.
Calling her a racist allows other patronizers to slide by, to get ahead even, to feel justified in continuing to say “So let me tell you about how you feel being on your period, your situation of poverty, your sense of smell, etc.”

So why is getting all wrapped up in the race card so bad?
Because it allows people to bash on her while keeping their conscience clean. Everyone who signed the AWP petition, and everyone bashing Vanessa Place on social media can very proudly distance themselves from the race bit (hopefully). They can say they will never and never have and have never wanted to do something as grossly gross and profoundly awful as the RACIST Gone With the Wind tweets and accompanying image. They can be proud thumbs-uppers and wield their twitter stars and Instagram hearts all over the place. But if the crime Vanessa Place can be accused of is being patronizing under the guise of sheer egotism, from the position of white privilege, then are so many of these AWP petition signers still so innocent? And if you take the white part out, can they say they have never patronized from the point of gender, class or social privilege? Mansplainers? Hear me?

dog_splaining

buddhist_males

On my knees. An open letter to Santa Fe.

tequila_worm

O Santa Fe.
you can build adobe yoga rooms
paint your ceiling beams brown

you can move firewood via burro
scratch the chins of the howling coyotes
and dangle chiles in every doorway

go ahead and dip Indian bread in mugs
of broth where “mild” is the new “hot”

i’ll even let you redefine the Frito Pie
or put vibram soles on moccasins
call every blue stone by the same name
and allow Amazon’s elite guests to geocache in the Plaza

but DO NOT—seriously—DO NOT FUCK with the panda bear.

santa-fe-panda

Take “shelfies” not “selfies”

My mother does not want a photo taken of her. Not now, not even ten years ago. She doesn’t even want me to know her age, which I think is around 75 plus minus two or three. Either she’s gotten to the age or I’ve gotten to the age where my friends and I reserve entire evenings to discuss MOM stories.

I’ve always thought it was a better choice to make art than write stories, because when all else fails you can always give your art to your mom. The problem with this is that when she’s trying to sell her house and clean up and toss shit out she won’t let you throw the art out. Yes, Mom I drew that, but come on, it’s got to go.

mexico

My mom doesn’t make it easy to visit her, even though she still does nice things like leave the hall light on for me if I go out at night, or places a clean cup under the coffee maker for me to use in the morning. The problem with Mom is, well, it’s not entirely clear what the problem is.

When I visit her in New Mexico I can stay home, keep her inside, jump up and down with her when exciting points are made on the tennis channel, and re-watch the entire collection of Thin Man movies. But things get confusing because she keeps root vegetable chips inside of a sea salt potato chip bag (and maintains it that way), she has two pepper grinders, one she puts ground pepper in and the other whole peppercorns, refuses to give me the code to the house alarm, and leaves half apples, half bananas, half peaches, and I swear half blueberries everywhere, nested inside a half paper towel.

The alternative is to take Mom out into public. There she’ll clip her nails at the restaurant while gawking at the man who walks in with a prosthetic leg. She’ll refuse to use the pepper grinder the restaurant has placed on each table, choosing instead to sit there and not eat, constantly making a pepper grinding motion and saying “I’ll wait for them to bring out the fresh pepper.” She’ll go to the Apple store in Albuquerque with me, and after she decides to buy the iPad and before she hands over her credit card, she will cozy up to the 18 year old genius and point at me suspiciously, asking him to double verify what I told her, that she will indeed be able to use the iPad in Santa Fe.

horseshoe_lamp

At Mom’s house there’s always a barometer. There was a barometer in our house when my parents were married too. One friend who had been to both my dad’s and my mom’s house remarked how interesting it was that my parents were both into barometers. After thinking about it for a moment, I realized that it was really all Mom. She bought the one at the old house, didn’t take it with her when she left my dad, and bought herself a new one after moving into her new home.

Mom and Dad were scientists but it’s always funny for me to say it was my mom who designed explosives. She had something to do with the explosive that is set off when a car’s air bag is released. I always toss that one out when people get that look on their face after hearing that I grew up in Los Alamos.

