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Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

I just (finally) saw the acclaimed movie Zero Dark Thirty and I have to admit that I was deeply disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong, the movie was fast paced and entertaining at times, but it had a fatal flaw (warning, spoiler alerts abound in this post).  The ending just wasn’t believable.  For starters, I don’t see how the CIA or the White House would approve such a dangerous mission when most of the experts agreed that there was, at most, a 60 percent chance that Bin Laden was in the compound.  I know, one person said she was 100 percent sure that Bin Laden was in the compound, but that person was a female ginger who wasn’t even Claire Danes.  I’ve worked for the federal government (albeit as part of the federal judiciary) and there is no freaking way senior decision-makers would’ve just taken the ginger’s word for it over all the other dark-haired males in the room.

I was willing to forgive this misstep because, I get it, the filmmakers needed a Hollywood ending.  What better way to keep the audience’s attention than a military assault?  Ok, fine, but if you are going to have a dramatic attack at the end, it should at least bear some semblance to reality.  But in Zero Dark Thirty, the assault on Bin Laden’s compound wasn’t even close to anything that could happen in real life.  The compound where the movie’s Bin Laden was hiding was in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  This doesn’t make any sense.  Abbottabad is a relatively well-to-do city, far away from the loosely governed tribal areas where he would probably hide if he went to Pakistan.  Moreover, Abbottabad is where Pakistan’s version of West Point is located, something the filmmakers could have figured out with a simple Google search.  Obviously, there is no way Bin Laden could ever hide so close to such a large military school in Pakistan, a crucial ally of the United States.  I have no idea why the filmmakers chose to have the assault in Abbottabad, when there are countless other places in the Middle East where Bin Laden is more plausibly hiding.

Also, the unit that attacked the compound in the movie was a group of Navy Seals.  Again, a simple Google search would’ve told the filmmakers that the Navy is responsible for fighting on water.  But the attack in Zero Dark Thirty was carried out on land, with helicopters.  There were no boats and the soldiers were not wearing scuba gear or white outfits with blue trim, as is typical for people in the Navy.  I thought this was inexcusable, because the United States has a service that fights on land.  It’s called the Army.  The script writers could’ve easily had the Army carry out the assault, rather than the Navy.

As for the assault itself, I’m not buying it.  There were only two helicopters full of soldiers in the attack.  I just don’t see how the powers that be in the government wouldn’t have sent more than two measly helicopters to capture one of the most wanted men of all time.  But I guess for budget reasons the studio didn’t want to hire more actors.  One of the helicopters also crashed, which is totally ridiculous.  Whatever part of the armed forces that would’ve carried out such an attack would’ve made sure that the helicopters could work properly in the conditions around the compound.  It would’ve been tested a million times.

Once the “Navy” soldiers finally got into the compound, the movie lost all semblance of credibility.  They had almost no resistance getting into the house, even though one of the most dangerous terrorists of all time was supposedly living there.  They shot everybody they saw instead of arresting them and reading them their Miranda rights, which they legally have to do, even to terrorists.  The soldiers also shot and killed Bin Laden, even though in real life the CIA would’ve wanted him alive so they could question him.  There were also a lot of computers in the house, and I doubt a group that basically wants to turn back the clock to the Middle Ages would ever use modern technology like computers.

Look, I want the United States to capture or kill terrorists as much as anybody, especially Bin Laden.  I just don’t think it is helpful for Hollywood to give the nation false hope by concocting such an unrealistic scenario where the government kills him.  We will get him in due time and, when we do, I’m sure the reality will be way more exciting than this ridiculous Hollywood invention.

 

I Explain a Song: Rihanna’s What’s My Name

Do you ever listen to pop music on the radio and think to yourself, “I’d like to know what this person is singing about, but I just don’t have the time to sit down and really think through the song?”  Well, you’re in luck, because I have the time to contemplate songs and explain them to you!  Think of me as your mamma bird chewing up a song and spitting it back at you.  In today’s post, I’ve decided to explain, “What’s My Name” by Rihanna.  The lyrics are in italics and my explanations follow in regular type.  If people find this explanation helpful, I will explain more songs in the future.

Oh, na, na, what’s my name?

Oh, na, na, what’s my name?

Oh, na, na, what’s my name?

What’s my name? what’s my name?

Rihanna cannot remember her name and is crying out for help.  It’s unclear why she has amnesia.  According the Mayo Clinic, head injuries can cause amnesia, so maybe she has been hanging out with Chris Brown.  But hang in there girl, the clinic says that amnesia from head injuries is usually temporary.  Rihanna also appears to have developed an unusual stutter.  Or perhaps “oh, na, na,” is nervous filler, like “um,” which would totally be understandable because forgetting your name is so scary you guys.

Yeah, I heard you good with them soft lips

Yeah you know word of mouth

Somebody has entered the room with soft lips.  Rihanna has noticed his soft lips and probably hopes he is good with them so the lips can properly form words and remind Rihanna of her name.  Lips are important for good pronunciation.

The square root of 69 is 8 somethin’, right?

‘Cause I’ve been tryna work it out, oh

I think Rihanna is getting a little ahead of herself here.  She should probably focus on remembering her name before she jumps into complicated math problems.  But the head injury hasn’t really hurt her math skills, because the square root of 69 is roughly 8.3, so she is pretty close.

