Monday, May 26, 2014

Six Shots till Summation: Prophylactic Panic!

Contracted (2013)

On the one hand, Eric England's Contracted sometimes comes across as a seventy-eight minute warning against having unprotected sex with strange people met at parties, but on the other, I'm mostly okay with that because actress Najarra Townsend does an excellent job with what she's been given, which happens to be a particularly nasty sexually transmitted disease and a script that basically itemizes her onscreen deterioration.


Watching the opening credits, I noticed that a Dave Holmes was listed as a supporting cast member, and I couldn't help but ask myself, You mean, as in Dave Holmes the MTV VJ? Turns out, the answer is yes. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

On Tonkatsu, and Everything in Between

Back in 2003 -- which, paradoxically, seems like such a long time ago (because it was) and not that long ago (because I have a memory like someone who has a pretty good memory) -- I used to work in the Sinsa area of Seoul. For lunch, probably twice a week, I'd go to either one of the two best tonkatsu restaurants in the city with my boss. We'd often go tete-a-tete over which place was better, like Beatles fans arguing the merits of John, Paul, and George. Place A had a relaxed atmosphere, had classic rock LP covers adorning its walls, and their miso soup might have had crack in it. Place B, on the other hand, was located on the basement floor of an adjacent building. Its walls were ceramic tiles; it was popular with office workers, particularly young women; and they'd give you a mortar and pestle with which to grind sesame seeds in and then add their house sauce.

I wonder if they're still there, still prosperous. I hope so. They deserve to be.


Last Saturday morning, I went to Kimbap Cheonguk (김밥천국) with my wife for breakfast. For the uninitiated, Kimbap Cheonguk is basically an analogue of the American diner: food served cheap, fast, and tasty (ideally). I ordered the fast-food version of tonkatsu, which in its own right is pretty good* but doesn't compare to the real thing. It's like a half-remembered thought of what once was great transformed into something that's still pretty good. Basically, it's the Kobe Bryant airplane meal next to Michael Jordan's Ritz-Carlton banquet: you can taste the effort, but it's still not the genuine article.


As much as I love tonkatsu, I love the fish variation more. Saengseonkkaseu (생선까스), served with tartar sauce, miso soup, and a side of shredded carburetor really pumps my nads is divine. 


I'm going swimming.




* Perhaps I'm a heathen, but ketchup on shredded cabbage tastes like Heaven in my mouth at 7:30 in the morning.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Loser Talk

 It's supposed to be hard!
-- Gregg Popovich

I'm just about spent, physically and mentally. Watching the "LeBron Era" Heat can do that to a fan of Miami ball; and in this fourth consecutive Playoffs, and with the expectation of a third consecutive NBA title at stake, I'm feeling the wear and tear, almost symbiotically with the team, that comes from trying again to climb that mountain and reach its apex.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that, physically, the Playoffs take a toll on me. Before games I get nauseated and can't eat; my hands and limbs tremble; and during close games, especially with little time on the clock, my heart beats so fast -- and sometimes misses a few of those beats -- that I'm sure I'm in cardiac arrest.

Mentally, I turn bi-polar, depressed and lethargic after every loss, manic and ecstatic after every win. Clearly this isn't healthy.

But what is the alternative? Look at the bigger picture (it's only a game; there's more to life than basketball)?  I've considered it, believe me. I had a strange feeling today after the Heat lost in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals: acceptance. I was actually pretty okay with the loss. I was stone cold sober, didn't need a drink or a Valium* to process it; I was just exhausted.

How many peaks and valleys can a fan, an invested one, traverse before his body and mind start to tire? The answer, of course, is all of them. Even if he dies from oxygen toxicity on his way up, or misses purchase on a ledge and falls down.

Game 2 starts Tuesday at 8:30 PM on ESPN. I'll lace up my hiking boots.

* I have never taken Valium; but now might be a good time to start.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Good Boy

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.

