Month: February 2014

Japanese Right Wing Group Suspected of Vandalizing Anne Frank Books

Anne Frank Vandalized Japan

By Larry Lawrence

This just in from the What in the Holy Hell Were You Effin’ Thinking Department. Fingers are pointing at elements of Japan’s right wing for responsibility in vandalizing The Diary of a Young Girl and other books related to Anne Frank.

Yes, you read that right and yes, this is Sweet Pickles & Corn, not The Onion.

Reports say that more than 300 copies of the books have been found at public libraries around Tokyo with pages torn out or slashed. Library officials said the first case was reported a year ago, but that most of the vandalism appears to have taken place this month.

Nothing has been proven, and no one has claimed responsibility, hell, for all I know it could have been the neighbors trying to stir things up, or maybe it was Pat Buchanan making a move in his twilight years, but suspicions are strong that the page-rippers are conservative or rightist elements that have been pushing revisionist views of Japan’s wartime and colonial history.

Asian Studies professor Jeff Kingston, of Temple University’s Tokyo campus, is one of those leaning towards it being the work of the right wing.

“Twenty-first century Japan is in the throes of a culture war led by right-wing reactionaries who feel emboldened under Prime Minister Abe. The vandalism might be a colossal coincidence, coming so close to the uproar over the kamikaze letters — but I doubt it.”

An Abe administration spokesman has condemned the vandalism (that’s not to say that they might not revise their views later) and Tokyo police are investigating.

Aside of the asinine act of destroying books, or the possibility that it was Apple trying to build iBook readership in their continuing tumble against Amazon, one thing is certain: Whoever did it conceived an incredibly stupid plan from a geopolitical angle —regardless whether the intent was to stir dissent or to build support for rising conservative views in Japan. News of the literature lynching has only strengthened Japanese who are fighting to reign in Abe and his ultra-conservative crew.

“The Japanese public has loudly and widely repudiated the vandalism of Anne Frank’s diary. Overwhelmingly, this is seen as a repugnant act contrary to Japan’s norms and values. It’s a signal that core values remain robust despite the era’s culture wars,” Kingston says.

And good on Israel, they stepped up and donated 300 new copies of the destroyed books yesterday.

In the future, if you want to vandalize a book, how about this one instead?

The Strange Meals of Mr. TJ: A Portrait of Selective Eating Disorder


by Ralph Karst

Let me introduce to you a friend and former co-worker, TJ. TJ, an American, has lived in Korea for about four years. In that time, he has not eaten Korean food. Not at all, not once, ever. Not a nibble. Unusual, but not totally inconceivable. Most foreigners in Korea probably know at least a few fellow ex-pats who generally steer clear of kimchi, kimbap, duenjang chiggae, and bibimbap, even if they do occasionally sample something “safe” like Korean BBQ, or a bowl of noodles of some sort. So TJ, while extreme, you could say fits in at the end of a recognizable scale.

But I’m not done yet. TJ doesn’t eat seafood of any kind. He doesn’t eat chicken, in any style of cooking, sauce, or seasoning. TJ doesn’t eat spaghetti, pasta, or noodles of any kind. TJ doesn’t eat steaks or chops at all—neither beef, veal, lamb, nor pork. Probably by now you’re thinking he subsists primarily on a diet of those two American fast-food staples that are readily available in South Korea—hamburgers and pizza.  Nope, never, neither of them. Any kind of soup—no. Eggs—no. Salads—no. Beans—no. Any kind of ethnic food or for that matter any kind of recognizable national cuisine, you can cross off:  Mexican, Italian, Thai, Chinese, Indian, French, Moroccan, Mongolian, Kyrgyz. All nyet.

Really, it’s a lot easier and faster to tell you what TJ does eat, so I’ll cut to the chase and give you the list: bacon, hot dogs (with no bun and no condiments), French fries, iceberg lettuce, white bread (either regular loaves or baguettes),  popcorn (usually microwave-style), and milk (whole-fat). Add to that various basic snacks—potato chips, Oreos, a few forms of candy and chocolate. That’s it. That’s the whole list. The only way that any of those items are combined are in bacon-lettuce sandwiches. For lunch, TJ eats microwave popcorn for lunch almost every single day, except for when he rides his scooter off-campus to McDonalds and Burger King for a lunch of French fries.