Good weed, white wine

I come alive in the night time

Okay, away we go

Only thing we have on is the radio

Okay, so she’s been drinking and smoking.  Maybe that made her forget her name?  Wine gives me a headache and sometimes makes me cry, but I still know who I am.  I guess everybody reacts to alcohol differently.  Also, I bet figuring out the square root of 69 was some sort of a drinking game.

Say my name, say my name, wear it out

It’s getting hot, crack a window, air it out

I can get you through a mighty long day

Great, Rihanna is getting back to the most important task here, which is remembering her name.  Then maybe she can return to drinking games/math problem sets.  It does sort of concern me though that she is feeling hot.  She might have a high fever.  The Mayo Clinic also says that amnesia can be caused by a virus, and specifically mentions herpes, so, again, Chris Brown could be involved.  Or maybe she just farted and wants the window open so the fart floats out the window before her guest smells it.  She is probably better off owning up to the fart.  In my experience, they linger near you for a while and don’t just magically go floating through the nearest open window.

Soon as you go, the text that I write is gon’ say

Oh, na, na, what’s my name?

Oh, na, na, what’s my name?

The person is right in front of you Rihanna!  Just ask him now!  Why do you have to text him your question?  This section is a sad statement on our technology-saturated society.  Young people today would rather talk by text than face to face.  Or maybe the fart was particularly nasty and the guy is running out of the room.  I don’t totally blame him, but the least he could do is tell Rihanna her name before he runs away.

The song continues from here, but I will save you the trouble of reading explanations for each and every stanza.  Basically, the person comes back into the room and Rihanna remembers he is good at something dirty I won’t repeat on this blog, for fear of alienating my sensitive audience.  She talks at length about this skill, with occasional interruptions to inquire about her name.  Sadly she can remember the guy’s skill, but her name continues to escape her for the rest of the song.

 

Triskaidekaphobia

There are a many groups suffering with various ailments that get an inordinate amount of attention in the world today.  Kids who have cancer, AIDS patients, baby seals and Republicans, for example, are the subject of constant press coverage and fundraisers.  And that’s great because I’m sure they all suffer tremendously, but sometimes they take attention away from other more marginalized groups, like the one I’m here to talk about today.  I’m talking about the triskaidekaphobes, and we are particularly suffering this year because of our legitimate fear of the number, oh God, I can’t say it because it will bring me bad luck, well, uh, the number between twelve and fourteen.

Most years, we can take the usual sensible precautions against facing the number.  For example, we can mute our television sets or change the channel when we see a trailer for a movie that is rated between PG and R.  We can avoid walking on 12th street plus one by making sure we don’t have friends who live on that street or frequent any businesses there.  Yeah, sometimes you have to cross that terrible street when walking down an avenue, but if you hold your breath and run across it, the number won’t have much time to do its damage.  Sure, it sucks when it is between twelve and fourteen minutes after the hour, but that is only one minute every hour.  It is relatively easy to take one minute out of every hour to stare off into space and not do anything important that can get cursed by the number.  And yeah, it is even worse for us when it is that day of the month that falls before the fourteenth day, but one day is still better than an entire year, and maybe we can get through the day without mentioning or writing the date.  If that awful day falls on a Friday, we can take the day off and barricade ourselves in our rooms, because at least Friday the youknowwhat doesn’t happen that often.

This year, however, the number is unavoidable.  Every time we see calendars it is there, menacingly staring at us.  We are hounded at work whenever we have to send an e-mail or schedule something.  We can’t sign anything that requires us to fill in the date because there are only so many times you can pretend you put 2012 in the year slot by mistake.  This makes paying for anything with checks obviously out of the question.  Sure, in a pinch you can convince yourself that you are protected from the horrible number by writing in the month and then the year slots and then filling in the date in between last, so at least you haven’t written the number you get from adding six plus seven last, leaving it just hanging out there to ruin your day.

Maybe all of this trouble in our work lives wouldn’t be as big of a deal if we could come home and relax in front of the television, but we get no respite there.  We are barraged by car commercials telling us repeatedly that they are selling the 2000 and, you know, the last two digits of this year’s model.  We want to watch the news and all we get are people telling us dates things are happening or what the unemployment rate is for the first quarter of 2 x 6 + 1 + 2000.  And then you try to look away from the television and you see is that adorable kitten wall calendar that your girlfriend hung on the wall with the year right there in big bold letters, ruining the cuteness that used to calm you.  Arrrgghh, I can hardly take it anymore.  Many of us have become emotional wrecks at the thought of all the bad karma we are getting from hearing the number all the time.

Hopefully, by now, you are probably asking yourself, “is there anything I can do to help”?  Yes, there are two ways you can help.  First, you can refrain from insisting that we all need to get help from a therapist.  The number we are afraid of is genuinely evil and brings the world bad luck.  Getting a psychologist to try to trick us into thinking the number is not harmful will hardly help us.  Second, you can make a concerted effort to stop saying what year it is.  Everybody knows what year it is.  Saying it ad infinitum just brings bad luck on everybody.  For example, if you are raising awareness about the lack of clean drinking water in certain poor countries, instead of saying “it is unacceptable in the year two thousand and [the bad number] for people to lack clean water,” just say “it’s unacceptable in the year that we are currently in.”  If you are a sportscaster and a team wins the championship, saying “congratulations to the champions of this year” will do just fine.  If you are in charge of creating forms where people have to insert today’s date, maybe leave out the year category.  It really won’t be that hard.  I mean, architects have supported us for decades by creating buildings that skip from the twelfth floor to the fourteenth floor.  It will go a long way to helping us triskaidekaphobes avoid the terrible consequences we face every time we have to deal with that awful number if everybody else pitches in and does their part this year.  Thank you in advance.