-- Josh Billings

David Naismith went to school on Monday morning with a heavy heart. His Border Collie, Shep, had been lethargic for weeks, and on Saturday David's parents took the dog to the vet, where he was diagnosed with bone cancer. The vet said that Shep, only six, would likely have fewer than three months to live.

David spent the rest of the weekend comforting his best friend. Shep had a little energy, and they played in the backyard for short periods of time, but eventually he'd get tired and lie on the grass with his head on his forepaws. Then they'd go inside and David would sit next to Shep on the living room floor, in front of the television. Shep would lie on his side, and David would stroke his majestic black-and-white coat.

On Sunday evening, David's mother called him from the living room for dinner. Shep, staring everywhere and nowhere in that pensive way particular to dogs, was still stretched out on the floor.

David got up and tried to get Shep to accompany him to the kitchen table, but the dog didn't move. The Naismith's had a strict policy about having Shep away from the table during mealtimes, but David thought, given the circumstances, that his parents would make an exception. They might have, but it didn't matter; Shep was going to stay where he was.

Sunday dinner was boiled ham and mashed potatoes, string beans, and cauliflower with hollandaise sauce. David put a large helping of yellow mustard on his ham (he liked the saltiness of the ham combined with the tang of the mustard), but he found he wasn't very hungry. He ate less than half his plate and solemnly scraped crisscross lines on its remaining mustard.

"May I please be excused?" he asked his mother.

Mary Naismith normally would have chastised her son for eating so little, but she knew the turmoil her ten-year-old was going through, and so she said, "Okay, Skipper. But how about a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream for dessert? You can have it in the living room and watch the Muppet Show with Shep."

"Thanks, Mom," David said as he left the table.

The guest that night was Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter. David thought she was the prettiest woman he had ever seen. He sat cross-legged on the floor with his ice cream in his lap as the sun went down. Occasionally, he gave Shep licks of his spoon, always careful to make sure that there was no chocolate.

The evening turned to night, the Muppet Show turned to the nightly news broadcast, and David got drowsier and drowsier. Just as he was nodding off, hs mother softly shook his shoulder and told him to go brush his teeth and put on his pajamas.

"Can I sleep downstairs with Shep tonight, Mom? he asked as he got up and rubbed his tired eyes.

"Of course you can," she said.

"Thanks," he said. Then, "Is Shep really going to die?"

Mary Naismith had to control herself from bursting into tears. "Yes, dear," she said, her voice wavering.

David went over to his mother and hugged her waist. "I knew it. I just wanted it to be later. I wanted there to be more time."

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Depth, Perception

The day after my father's funeral, my brother and sister and I, three middle-aged orphans, congregated in our parents' house. We were supposed to talk about how to divide the belongings of our father and mother (who had passed away three years prior), but instead we sat in numb silence in the living room as the television televised.

It was a news broadcast. Something had happened somewhere, and some people were planning to react. Other people were planning to counter that potential reaction, and the talking heads were speculating about possible repercussions. Apparently it was a big deal.

My older brother, Edgar, was sipping lemonade from a store-bought carton. Yelsa, my sister, two years my junior, chewed gum and fidgeted. I stared at the TV in a desultory stasis.

"Dad liked to go deep-sea diving," Edgar said, interrupting our tableau. "He said that once you get so deep that you can't see the surface above you or the sky above that, that's when you know you've found a certain heaven."

That sounded like a great eulogy, and I said as much to my him. "It's just fucking words," he said. Then he got up to take a piss.

I had eulogized our father during the service. I used words like "great" and "loving," because those are the platitudes you use when you are describing the life of a man who can no longer describe himself. I am not a good orator, though, and in trying to sum up the life of the man who helped create me, I did him a disservice. I stumbled through my words. I sweated on the microphone, each droplet a punctuation of my nervous ramble. "Thank you for coming," is how I ended my speech. I wanted to bury myself.

The news broadcast ended and a commercial for windshield washer fluid started.