Going to help Mom this past week, I feared the closet full of coffee makers, the eternal bag of bags, the bamboo baskets of matches. But she’s done a lot of work, “clearing the junks” as she likes to say, and only a few things made me pause to think they survived the purge. A framed jigsaw puzzle of an autumn pumpkin harvest, all my old art, a horrific carved ivory piece which I have never seen during my childhood and a jar of Carmex from way back in the past when I used to be addicted to Carmex, or at least said shit like that.

ivory

She doesn’t have many books, once you take away my brother’s sci-fi paperbacks and my random books from college and my Beatles phase. Looking at her “shelfie” is a little like looking at her through her Oakley sunglasses. She’s lost one of the nose pieces so she just replaced it with one that’s a different height. Doesn’t bother her though.

In no particular order:

What and How of Chinese Painting
America’s Hidden Corners
The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Monet’s Years at Giverny
The Practical Encyclopedia of Feng Shui
Cooking with Rosemary
Zen To Go
The Complete Illustrated Guide to Medical Self Care (take care of yourself)
The Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair
The Complete Guide to Antiques
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare
Intermediate Readings in Chemical German
Italian for Travelers
French for Beginners
Explosives, third edition

Reminder and Remainder

kitty
Behind any published piece of writing are many pages (and in my case many many pages) that were written but never meant to be read. These excess words are like the camphor tree that’s planted alongside a tea tree, by the time the tea leaves have been picked and processed there’s no thought of whose roots were co-mingled with what, but the slight cooling sensation on your tongue is both reminder and remainder.

spices

Many thanks to Black Balloon Publishing for publishing my profile on Koh Kikuchi (Chef Otto) this week. While editing the piece I went back to my notes and found a few lines comparing Koh’s cooking to Morton Feldman’s piano music. Needless to say such abstract nonsense didn’t even make it into the first draft but I can post it here for the minimally inclined.

A Morton Feldman piano piece:
– sometimes the audible has already been played
– sounds become inaudible before their notation ends
– notes that fade away by themselves without the pianist’s influence
– not everything in the score is audibly recognized

Koh’s cooking:
– takes into account what you may have already eaten, or may still be lingering in your palate.
– dictates textures and flavors in a sequence, within a time frame lasting between two bites to a five-course meal
– flavors that emerge without Koh’s influence (he likes to say “I did nothing to this piece of meat!”)
– not everything he does to the food is intended to be tasted

pheasant_puff

One has to read what the dish is trying to do. Like minimalism piano music, there are tones and rhythms, but the music has a purpose. It’s going somewhere, though some notes fail where others succeed. One has to study the dish, how it relates to what was served before, or what is coming.
The seared tip of a triangle of whitefish, the slimy spiral of seaweed in a clear consommé, the dull grayish blob of leeks that were cooked in soy sauce and wine and pork ribs for 8 hours. All of these are notes/textures in his little compositions.

knife

A few lingering online reviews of Koh’s cooking:

LA Times: February 11, 2001

Metropolis: March 17, 2011

Mouthfulsfood.com, July 2004

Uwe’s World: September 2005

remainder

Chef de Brigade resurfaces

portraitchef1

In 1975 John McPhee published a story called Brigade de Cuisine about a chef he calls Otto, who ran a 55-seat restaurant with no help except for Anne, his pastry chef/wife, their children (who served the food), and a dishwasher on the weekends. Seven years ago as a dear friend of mine was closing his French Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles to move back to Tokyo, I borrowed McPhee’s line where he asks the chef if he could sit in his kitchen and take notes.

veggie_ride-drawing

This April my profile of “Chef Otto” will be published online at airshipdaily.com by Black Balloon Publishing, and the only thing that could possibly make me any happier is knowing that the Chef de Brigade is coming back to the states.

knife_chopping

You lucky people of Seattle will now have a chance to taste this guy’s food. Don’t be turned off by the name of the place (Yes, it’s called I Love Sushi, the one in Bellevue). Just know that even though “Otto” is not a sushi chef this place is owned by the same people who own Shiro’s, and if you follow the hype, both owner, Shiro Kashiba, and sushi chef Daisuke Nakazawa (who recently left Shiro’s and is now running Sushi Nakazawa in NYC) apprenticed with Jiro Ono from the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” You can imagine they take their fish-craft very seriously.

feeder-drawing

Add to this “Otto’s” weird obsessive concept of how things should taste and be cooked, and his commitment to achieve particular flavors and textures by controlling how everything from the trimming of herbs to how to clean to the pastry brush, and you’re going to be saying “I loaf loaf loaf sushi.”