Fun With Craig’s List

Recently, I saw the following posted on Craig’s List:

Free heavy plastic cups From spring break locations and more.  Take . . .

Free heavy plastic cups From spring break locations and more.  Take some or all.

Thanks!

– Ernest

I sent the following e-mail in response:

Dear Ernest,

I am interested in your free heavy plastic cups from spring break locations, but I need some more information about you and your cups.  I am something of a connoisseur of heavy plastic cups and, even if they are free, I will not add just anything to my carefully curated collection.  As you may know, I won Chill Bro Magazine’s Cup Collector of the Year Award in 2011, but sadly I lost some of my best heavy plastic cups last year in a bet (long story short, I thought more people watched the NCAA lacrosse championship than the Super Bowl last year).  I’m trying to recapture the award this year, but I’m not going to be able to win based on reputation alone.  If I have any shot at the award (and the year’s supply of creatine that comes with winning), I’m going to have to make some smart acquisitions to replace the cups I lost.

Considering all that’s at stake for me, before I head all the way over to (I’m assuming) Murray Hill to see the cups, I’m going to need to know everything about them.  Most importantly, I need a list of where you got your cups.  Please include all pertinent information, including the city and the bar/strip club/ DUI lawyer’s office where you obtained the cups.  Please also note if any of these places were featured in Girls Gone Wild videos and/or regularly host wet t-shirt contests.  This is the kind of stuff that enhances a cup’s pedigree.  I’m also going to need you to list each cup’s shade of neon (if it isn’t neon, don’t even bother, it’s worthless to me).

From the picture you provided, I can see cups from Club 600 North, “Daytona’s Radical Night Club.”  Obviously, neon cups from the home of the prestigious American IronHorse Bikini Contest will impress the “brodges” (combination of “bro” and “judges”) from Chill Bro Magazine.  I also see that you have a neon pink cup from The Oyster Pub in Daytona.  It is less rare than a plastic cup from Club 600 North, but I still might be interested.  The artwork on the cup depicting an oyster with a human body drinking a beer and holding a pool cue gives it some value.  It is funny because oysters typically do not have legs or drink beer.  However, the cup loses some value because it does not have the Oyster Pub’s famous slogan:  “Do It in the Raw.”  (Are they encouraging you to eat uncooked oysters or have unprotected sex and worry about STDs later?  Or both?  It’s an unsolvable riddle).

These cups are a good start, but seeing as you are the type of guy who has so many spring break cups that you are just giving them away, I’m hopeful that you have partied in more places than just Daytona.

If I decide that it is worth my time to come look at your heavy plastic cups, I’m also going to need you to set aside some time to talk about your spring breaks and how you’ve used the heavy plastic cups.  I’m sorry if this seems intrusive, but spring break cups are more than just something to chug Bud Light out of.  Spring break cups represent the ideal lifestyle.  Bros at their optimal brospethness.  The brodges will sense if these cups were not used by somebody chill.  For example, were the cups ever used in an impromptu beer pong game when you didn’t have Solo cups?  Did you ever pee in any of the cups when you were too lazy to go to a bathroom?  How about vomit instead of pee?  Did you ever drunkenly try to cut a hole in the bottom or the side of the cup with your keys so you could shotgun a beer out of the cup?  Were the cups ever referred to as “the fine china” in your frat house?  Did you ever pump the hand holding the cup over your head when “Call Me Maybe” came on a jukebox or stereo, forgetting that there was beer in the cup and getting everybody around you wet?  The more times you say “yes” in response to these questions, the more likely it is that I will want the cup.  Also, I can’t stress this enough, I will not take any of the cups if you’ve ever used them to drink imported (except from Mexico) beers, craft beers or wine of any kind.

Look, I know you probably have other inquiries from people who want the cups who are not making you jump through the same hoops I’m asking of you.  And I’m guessing your life is stressful right now because you are getting married and your future wife demanded that you “grow up” and get rid of your spring break cups.  But I’m giving you the opportunity of a lifetime –  a chance to have your heavy plastic spring break cups featured in Chill Bro Magazine.  Can anybody else offer that?  Or are you just getting offers from smug hipsters who want to impress their friends in Greenpoint or Bushwick with their “ironic” collection of plastic mugs?  I thought so.  I look forward to your response.

Sincerely

My Trip to The Orient . . . errr . . . Asia (part 4)

Between December 28, 2011 and January 16, 2012, I took a trip to Japan and Vietnam with my girlfriend.  During this trip I kept a journal (which is totally more sophisticated and cool than a diary) to record my adventures in those foreign lands.  Over the coming days, I will be posting my journal entries from that trip.

January 3, 2012

Today, I learned a lot about old and new Japanese art.  I also learned that I enjoy depictions of humans fighting fish more than cartoons having sex.  Let me explain how these two lessons are related.