"I left my contacts in last night," Yelsa said. "I was so tired that I forgot to take them out. When I woke up this morning, I took the left one out okay, but the right one stuck. I started to panic. I blinked, twice, and all I could see was blur and tears. It's scary when all you have in front of your vision is a cascade of vagueness."

"Is your eye okay now?" I asked.

"I can still see. It hurts, but it's all right," she said.

Then Edgar returned from the bathroom. "I think there might be treasure, centuries old, buried under this house's foundation," he said.

I fished a cigarette out of the soft pack in my jacket pocket, preparing myself for what further adventures my life had in store.

Thursday, May 08, 2014


Jake LaMotta: Come on, hit me. Harder. Harder.
Joey LaMotta: What the fuck do you want? That's hard. What are you trying to prove?

-- Raging Bull

Martin Dysart: In an ultimate sense I cannot know what I do in this place, but I do ultimate things, irreversible things. And I...I stand in the dark with a blade in my hand, striking at heads. I need, more desperately than my children need me, a way of seeing in the dark. What way is this? What dark in this? I cannot fully ordain, but God, I cannot go so far! I will, however, pay so much hardship. There is now in my mouth this sharp chafe. It never comes out.

-- Equus
I like to think of life as a daily restructuring of your mores and past beliefs. What you believed one thing to be the day prior might be another thing the next morning, and it's always sound to be prepared for such abrupt occurrences. In baseball, the metaphor is a curveball, although I've always thought the knuckleball is a more apt analogy. In cinema, it's called a twist, and both examples show how we try to explain the confusion of interruptions in our lives through physics.

I am not the man I was yesterday; nor will I be the man I am now tomorrow. But the change is imperceptible, like trying to watch epidermis grow. It's only after days, months, years that some things become apparent, but they can be accepted because they occur naturally and have the benefit of time as we define it. A cancer patient dying after years of suffering is something we accept; a person being run over in the street by a careless driver is something we do not. These contradictory leaps in time of what we consider a normal passage and what we find bizarre, cruel, or unjust, are what define us as people, and what can lead to our undoing.

I have never had so much anger in my heart as I have felt toward Tommy Canton, who killed my parents while they were returning home after watching a Giants game at Candlestick Park in the summer of 1993. My father had stopped for gas at a station in Solano when he was robbed at gunpoint and then killed by Canton. My mother, at the time pregnant with her second child after me and scheduled to have induced labor two days later, was shot twice in the neck. After the state police arrived, she was airlifted to NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield, where she died of her wounds.

My sister was saved. I was at home studying for a math test and had fallen asleep before midnight, before my parents had been killed. At 4:30, an officer knocked on my door to tell me what had happened. Groggy, I didn't fully comprehend the situation until I was at NorthBay, where doctors and police told me that I was an orphan.

It has been twenty-one years since that day. My sister, whom my aunt Tracey -- her sole guardian until I was legally able to take care of her -- named her Clarissa, but I named her Mercy, and "Merk" is her nickname. She is now a sophomore at Stanford, majoring in Law. She has pretty blue eyes, just like her mother's. She won't ever see those in person, but I have some photos and Polaroids from over the years that I show her.

On July 16, 2013, at 6:43 PM, Thomas Canton was executed by the State of California. He remains the first death row inmate to be executed in California since 2006. His last words are these:

"I just want to tell the family that I'm sorry. Sorry for your loss. I wish I could take it back, but I can't. I hope this gives you closure. I did not murder your loved one, it was an accident. I didn't mean for it to happen. I take full responsibility. To my family, we've talked earlier and you know I'm at peace. God is the ultimate judge, he knows what happened. We talked earlier. I love all of y'all. I'm ready, Warden."

It is said that time heals all wounds. But this is only true when the wounded are left alive, and given time to heal.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014


I watched Billy Graham this morning on the black-and-white television. He said, "Nothing can bring a real sense of security into the home except true love." I wonder if that's true. It's sure as shit secure here, and there's not any love to speak of; but I guess ADX Florence isn't technically a home, although it's been mine for thirteen years.