As I and my co-workers were getting to know TJ, he never made any secret of all of this.  He was never furtive, never made any attempt to hide it. He was remarkably blasé about his diet. Any inside or outside-school functions or invitations that involved meals, TJ simply said, “No, sorry, I’ll eat somewhere else. I don’t really eat many things, you see.” But as the true extent of TJ’s diet became clear, we began to pepper him with questions. “Wait, what?  You don’t eat this?  You don’t eat that?  What about A, B, or C?  What about X, Y, or Z?  Why don’t you just try them?  Maybe you’ll like them!” We strove to keep the questions casual, friendly, and respectful, yet he could no doubt hear the rising incredulity in our voices. Finally, one Friday afternoon in the faculty office, we were yet again pestering him with stuff like “Really, not even whole-wheat bread?!”  he led us to his desk with a hint of exasperation. He googled “SELECTIVE EATING DISORDER” on his computer and bade us to have a look.

From Wikipedia:  Sufferers of Selective Eating Disorder (SED) have an inability to eat certain foods based on texture or aroma. “Safe” foods may be limited to certain food types and even specific brands. In some cases, afflicted individuals will exclude whole food groups, such as fruits or vegetables. Sometimes excluded foods can be refused based on color. Some may only like very hot or very cold food, or only very crunchy or hard-to-chew food, or very soft, or avoid sauces.

Most sufferers of SED will still maintain a healthy or normal body weight. There are no specific outward appearances associated with SED. Sufferers can experience physical gastrointestinal reactions to adverse foods such as retching, vomiting or gagging. Some studies have identified symptoms of social avoidance due to their eating habits. However, most do not desire to change their eating behaviors . . . Selective eating should not be of a concern as long as there are no negative effects on social, physical and emotional development.

The internet yielded up many extreme, horrific examples of SED, real freakshow stuff—people who drank quarts of tartar sauce a day, people who ate only Chicken McNuggets, people who ate only pancakes, people who first tried an orange at age 18 and immediately puked.  As abnormal as this stuff might seem, SED is not listed in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM), so it’s not an “official” mental disorder, which means research and treatments are scarce.  TJ told us he’d tried hypnosis treatments, but nothing worked.  He also said that from time to time he’s tried to introduce new foods into his rotation. He said recently he’d been trying to get over the chicken-hurtle by nibbling on some McNuggets, but he soon found that taking a big bite out of one was impossible, let alone chomping on a real chicken leg or thigh. So there it was. It’s not that TJ won’t eat other foods, it’s that he can’t. As the wiki article says, he will actually gag, retch, or even puke from the taste and feel of new things in his mouth.


That last line from the wiki article, “should not be a concern as long as there are no negative effects on social, physical and emotional development,” certainly begged the question with TJ. Well, were there any of these negative effects? How could there not be? If you heard about someone who only ate the things TJ ate, you might picture some kind of loser, a recluse still living with his parents, unemployed perhaps, playing X-box down in the basement all day long. You certainly might imagine someone in horrible physical condition, obese and in need of a triple bypass.

Well, let me fill in the rest of the picture of TJ. He has an engineering degree from Dartmouth and an MBA from the University of Chicago. Back home he worked in business consulting, with Samsung, Oracle, and Northrop-Grumman among his clients. When business dried up in the midst of the dot-com bust in the late 90s, he taught AP economics at high-level New England prep schools. He’s an ace teacher through-and-through, demanding, rigorous, fun, and compassionate. Frankly, he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. You argue anything with TJ, you’d better bring your “A” game, and your “A” game probably won’t be enough to avoid an intellectual smackdown. Also, TJ is outgoing, witty, gregarious and energetic. He connects easily with everybody from his fellow wayguk co-workers, to his Korean students, his students’ parents, and the Korean administrators at his school. As you’d expect from a top-level MBA guy, he is incredibly keen at seeing organizations as a whole and sizing up their strengths and weaknesses, and steering them toward their potential. In fact, TJ very quickly rose to become a sort of faculty dean at our school, fighting patiently and tenaciously with the Korean principal and program director for his clear-eyed vision for the school, expertly negotiating the frequent culture clashes without the roiling frustration that such a position frequently brings here in South Korea.

What about physical condition? Well, TJ, who’s about my age (mid 40s), is putting on a bit (and I mean just a bit) of middle-age paunch, as most of us do, but really, that seems to be from a lack of regular exercise due to the heroic hours he puts at the school rather than the whole SED thing. He had a physical recently, and he told me his heart and blood pressure seemed fine, and his cholesterol level was not really that bad at all. Actually, TJ is quite athletic. And here’s the thing that probably produces the most cognitive dissonance about TJ’s selective eating issues—he was a NCAA Division 1 college athlete, a starting soccer goalie at Dartmouth! A few times I’ve had kick-abouts with TJ out on the athletic fields, or played volleyball with him at sports day events. Even almost two decades since his playing days, I can easily see the litheness and quickness of a top-notch goalkeeper in him.