Early in the afternoon, I went with Eriko’s family to a museum that had a large exhibit of paintings by the artist Kuniyoshi.  Kuniyoshi was a Japanese painter of the ukiyo-e style who in the first half of the 1800s painted a lot of things of concern to people at the time, like waves and Mt.Fuji.  The paintings I liked the most depict famous samurai dominating everybody and everything in their path Jack Bauer-style, particularly large and oddly aggressive fish and whales.  According to Kuniyoshi’s paintings, apparently it wasn’t enough for samurai to fight just people, they also took on whales.  I am assuming they did so out of spite, a craving for whale sashimi or some combination of the two.  And as you can see below (click on the picture to make it larger), samurai didn’t just sit back in the comfort of their yachts and fire harpoons at the whales like the pussies in Moby Dick, they jumped on the backs of the whales and rode them like they were in a rodeo, while stabbing them with a sword.

Samurai also seemed to enjoy going to toe to flipper with many different kinds of fish.  The often shirtless samurai dominated even when the fish had teeth, a creepy red molester tongue and what I assume to be putrid breath.

And before all you knee-jerk vegetarians start defending the poor fish, Kuniyoshi’s paintings made clear that back in the 1800s, fish in Japan were complete assholes that were often the aggressors.  As you can see below, sometimes samurai were minding their own business and alarmingly large fish jumped out of the water and tried to tackle the poor samurai.

After seeing Kuniyoshi’s paintings depicting the horrific fish on man violence that must have plagued Japan in the 1800s, I’m beginning to think that the Japanese eat so much fish out of revenge more than taste.

Anyway, Kuniyoshi’s paintings are stunning.  I liked how they are much less concerned with physical realism than many Western paintings were during the same period.  I was struck how they look almost cartoonish, presaging modern Japanese magna and anime.  I actually saw a bunch of these modern day cartoons this evening when Eriko’s brother –Chu– generously agreed to take Eriko and me to a neighborhood called Akihabura.  I had heard that Akihabura was Tokyo’s electronics district and I wanted to go and see all the futuristic technology the Japanese have developed and are withholding from the rest of the world.  I was a little disappointed to find that the tech stores pretty much had everything you could find at your average Best Buy in the United States.  Even the arcades in Akihabura, of which there were a bunch, were mostly filled with 90s-era Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games.  If you are looking for a place where the skills you developed playing thousands of hours of Street Fighter II in middle school will still be appreciated, look no further than Akihabura.  Here, your ability to fully harness Ryu’s “haaadddddooouuukkkeeennnn” move will still garner you a lot of respect.  The one item I did purchase that was far more advanced than any technology you can find in the United States was a USB drive shaped like a small dog that humps your computer when it is inserted (the only portion of the instructions written in English — “dog should start humping immediately when plugged in”).  So, I guess Japanese technology is still somewhat ahead of where we are in the US because none of my American USB drives have tried to make a sexual move on my laptop.

Anyway, apparently Akihabura is also known for its stores selling anime porn.  I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that males uncomfortable around women might be drawn to both electronics and porn and would want to shop for both in the same area.  I swear, I didn’t want to go into any of these anime stores.  As a white male with an Asian girlfriend, I know that certain assumptions are made even without walking into stores filled with cartoons getting it on.  But Chu and Eriko wanted to check out one of the stores so I went in with them.  As expected, except for Eriko, the clientele was all male.  The store was filled with mostly DVDs and books, but also had novelty items such as body pillows decorated with drawings of smiling large breasted cartoons.  I didn’t find this very appealing as I have always thought that it is better off keeping relationships with my pillows strictly platonic.  I have also never been particularly attracted to cartoons, with the possible exception of Smurfette back in the mid-80s.

For some reason, cartoon porn strikes me as somewhat odder than even good old-fashioned live-action porn.  Maybe it is because I associate cartoons with wholesome children’s entertainment and never really got into more adult uses of cartoons, like graphic novels.  Perhaps I am narrow-minded and think that it is unnatural for cartoons to watch human porn and humans to watch cartoon porn.  So, I guess I learned today that when it comes to Japanese art, I like pictures of samurai getting into fights with fish more than pictures of unrealistically proportioned cartoons having sex.

My Trip to The Orient . . . errr . . . Asia (part 3)

Between December 28, 2011 and January 16, 2012, I took a trip to Japan and Vietnam with my girlfriend.  During this trip I kept a journal (which is totally more sophisticated and cool than a diary) to record my adventures in those foreign lands.  Over the coming days, I will be posting my journal entries from that trip.

January 2, 2012

Over the past few days I have seen a prettier side of Japanese culture than was on display in the bizarro playboy mansion baths in Shimoda.  Since we got back to Tokyo on New Year’s Eve, we have been doing a lot of traditional New Year things.  Most of it has been pretty low-key, as the New Year in Japan seems like more of a religious/cultural event than it is in America (though this distinction might not make much sense if you consider binge drinking in a crowded bar/lame party while you worry that you should be having more fun a critical part of American culture).

As a product of a northeast liberal arts education, I typically hate to make value judgments about cultures, but I think Japanese New Year is better than the overhyped overpriced let down of American New Year.  Just to be clear to future generations that will likely unearth this journal and study its contents, favoring the more subdued Japanese New Year makes me cultured and sophisticated.  It does NOT make me old and lame.  Let me break it down by comparing what I imagine would have been my New Year experience alone in New York had I not joined Eriko in Japan with my actual New Year in Tokyo.