koh-burger

For those of us stuck in Los Angeles, there’s the hope that “Otto” will someday come back here, but in the meantime for sushi there’s Kiriko Sushi on Sawtelle. These guys are buddies.

koh_ken

What do they talk about during a precious layover at LAX? An 80 year old sushi chef just outside of Tokyo who’s the hands-down grandmaster. All skills, no hype. From what I heard: Sushi chefs that have been at the top of the business for 40+ years eat his food and get goosebumps. Always room for improvement, as “Otto” likes to say.

scampi

Bundle Love and GRL power

screaming_shelties

I’ve always had a thing for words that describe a group/cluster/measure of things. There are just some phrases that feel good to say: “lashings of scones,” “a garrison of cheese,” or “a screaming of Shelties.”

gaggle_of_wishbones

Bundles of merino wool from Rapha though, until today, have only been available for men. It isn’t enough that women get the short shrift when it comes to bike fit. It isn’t enough that when the person in the back of a tandem bike is a girl, the most common thing people say is “She isn’t pedaling.” A ha ha ha! It isn’t enough that guys on anything other than a non-Costco bike get “stared at like a boob” by other guys for only the time it takes for the light to turn green and not a second longer.

At least *you* guys get a bundle discount on the shirts that make beating your ass up the hill less sweaty and more pleasurable. When I asked the folks at Rapha why the men’s merino shirts had the discount but not the women’s their short reply was that they fully agreed.

Today they came through, bundles in short sleeve or long, and I put in the first order. It’s a sweet way to put your money where your mouth is.

self_portrait_mustache

Franzen-centricity

I’m not interested in whether Jonathan Franzen hates Twitter, or bashes Oprah and Rushdie, and I could do without knowing about his blue-balled boner and coin-tossing rage, and financial status:
news but nearly fifty years after Marshall McLuhan wrote “the medium is the message,” after who knows how many gazillion downloads of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Commencement speech,

“…It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…”

I confess to feeling some version of disappointment when a novelist who I believe ought to have known better, Jonathan Franzen, unabashedly, unironically gives his “Freedom” away. To what? To an ad campaign.

“…And yet, to echo Kraus, I’d still rather live among PCs. Any chance that I might have switched to Apple was negated by the famous and long-running series of Apple ads aimed at persuading people like me to switch. The argument was eminently reasonable, but it was delivered by a personified Mac (played by the actor Justin Long) of such insufferable smugness that he made the miseries of Windows attractive by comparison. You wouldn’t want to read a novel about the Mac: what would there be to say except that everything is groovy? Characters in novels need to have actual desires; and the character in the Apple ads who had desires was the PC, played by John Hodgman. His attempts to defend himself and to pass himself off as cool were funny, and he suffered, like a human being…”

Franzen sees himself as the target of the campaign, but he allows his reaction to the ad to dictate what computer he buys. He’s trying to see reason in the ad, he’s even given the characters personalities. Hello! It’s a bloody ad. (OK, he tries to distance himself by naming the actors who play the Mac and the PC rather than just calling them The Mac and The PC, but he ends up looking like the computer geek that grows a ponytail so that he doesn’t look like…ahem…a computer geek.)

Ads are not meant to have smugness or desires, ads are meant to elicit from the viewer the emotion that ads can and should have smugness and desires, and someone who dares to say “But I’m enough of a child of the 60s to see a difference between letting your spouse remember your nieces’ birthdays and handing over basic memory function to a global corporate system of control” should understand the power of the global corporate system of control that is advertising:

From a profile of Naomi Klein written by Larissa Macfarquhar in the New Yorker and a permanent snippet I keep by my bed:

But students in 1996 weren’t interested in identity; what they talked about was economics. At the time, corporations were starting to make inroads into schools: soft-drink companies were negotiating exclusive deals; advertisements were appearing in bathrooms. There was a feeling in the air that corporations were getting too powerful—more powerful than governments, but not accountable to anyone except their shareholders. And, at the same time that big corporations were withdrawing physically from the United States and opening factories overseas, visually, even spiritually, they were everywhere, insinuating their logos into what had once been public space. Young activists found this especially objectionable, perhaps because one of the places into which corporations insinuated themselves most effectively was youth and activism, folding mutiny into advertising so deftly that resistance seemed futile.