And what’s more—for a guy in his 40s, TJ does just fine with the ladies. He’s too friendly and funny and outgoing and smart not to. He’s had his share of girlfriends here in Korea, and in fact right now is quite serious with a lovely Korean woman he knew in America before he came here. We’ve talked about past loves, the sad cases of the “near misses” or the “ones-who-got-away” that anybody who stays single into their 40s will have—as I have myself. Is his SED thing a factor in this arena? I’ve never asked him directly, but I think I’d say no, it isn’t.

Clearly, the fact that TJ was fine with moving to South Korea is a sign that his SED issues don’t hold him back from travelling. I actually have been down to Thailand with him. Last summer he traveled all over Europe. Two years ago he travelled around China. This last winter vacation, he went to India. India! As long as there’s a Subway restaurant somewhere that can make bacon-and-lettuce sandwiches, or a western-oriented supermarket where he can stock up on his requirements, he’ll go anywhere.

So it is what it is, and TJ is who he is. He’s made his peace with his SED, and his many friends around the world sooner or later shrug and adjust, too. It’s not an actual taboo subject, but neither do we find the need to bring it up, either. We don’t stop inviting him out for group meals, but we all know that he’ll just hang out with us and drink a beer and chat rather than eat. For big, important faculty dinners, the Koreans know enough to stop at McDonalds for a few orders of fries to bring for TJ.  He doesn’t want or need our pity, though it’s hard not to feel pity for someone who will never enjoy any of the foods listed in that opening paragraph—a juicy steak, a sumptuous curry, a fresh, hot slice of pizza, a nice salad, a Thanksgiving turkey with all the fixings.  Especially travelling with TJ down in Thailand, my spirit quailed as I contemplated what it would be like to miss out on the fabulous array SE Asian spiciness.

However, it’s a mistake to assume that TJ doesn’t enjoy food at all.  As a “sufferer” of SED, TJ doesn’t seem to suffer very much at all.  He actually rather enjoys the foods he does eat. This is different from many SED sufferers, who often take no joy in downing their one or two tolerable foods; they eat as compulsively and as miserably as heroin addicts. TJ actually looks forward to Seoul trips where he can have a bacon-and-lettuce sandwich on fresh Italian bread at Subway.  He takes pleasure in finding a Popeye’s Fried Chicken with their special Cajun curly fries.

I’m writing this not to invite pity for TJ, and certainly not to invite scorn. Those of us who might feel superior to TJ, well, we’ve been living in some mighty fine glass houses. No, I find the case of TJ interesting because it stirs me to reflect on my own diet—present, past, and future. Really, is my current meat and processed junk-laden diet any more or less messed up than TJ’s? As a meat eater, I find myself increasingly questioning what I’m doing to my own body, to the environment, and to the animals I share this planet with.


Looking back, I think about my own childhood as a picky eater. Many children are picky eaters. Some biologists believe that children are inherently sensitive to even tiny amounts of bitterness as an evolutionary defense mechanism against poisoning themselves when they’re in that “oral” stage in infancy where they want to pop in their mouths anything they can grab. Either genetically or by learning, children move past that stage and gradually see “bitter” as just one color in the palette of taste, not something tantamount to poison. People with SED simply get “stuck,” never figuring out how to branch out, how to escape those earlier aversions. While my eating wasn’t as limited as TJ’s is, I still couldn’t abide any kind of seafood, my vegetable “yes list” was basically lettuce and cucumbers, and everything had to be separate, unmixed, and basically not even touching each other.

I hated being a picky eater—I associated it with being weak and lame. Kids my own age who seemed like they could eat anything were tougher, stronger. They would be able to survive in a jungle, while I would die with pitiful quickness. My parents would say, if you were starving, you’d eat it. I didn’t know what was worse—that they were right and I would eventually wolf down that disgusting (to me) casserole if I were truly hungry enough, revealing my protests of I can’t! I can’t! to be a hollow sham, or that they were wrong—I would literally die of starvation with perfectly good food right in front of me. Even though I’ve moved beyond that picky stage to enjoy just about everything, to this day, I’m self-conscious about not being able to finish a plate of food at a restaurant or at someone’s house. A few weeks ago, in India, I was served an enormous plate of chicken biryani, and could only get about two-thirds of the way through it.  When the guy came to clear the table, he looked at the substantial uneaten portion, creased his brow a little, and, sounding perhaps a little hurt (in my imagination at least), he said “No good?”  I felt the old shame I felt at being at a friend’s house for dinner, and both my friend and his parents acting amazed, if not offended, that I wasn’t a member of the “clean plate club.” Didn’t I like their cooking? And more importantly, didn’t I know that there were children starving in Africa?  Or was it China?