Most Likely New Year’s Eve in New York

After hoping somebody would invite me to do something fun for New Year’s Eve and doing absolutely no proactive planning on my own, New Year’s Eve arrived and I still had no plans.  Faced with the self-image destroying prospect of sitting in my apartment alone tonight I searched through the contact list in my phone for any friends who would probably be going out and wouldn’t mind me tagging along.  However, a wave of panic swept over me as I realized that most the friends who in the past I would’ve called to see if they wanted to hang out and make poor decisions had already made the ultimate poor decision by getting married and/or moving out of New York City.  I knew this meant that even if they were around they would probably be either sitting at home watching their kid(s) or at adult dinner parties for married people, at which I wouldn’t be welcomed without a significant other, a wedding band and a willingness to discuss the programming on Home & Garden Television.

Luckily, I found one old friend who is still single and said it was cool for me to tag along with him to a party at a bar on the Upper East Side.  Unluckily, when I got to the bar at 11 pm, they charged me a $100 cover for an “open bar” that took forever to order a drink and provided a choice of small plastic cups of either Coors Light or mixed drinks with a 10 to 1 ratio of mixer to drink.  Knowing nobody at the party except for my friend, I decided to camp out at the bar and pay extra for shots until I had enough nerve to talk to other people.  Once I started to walk around the room, I realized that everybody around was so much younger than me that they probably thought Justin Timberlake was an actor, not a pop musician.  This made me depressed so after midnight I got in a cab and went home.

Actual New Year’s Eve in Tokyo

Dinner tonight was actually cooked!  And it contained many pieces of delicious beef!  My heart did sink for minute when I saw that we would be dipping the meat in raw egg and thought “dear God, can Japanese people go through one meal without eating anything raw?”  But my mood quickly recovered when Eriko’s father — Suzuki-san — sensed my trepidation and said “don’t worry, eggs here ok to eat raw.  Only American eggs have salmonella.”  His laughter made me think that he had no scientific basis for such a claim but, whatever, beef dipped in raw egg is actually very tasty.

After dinner at Eriko’s parents’ house, Eriko and I decided not to go out because we were both still exhausted from jet lag.  Also, because I am incredibly cosmopolitan, I wanted to participate in what (I assume) is an ancient tradition and watch television with Eriko’s parents.  On Japanese television, none of the housewives appeared to be desperate and I didn’t see New Gingrich’s fat head once, but I was entertained nonetheless.  We watched a competition more quintessentially Japanese than sumo wrestling — a karaoke sing-off.  In this show, a regular person would sing a hit Japanese song from the 70s or 80s.  Then, the actual singer, typically a one-hit wonder, would appear and sing the same song.  The karaoke machine, represented by a cartoon microphone with eyes and mouth, would then decide who sung the song better.  This show needs to come to the United States.  I could also absolutely demolish Mr. Big with my rendition of “To Be With You” and would love to do so on television.

I also particularly liked watching television with Suzuki-san because he made noises at the television while he was watching.  From what I can tell, a low “hhhhhrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmm” sound indicated he agreed with what had just been said on television.  The slightly higher-pitched “hhhhhuuuuuuummmmmm” sound (I think) meant that he was surprised, or at least learning something new.

Shortly before midnight, we started watching Japan’s largest television network, NHK, which had cameras at old Buddhist temples throughout Japan showing monks in various states of prayer.  There was something very peaceful about it.  Ok, I will say it, it was very Zen.  At midnight, the Buddhist temples rang their bells 108 times, which I was told by Eriko’s mother was to get rid of the 108 problems that Japanese people have.  I thought about suggesting that Japanese people should listen to more Jay-Z because he only has 99 problems, but didn’t want to interrupt such a nice moment.  (I was also curious which nine problems the Japanese people have that Jay-Z has been able to overcome.  I’m guessing a “bitch” is one problem that the Japanese still grapple with that Mr. Z has overcome, but that still leaves eight more problems).

Most Likely New Year’s Day in New York

I woke up today at noon with a crippling hangover and proceeded to spend most of the day laying on my couch making this sound:  “aaaaaaaaooooooooooowwwwwwww.”  Because of the hangover and freezing weather, I didn’t leave my house and the only food I found was half a box of spaghetti and an egg that has only been expired for a few days.  I haven’t had any other food to eat.

Actual New Year’s Day in Tokyo

We had a big traditional breakfast.  Much of it was uncooked fish, some of which were still fully intact and looking back at me.  It was delicious.  Before we ate breakfast, we offered sake to Eriko’s deceased grandparents on a little shrine in the house.  I love the idea of offering alcohol to ancestors.  I swear if my descendants offer me anything less than single malt scotch, I will come back and haunt the shit out of them.  If my grandchildren are reading this journal right now and haven’t been offering me any scotch lately, to answer your question, those sounds you hear at night are not the house settling.  It is me walking around and giving your kids bad dreams nightmares so they wake you up and want to sleep with you.  Also, the milk has tasted bad lately because I have been pissing my nasty ghost urine into it.

Anyway, during the afternoon we went to a Buddhist temple and prayed.  Actually, I tried to say a prayer but it was crowded and I kept getting shoved by little old ladies.  Old Japanese women are surprisingly strong and apparently have stopped trying to walk around people who are in their way.  If the US deployed an army of elderly Japanese ladies in Afghanistan, the Taliban would surrender in about three days.  Every time I tried to focus and say a prayer for peace and happiness in the New Year, I felt a hard jolt around my kidney and looked up in time to see the top of a little-old lady hair-do scurrying away.  If I start pissing blood tonight, I would not be shocked.