Or…from something I wrote, (tldr):

At the roofline, spread across the width of the building, is the name of the company in steel letters so large the average human cannot take in the entire word in one glance; there just isn’t enough space to back up far enough. In the world.

In the hallways there are ads. Mock ads, historical ads, ads to throw darts at, ads to move you, and ads worth further study. Underneath the ads are long benches made of perforated metal. Inter-agency it’s a well-known fact the benches are hell to sit on, the backrests are too low, and the surface leaves a circular pattern on clothing. The only people who find this a positive thing are the junior coordinators, as it’s a foolproof way to keep track of who’s the client and who’s on the account team.

Lounge chairs and side tables with surfaces too small for laptops are clustered underneath orbs of designer lighting; these “landing pads” unify the long channels of work cubbies. The cubbies themselves are drenched in individualized tidbits — baby pictures, snapshots of sports stars, carpal-tunnel-preventing squeezy toys, wind-up toys that dance and fart and say hello in a foreign language, contraptions that spit out sticky notes in the shape of toast, and the occasional bag of herbal tea. The only uniform item on every desk in various shades of wear and tear is a single computer key, bright red with the word PANIC in white capital letters.

They, make ads. They have Creatives who sit on beanbag chairs and C-level executives who meet with the Creatives in Cones of Silence. They allow dogs, ferrets, and fish in the building. They next-day-air printers and laptops and ergonomic chairs so the traveling executives do not have to carry them on a plane. They have statistics centers, war rooms, brainstorm pods, tool kits, media resource libraries, Consumer Configurators, Personal Game Plans, “Negative-Free” zones, punch bowls filled with imported Italian mints, glass shelving stacked with abstractly shaped awards, huge microwaves, and an employee recreation area the size of a half basketball court. They have the smallest network server room and IT staff-to-employee ratio of any company their size and the largest plasma television screen technically possible hanging in the commons room 24/7-ing their ads. They are “Breakthrough.” They are “Integrated.” They are “Brand-centric.” They have no dress code.

Alphabet Soup

Several years ago a friend of mine, who happens to be a Japanese French chef, closed his restaurant in LA and moved back to Japan. I spent the last few days he was open for business standing in the kitchen and taking notes while he worked. He ran the kitchen and his wife ran the front. No dishwasher, no sous chef, no waitress. He’s a bit of a freak. He’d often wait until he saw the customer’s face before he decided what to serve him. He’d also claim “I’m a chef, I’m nothing. I’m just using things available in the world.”
Aren’t we all.


On Monday I head to China to visit some really old Pu’er tea trees, and at the end of the trip I get to visit Koh and his wife Aki in Tokyo. This afternoon while hunting for a good notebook to bring I came across something I had written during that time:

“Alphabet soup is instructive in the same way as food writing is meaningful. Stir it around and the words are different but the taste is the same. Seared hoobidyhoo with small batched blah blah covered with a la la la reduction and baby poobahs. The language has become flat and sterile. Who doesn’t use meyer lemons, organic micro greens and first flush blooms? What does the use of tapenade, marinade, etceterade say about what the food actually tastes like and what kind of thinking has gone into the work?
One could create a series of food descriptors and spit them out on a ticker tape and people can buy them by the linear inch. Or maybe a radio program on a station called WFRY that just has a voice reading dinner entree options…”

I once watched Koh make a Pear Charlotte (and I will take credit for helping him figure out how long to make the wall of lady fingers in order for it to wrap nicely along the inside rim of the cake pan), and I asked him if it was a special lady finger recipe and he said “No, if it’s for serving with coffee I make them more crunchy, harder. This one’s a Charlotte, it’s supposed to go with the Barbara, which is heavy, and if you make it with regular lady fingers the inside is moist from the Barbara but the outside is crunchy. I don’t want your mouth to be bothered by the crunchy. The Barbara is smooth and melts in your mouth.” (Barbara = Bavarian cream) So before he puts the cream in he coats the lady fingers with sugar water and so when you bite into it the cookie is consistent all the way through. “If you want texture,” Koh said, “just add the little cut off bits of lady finger to the middle.”
That’s some good advice all around.