In a sense, we’re all “selective eaters.” And what’s “normal,” after all, in a world as dizzyingly diverse as ours? TJ’s situation made me realize how much I think about food, and how important food is to me, and how much certain social situations, even whole cultures, revolve around food. At first I felt puzzled by TJ, then I felt pity that somehow he couldn’t live a full life due to his eating habits. However, it’s clear that TJ has found a way to get on that bus and take a first-class ride, as rich and as varied as anybody else’s—and probably a ride richer and more varied than most. I’m glad to be sharing part of that ride with him, no matter what’s on the menu.

Out of My League

By Mr. Motgol

When you’re coming down off a three-day meth binge, every cigarette is a feast. Each inhalation is an exercise in deep, existential satisfaction. Your nerves are blown out and you need cigarettes to keep the frayed ends from unraveling completely, but more than that, they just taste good. Each one is delicious. As you suck in the blue smoke, it dances over your tongue, which is hungry and rewired hyper-sensitive from the deprivation of both food and sleep. The earthy tobacco taste seeps in first, followed by any impurities, which the speed fiend also comes to crave—hints of fiberglass, ammonia, the faint taste of metals. All of these unholy additives stimulate the taste buds and manage to give you a little boost; they complement the tail end of the chemical bender and are the main reason that you will never see a tweaker smoking American Spirits.


Chaz, my basement roommate, stood in the doorway to his room, awash in thought. “She was our in, I’m tellin’ you,” he said, chewing on a sunflower seed. “And the one day, BAM! She changes her number, changes her locks, and kicks his ass to the curb.”

Though he was just feet away, his voice sounded distant, as if he was speaking through a megaphone. My pupils felt like raisins and did their best to focus on the TV, which showed the latest episode of Survivor. The unit was hopelessly old; the black casing faded, cracked, and literally taped together in spots.

“She was an A-Lister! The big leagues, baby! How often do we get that kind of access?” Chaz cracked another seed between his teeth and swallowed some spit.

I scratched at my scalp through oily clumps of hair, searching for recesses and scabs. My skull was a bar of soap; I felt like my fingers could dig right through the bone. I realized that I hadn’t shampooed in months.

Chaz continued: “Rick told me that she was interested in the script… this was before she dumped him. That’s what he said, that she was biting. We get her on board and we are fucking in… I can’t help but think we missed our one shot here.”

“Yeah, man,” I said, sipping from a tall boy of Miller High Life, captivated by the events pulsing on the screen. “Some fucked up shit…”

“Damn right it’s some fucked up shit.”

Chaz disappeared into his room and I was left alone with the TV: Tiki torches, ominous music droning over the rumble of drums. The contestants snaked in silently, funeral faced. It was time for Tribal Council.


The fluorescent light above weakly soaked the room, giving my already sickly skin a diseased, purplish hue. The white board behind the couch listed ongoing script projects, with the ink fading mightily on those long-dead works that we refused to give up hope on. Books, screenplays, and dog-eared papers lay in piles and jumbles next to the TV. Random props and costume pieces graced the room: A nude baby doll with a bloodstained face, an authentic Nazi helmet, a pellet gun, a wheelchair, a couple of Klan robes, a human arm, a gargantuan double penis springing forth from an unruly nest of dark pubes, and a custom made life-sized carcass of a white-tailed deer. Headshots, glossy publicity photos, and flyers from theater shows we’d put on over the years clung to the yellowish walls, along with a red star-adorned poster from the Italian Communist Party, a free score from a local yard sale. The couch I sat on was shit brown; the carpet a mosaic of beer stains.

I smoked my cigarette down to the filter and snuffed it out in the overcrowded ashtray. I immediately lit another, gripping it like a talisman. Survivor came back on and I poured myself in. I wonder who will get voted off? I surrendered to the actions on the screen, feeling a sense of camaraderie with those starving people forced to betray each other through pure chicanery and cunning. Not so different than Hollywood. I allowed them to think and act for me, since both were nearly impossible tasks at this point. I felt ravaged, as if a scalpel-clawed beast had ripped me open head to toe and devoured everything inside of importance. I was zombified, an empty, jittering shell. I would manage sleep in a few hours if I could just gulp down enough beer to bring on the black.