Most Likely Day After New Year’s Day in New York

Jesus, how the fuck am I still hungover?!

Actual Day After New Year’s Day in Tokyo

Apparently every year on January 2nd the Emperor opens up part of the palace grounds to the public, appears with his family and makes a short speech three times during the morning.  Eriko’s parents took Eriko and me to see the Emperor, who looks like the sweetest grandfather ever, make his speech.  As the Emperor appeared with the royal family and made his speech from a covered second-story porch in his palace, many people in the crowd started waving Japanese flags and screaming “boonnnzaaiii!”  If anybody reading this has the ability to travel back in time and happens to see my grandparents circa 1942, please do not read them the previous sentence because it will probably make them throw up their breakfasts.  Or, if you do, tell them it’s cool because the Japanese are more interested in selling us practical cars and watching pornographic cartoons these days than fighting over remote Pacific islands.

At night, we went out to eat at a nice restaurant in the Ginza district of Tokyo.  Suzuki-san ordered a wooden boat filled with different kinds of sashimi for the table.  The centerpiece of the boat was a full red snapper.  The fish’s head and tail were curled up into the air, connected by its still intact spine.  Sitting on top of its spine was red snapper sashimi, sliced up and ready to eat.  Shortly after the boat arrived, Suzuki-san picked up the sake bottle we had ordered and started to pour a little of sake into the red snapper’s upturned open mouth.  “Eriko, Rob, look,” he said.  The fish’s head and tail started to twitch like it was still alive.

“Ewww gross, stop it,” Eriko said, as she shielded her eyes.

Suzuki-san was only more encouraged.  “Awww, come on Eriko, look.  It is twitching.  That means it is verrrryy fresh.”

I will admit, I laughed and poured a little sake into the red snapper’s mouth myself.  Does this make me a bad person because I was getting joy out of torturing both my girlfriend and a fish?  Quite possibly.  Was a drunken twitching fish a great way to end the day after New Year’s Day?  It most certainly was.

My Trip to The Orient . . . errr . . . Asia (part 2)

Between December 28, 2011 and January 16, 2012, I took a trip to Japan and Vietnam with my girlfriend.  During this trip I kept a journal (which is totally more sophisticated and cool than a diary) to record my adventures in those foreign lands.  Over the coming days, I will be posting my journal entries from that trip.

 

December 31, 2011

It did not take long for Japanese culture to prove itself a worthy adversary.  Yesterday, Eriko’s family — including her father, mother and brother — and I took the train from Tokyo to Shimoda, which is a small sea-side town a few hours south of Tokyo.  We went to Shimoda because it sits atop natural hot springs and there are several hotels in town that have baths where you can soak in the hot water.  Naturally, I was excited because I like hot tubs as much as your average Jersey Shore cast member (though, unlike them, I prefer not to share my hot tub with STD-delivery-systems masquerading as humans).  But I had an inkling that this might be different from your average American resort when Eriko told me before we left Tokyo that there was no need to pack a bathing suit.

My American mind was put at ease though when Eriko’s dad — who I’ll refer to as Suzuki-san — bought everybody beer and salty snacks at the train station, the ultimate balm for any homesickness.  My guard came further down when Suzuki-san jokingly suggested that Eriko’s mother was going to make a poop anytime she left our sight for more than 30 seconds.  Even under normal circumstances I am a sucker for cheap poop jokes, but such jokes are pushed to new comedic level when made in a thick Japanese accent by a middle-aged bald guy with glasses, such as Suzuki-san.

When we arrived at the hotel in the afternoon, however, any sense of comfort from the beer and poop jokes started to disappear.  The hotel we stayed at was a traditional Japanese hotel, referred to as a “ryokan,” which meant that our room was just that — a single large room for the entire family.  This meant that we would all be sleeping on mattresses on the floor, mere feet away from each other.

But before my mind had a chance to fully reckon with all the various noises my body makes when it is sleeping, Eriko’s family started putting on traditional robes, or yukata, that the hotel provided in the room’s closet.  This was actually good as far as I was concerned because I feel at home in any culture that embraces robes, or any pants-less outfit, in polite company.  I liked the robes even more because none of the ones in our closet fit me because I was too tall, so the staff had to get me a special large white-person robe.  This made me feel fucking huge and invincible.  I imagined that the Japanese had a size beyond XL simply called “Godzilla” that they kept in a safe place just for honored six-foot foreign guests like me.

As I put on the robe, which is made out of a lightweight cotton, I began to wonder how the hell Japanese people were talked into giving up this outfit for all but special occasions.  When the first person said “hey, guys, I know that we have been wearing this unbelievably comfortable outfit that keeps our balls cool and free to move as they please, doesn’t reveal how fat you’ve become and shows just the right amount of chest hair up top, but let’s try wearing these outfits that some dudes with round eyes I just met were wearing that will look completely unflattering when we gain weight, hide our chest hair and make our genitals feels like they have been put in prison,” how did the townspeople fail to form an angry mob and, at the very least, beat the shit out of the guy?  In fact, I wouldn’t blame the Japanese if they decided to isolate themselves from the West until the nineteenth century just to keep out idiotic European clothing.  And how did any Westerners who visited Japan in the nineteenth century not return home and say “hey, guys, I have this new idea for clothing that will allow us to be comfortable.  There are no heavy metal buckles or anything.”  Surely, the world embracing Western clothing while giving up all sorts of way more comfortable clothing that other cultures wore (or still wear) has to be one of the dumbest things humanity has done.  It is right up there with the Kardashians on the list of things that make no fucking sense to me.