Shortly before eleven, a corrections officer -- Jordan, this time -- enters my cell's vestibule. He passes me a Spartan breakfast tray comprised of a slice of cold ham, half a slice of buttered toast, cut diagonally, and a small plastic mug of black coffee. I take it and put it on the concrete desk that juts out from the wall between my bed (also made of concrete) and my toilet. Jordan shuts the cell door, which sounds like a sledgehammer hitting steel, and I consume my food within seconds.

There is a shared dining room for inmates somewhere within this labyrinthine hulk, but I've only been there once, on Christmas Day of my second or third year here. Eating there was not a privilege for good behavior, and I would not choose to eat there again if given the option.

I am here because I am a very bad person. Much like the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, I don't dispute that truth. I have killed, sometimes in self defense, but usually not. I have made men widowers, women widows, and children orphans. I have tortured and mutilated people.

So I probably deserve this. I have no malice in my heart anymore, but neither do I seek redemption, nor would I accept it if it were offered to me. This place, this facility, is my home, has always been so. It just took me twenty-three years to find it.

There is comfort in the day-to-day Mobius strip of boredom I experience. Once you have accepted your role in life -- or Limbo, as I suppose this place is -- as cattle, to be herded or corralled or culled, a paradoxical sense of emancipation can take hold. Removed from society, you can settle into a life where there is no ambiguity. No grey, only black or white. I wonder if that's what meditation feels like.

If I did have one wish, it would be to have a mirror, although I fear the face that would stare back at me were my wish granted. I think I have grown gaunt and spectral over the years. But I see such few faces, and I haven't seen my own in over a decade. Once, I was able to read a hardcover of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, its dust jacket a jet black, but it wasn't reflective enough for me to see my face.

Maybe that's true justice.

Sunday, May 04, 2014


"Look at that idiot," Rob said to Peter. He was referring to their mutual friend, Steven, who was presently climbing the scaffolding of a building across the bar from which they had just been thrown out. Peter lit a cigarette and watched as Steven continued his drunken ascent. Flakes of snow were falling and melting on the wet ground.

"If he falls," he said, "what's our culpability?"

Rob laughed through his nose. He sounded like a brachycephalic bulldog.

Steven, almost at the building's second floor, turned to look at the pair. He had a wild look in his eyes, always had a wild look in his eyes, but this look was pleading. "This would be easier if that damned gorilla would stop throwing barrels at me," he shouted.

"Fuck this, I'm taking a cab home," Rob said. He looked at Peter and said, "Game over." Then he spit on the ground.

Peter touched Rob's arm. "We can't just leave him like this, man," he said. "He's going to fall or get arrested. We need to help him down "

"I'm done being an arbiter of stupidity," Rob said . "First I get tossed out of Casey's because you handle your liquor like an epileptic holds a stick of dynamite, and now this fucking guy is trying to be fucking Spider-Man. Fuck you both." He walked away.

Peter crossed the street. Steven looked higher from this perspective. He was at the third floor at least, maybe the fourth or fifth.

"Hey old man, another time, okay?" Peter said. "Climb down and let's get some fish tacos. It's too fucking cold for this shit."

Steven didn't answer. He looked motionless. With the streetlights out, you wouldn't even know he was there if you didn't know he was.

Then, a word: "Help."

Peter took out his phone and called 911. He felt embarrassed explaining the situation to the operator. "My friend is drunk and he started to climb a building under construction and now he's stuck up there and he can't get down."

A firetruck was on its way, he was told. The dispatcher wanted Peter to stay on the phone, but Peter's hand was too cold, he told her, and he hung up.

"Stay there, pal," he shouted up to Steven. "You're okay. People are coming."

"What people?" Steven whimpered. "People I know?"