Anyway, once we were all fully ensconced in our robes and relaxing with green tea, Suzuki-san announced something in Japanese to everybody in the room, which Eriko translated as:  “My Dad is going to take a bath and wants to know if you want to join.”

“How many baths are there?”  I asked.

“Just two, one for females and one for males.  They are communal baths,” Eriko responded.

“Wait, but you told me that I didn’t need a bathing suit….” I said, trailing off as I realized that Suzuki-san was inviting me to sit nude with him in a large hot bath.

I was in a bind.  If I said yes, then I would have to hang out buck-naked with my girlfriend’s father, who I barely know (not that knowing him better would necessarily make a difference, but still).  What if the freedom and warm water combined with nerves caused me to somehow get an erection?  Would he be checking me out to see if I was worthy enough to perhaps someday father healthy grandchildren?  Maybe he would look at me and think “yes, there’s a man who is well-bred, with a nice gait and good proportions, who is lean but does not look like he is so vain that he has to work out more than a couple of times a week.”  And that would be the best case scenario.

What about the walk from the locker room, where we disrobed, to the bath?  Should I put a hand over my private parts and risk looking ashamed or strut around without any covering and risk looking like I am too comfortable with nudity?  He will think that I must be used to being naked all the time.  And once we get into the bath, what is the etiquette there?  Surely, it will look rude if I don’t sit near him, but perhaps it will look pervy if I follow him too closely.

I’m also not sure if I could hold down a conversation in such a compromised position.  I know its prudish, but I can never get comfortable around naked males.  The wrinkly bodies of old men especially make me sad.  Their butts usually look like deflated balloons, like they were once proud asses but now the party’s over.  I know it is only a matter of time before that’s exactly what I will look like and it makes me kind of depressed.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to risk insulting the guy by refusing his offer to join him in the bath.  Suzuki-san had been generous enough to book this nice trip and invite me along.  Refusing to sit nude with him could look ungrateful.  He would probably think that I wasn’t interested in learning about Japanese culture or even getting to know him better.  Suzuki-san might also wonder “what is this guy hiding?  Does he not want me to see that he has noticeable herpes all over his genitals?”  I irrationally worried that there could be an ancient Japanese proverb warning that, “a man who won’t show you his penis is unworthy to date your daughter, as he is a man who hides many other things.”  On the bright-side, as we undressed, I could probably make the generic joke, “gee, you didn’t even buy me dinner,” and he might think I was being completely original, because maybe that joke has never been made in Japan before.

I was just about to grudgingly agree to go with him, when Eriko’s brother, Chu, said to me in English, “I never go to those baths.  I don’t need to see a bunch of naked old dudes.  But they are serving free beer right outside the baths on the same floor if you want to come.”

I immediately grabbed his lifeline.  “I don’t think I will have a bath today, but thank you for the offer, Suzuki-san.  I will go and have a beer with Chu instead.”  I figured with this compromise I couldn’t be accused of not wanting to get to know the family better.  And if Chu wasn’t thrilled with communal bathing, then I figured I could turn down the opportunity as well.

“I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want to take a bath with me,” Suzuki-san said, to nobody in particular.

“Because it’s weird,” Eriko replied.   “And besides,” Eriko turned to me and said, “the old men will probably think it is funny that there is white guy around and will come up to you and say things in English like ‘sank you berry much.’”

Satisfied that I was making a sound decision to forego naked time with Eriko’s father, Chu and I went to the bath area for our free beers, and he showed me around the male locker room in case I wanted to take a bath later.  It looked pretty nice and I thought I might try to have a soak another time, when there were only strange naked men around and not Suzuki-san.

This morning, owing to jet lag, I woke up at 5:30 AM.  I love jet lag that wakes me up early because it makes me feel like one of those fit people who get up first thing in the morning to do healthy things like run or drink orange juice.  I figured it would be a great time to have a bath because there probably wouldn’t be many people awake at such an early hour.  Also, Eriko’s family was still asleep and I didn’t feel like sitting in the dark.

I got up, threw on my ridiculously comfortable robe and headed to the baths.  After getting off the elevator, I walked to the room where Chu and I had beers yesterday.  The entrances to both the male and female locker rooms, through which you reached the baths, were off of this room.  As I walked into the room, I turned right, towards the locker room that Chu had shown me yesterday.  Right before I crossed the threshold, I noticed that there was a red cloth hanging down in front of the doorway.  “Wasn’t there a blue cloth hanging here yesterday?” I thought, as I paused and took a step back.  I looked across the room and saw that the blue cloth was now in front of the door to the other locker room on the opposite side of the room.  I took a step back.  I was sure that the locker room to the right, the one with the red cloth, was the one I went into yesterday with Chu, and there were definitely men in the locker room then, but what if the rooms had switched?  “Why would they do that?” I thought.  I then noticed that next to the doorway to the right, there was a silhouette of a male figure, and next to the doorway to the left across the room, there was a silhouette of a female.  “Ok, the room on the right is definitely for males,” I thought.  “I saw men in there yesterday, Chu told me that it was the male locker room and it has the male sign next to it.  The cloths must be hung up randomly from day to day.  Stop being paranoid and just walk in.”

Gathering up my confidence, I stepped through the red cloth and into the locker room to the right.  I tentatively took about two steps into the room before hearing a high-pitched voice across the locker room.  “Holy shit!! I think that was a female voice!”  I thought, frozen in a panic.  “Run you moron before somebody sees you, thinks you are white perv who likes to watch Asian ladies changing and you get dumped by Eriko faster than they can lock you up in Japanese prison,” I thought.  I turned around and burst through the red cloth and back into the room.

At that point, unsure whether I heard a ladies’ voice but half expecting screaming women to come running out after me, I decided to grab a seat on a chair in the beer-room and wait for somebody else to walk into or out of one of the locker rooms, so I could determine what the fuck was going on.  About ten minutes later, a woman came and went through the red cloth and into the locker room on the right.  I had been in the ladies locker room after all.

“Well played, Japanese culture,” I muttered to myself.  “I’m not sure why it is ok to randomly switch the male and female baths, but it is an inspired tactic to keep the barbarians like me on edge.”  I then got up, went into the locker room to the left, took off my robe and strutted confidently — and nude — to the male bath.  I had passed the first test.

My Trip to The Orient . . . errr . . . Asia (part 1)

Between December 28, 2011 and January 16, 2012, I took a trip to Japan and Vietnam with my girlfriend.  During this trip I kept a journal (which is totally more sophisticated and cool than a diary) to record my adventures in those foreign lands.  Over the coming days, I will be posting my journal entries from that trip.

December 27, 2011

Tomorrow is the big day.  I am leaving for Tokyo with my girlfriend, Eriko, to visit her parents for roughly two weeks, before heading to Vietnam.  I am completely terrified because, while even under the easiest of circumstances two weeks is more than enough time to horrifically embarrass myself, I have to navigate the significant language and cultural differences between myself and Eriko’s parents.  In light of these challenges, my objective is merely to return to the U.S. without Eriko’s parents telling her something along the lines of (rough translation) “If you don’t dump this round-eye immediately, it will destroy our family’s peace and harmony.  His presence in our house brings great shame on our ancestors.”  To make sure I meet this admittedly modest objective, I have made the following list of eleven things I should and should not do while in Japan.

  1.  Do NOT confuse China with Japan.  Even though you cannot tell Chinese and Japanese people apart, they are apparently different.  They have different cultures and everything.  Accordingly, never order chicken lo mein in a restaurant or mention General Tsao when talking about illustrious Japanese military leaders/chefs.  Also, don’t ask to see any “Great Walls.”  While Japan probably has walls in its country, none of them have been deemed “Great.”  This is apparently a source of national shame for such a proud people.
  2. Even if there is an awkward silence in the room and you have nothing else to talk about, never mention Pearl Harbor.  Not only should you not discuss the actual battle, never say or do anything to even evoke Pearl Harbor.  This means you should never use the words “pearl” or “harbor.”  White things on necklaces and other jewelry should be referred to as “Hardened Oyster Poop” and inlets where people park their boats should be referred to as “Areas Where Waves Do Not Rock Boats All That Much” or simply “Boat Gardens.”  You should also never accuse a Japanese person of surprising you.  If Eriko’s parents happen to give you a Christmas gift, after opening the gift make it clear that you were neither surprised by the fact they gave you a gift or by the gift itself.   For example, if they give you a watch, say loudly and repeatedly “I fully expected you to purchase a watch for me.  I easily foresaw this turn of events because you are a very predictable people.”
  3. Bow to every man, woman or child you meet.  If you have to get down on your knees to properly bow to the family cat, then do it.
  4. Don’t send back fish in a restaurant because it is undercooked or too cold.  Also, never ask for your sashimi “well done” or even “medium” or “medium rare.”
  5. Do not suggest that the U.S.has better Kobe beef because we have Kobe Bryant.  This will offend Eriko’s parents mostly because it is not a funny joke.
  6. Never brag about how Americans improved upon sushi rolls by inventing the California roll or the Philadelphia roll.  It is also inappropriate to suggest that Eriko’s parents try making new types of rolls that would make you feel less homesick, such as “deep fried cheeseburger sushi rolls.”  Likewise, do not ask if you can wrap your roll in bacon, even though doing so would totally be delicious.
  7. Remember, whales are tasty and not at all endangered.  It just seems like there aren’t that many left because the ocean is really big and whales are good at hiding.
  8. Japan has an emperor but it is not the same emperor that turned Darth Vader to the dark-side and (as far as you know) he has not built a death star that can blow up other planets.  Everybody knows that Japan’s emperor would likely never need Darth Vader because the Emperor of Japan has a team of ninjas led by samurai generals, and ninjas are stronger than former Jedis.
  9. While you are within an ear shot of Eriko’s parents, do not refer to yourself as “Commodore Perry” because you opened up something Japanese to American goods.  That would be tasteless.
  10. Make sure all statements are said in a series of three lines, the first and third lines with five syllables and the middle line with seven syllables.  This is called a “haiku” and it is how all Japanese people communicate.
  11. If Eriko’s father tells you to clean something using wax, do it.  He is trying to teach you defensive karate techniques that are similar to the motion you make when you put wax on and off.
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