The snow had again turned to rain, and all about water droplets descended in fat plops on the ground. The sky, once black, assumed a more acceptable -- yet still sinister -- grey pallor. Dawn had broken, but just barely.

Like a tableau vivant, Peter stood in place on terra firma while Steven lurched above. Occasionally they talked about trivial matters to pass the time: Is Peter Capaldi going to be a good Doctor Who? Is Ride the Lightning better than Kill 'Em All?

The operatic scene was interrupted by the sound of boot heels on wet pavement.

"Is that fucking guy still up there?" Rob asked.

"It would appear so," Peter said. "You're back," he said, more an observation, less a question as to why.

"Still here, Rob, you motherfucker," Steven shouted down.

"Good!" Rob yelled back.

And that's when everything came down.


The scaffolding started to lean. Steven, who had always been dextrous of limbs, managed to take purchase higher as the construction level below him cascaded to the earth. Rob was hit in the forehead with a metal pipe, and Peter leaped onto him to as he dropped like an idiomatic sack of potatoes. Detritus continued to rain upon Peter's back for several more seconds.

Then the sirens. Ambulances, firetrucks, police cruisers, news vans.

"I'm okay," Peter told someone, a reporter or a cop. Blood was streaming from his forehead into his eye, and he couldn't see. Elsewhere, he heard shouts that someone was dead. Was it Rob? Who else could it be?


Rob didn't die, but it might have been better if he he had. The pipe that struck his head rendered him a vegetable. Sometimes I go over to see him, but it's never a good experience. His wife, Alexa, still blames me for what happened. I don't disagree with her because I blame myself, too.

And then there's Steven, who was neither rescued nor found. Steven, that great crater of mischief. That entity who defies the law of gravity.

Sometimes I dream that I am him, and that he is me.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Thin Line


1. the protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a political refugee.

2. an institution offering shelter and support to people who are mentally ill.

Ten degrees below zero. A fashion mitt crust bestows silence. Little panthers walking over seashore pebbles, biting lichen, angering their god. I knew it was out there now, then I don't. My vertices are overcome by the hissing of little fingers stroking a silk coat. An iron girder appears on Mars. Soap flakes.

I told the officer that the guy punched my fist with his face. Blue emerges. I know the capital of Cambodia but am not confident enough to correctly spell it. My ex-wife was a tree, that overbearing birch.

Footoohokaposapaskeneewa. I want to whip myself with a pink plastic skipping rope with white handles. I want to put hairspray in my hair and have it rain so that the hairspray runs down my forehead and into my eyes, stinging them. I want to lick a bomb as it explodes. I want to taste tragedy.

My stepmother dropped a Singer sewing machine on my head when I was eight years old. She died two years ago. I miss her.

Droplets of condensation run down the glass pitcher and pool in the shadow of its bottom. I am there, too.

"Scream as a far meant you helped Dagby die!" someone shouts. "Those pages were old! Old!" I try to watch my thumbnail grow. It takes practice, but when you stop trying to trick yourself into seeing something that isn't there, you might actually witness something that is.

I have a bag of teeth. There are seventeen total teeth. Four are mine: three baby ones I saved ever since I was little, and one permanent one (not so permanent though!) that I lost last year when a police officer kicked me it the mouth. I found the other thirteen in various places.

When I get grumbly, I put them in my socks and walk back and forth around here. But I can only do that at night.

Stems. Leaves. Sheafs. Skeins. I am ready to leave here. I have already left here. I am going right now.



I put my bottle of Tropicana orange juice, a copy of Us Weekly, a bag of Fritos, and the Declaration of Independence onto the CVS counter. It's almost 8 AM. The cashier asks me if I'd like to sell my kidney for 25,000 dollars.

I politely decline her offer.

I get home and pat my Golden Retriever, Dusty, on the head as she greets me at the door. I'm going to take her to the park later, but for now I'm just going to lie on the sofa and watch old episodes of Press Your Luck on GSN.

No Whammy, no Whammy, no Whammy, stop.