Hypnotized by the warm timbre of the voice of the show’s host, Jeff Probst, I continued to rot on the crap-colored couch, twitching and chain-smoking, until the banshee’s scream of phone jolted me back into the here and now.


Chaz emerged from his room and shot past, answering it.

“It’s for you,” he said, holding out the receiver.

I turned to him in horror. He shrugged.

“For me?” I mouthed, tapping my chest for effect.

“Yes,” he replied, full volume. “For you.”

“Who… is it?” I whimpered.

“I don’t know, dude. Some girl.” His eyes began to burn with impatience.

“A girl?”

“Yeah, a girl.”

“Oh, man…” I closed my eyes, took a long, deep drag and exhaled. “I don’t know…”

“You gonna talk to her or what?”

“Uhmmm… uh…”

He waved the receiver in the air, over his head.

“Uh… okay okay okay…” I downed the last of my beer and stood up. The room twisted and warped and everything went dark for a moment. I staggered but managed to stay on my feet, propping myself up against the wall and catching my breath as my vision crystalized. Chaz thrust the clammy plastic phone receiver into my hands, patted me shoulder and said: “Good luck.”

I tried to swallow but my tongue was made of leather. My mouth was entirely sapped of saliva. For a moment I stared at the receiver, quashing the impulse to drop the thing and sprint out the door. Finally, I put the phone to my ear and squeaked out a word.


“Hi… Nick? Nick Greco?”

I don’t recognize the voice.

“Uh… yeah?”

“This is Adrianna.”

My eyes rolled back as I tried to connect the dots. White noise. Nothing.

“I’m… sorry… who?”


“Uhh… uhhh…”

Unable to retrieve file.

“You don’t remember me?”

“Sorry, I’m having a hard time… uh… Could you… repeat your name?”

“Adrianna. Adrianna Giannopoulus. You were my prom date, remember?”


“Oh my God. Adrianna, of course. Oh man… uh… wow. Adrianna Giannopoulus. Sorry, it’s been… a while… So… uh… How are you doing?”

*            *            *

curly blonde

I met Adrianna in high school, where, like me, she was a member of the International Thespian Society, a school theater organization that gave official sanction to drama geeks everywhere. Adrianna, however, was hardly a geek. She was a stunner—simmering and tall–with a cascade of curly blond hair, steely eyes, and a nose straight off a Roman statue. As her named suggests, her family was Greek, and she had spent her childhood moving all around Europe and South America, eventually–for reasons never really explained to me–settling in the suburbs of northeast Seattle. As a result of her international upbringing, she was fluent in Greek, Spanish and Portuguese, with a pretty good grasp on German and Italian as well. On top of it all, she was a hell of an actress-a magnetic natural capable of true incandescence on the stage. Talent and competence just radiated from her bones, and I was smitten at once, unable to take my eyes off this gorgeous Greek girl during the two or three drama conferences a year where we’d run into each other.

By my senior year, I too had proven myself to be one of the dominant fish in our state’s high school actor pond, and by the last conference before graduation, she was mine. We made out in the dark on the bed of the motel in the college burg of Bellingham, near the Canadian border. I was riding a high, bursting with euphoria, invincible. I’d done it. I had finally managed to snare not just a true beauty, but the whole package, an alpha-female. She was magnificent–a Goddess in my eyes–and as I held her close and ran my hands over her body, I couldn’t believe my dumb luck. Or just maybe I had earned it: perhaps Adrianna wasn’t so out of my league, despite the hairball of self-doubt lodged deep down in my throat. Why couldn’t a working class kid from the trashy hinterlands of Lacey, Washington secure such a prize? Was I not also talented and capable? Adrianna was clearly destined for success, and according to what many people were telling me at the time, so was I. Why should I have disbelieved them?

*            *            *

“It was… my brother’s car,” I spoke deliberately into the receiver, concentrating on every word. “He lent it to me… for the night.”

“Yeah,” she said. “It was a white Nissan, wasn’t it? And we went to a little French place near Pike Place Market for dinner, remember?”

“Yeah… I do,” I said, drawing on my reserve tank of memory. “I think it closed a long time ago.”

“You ordered the rabbit, said you’d never had it before.”

“Oh yeah…. I ate a rabbit.” I tried to recall the taste. “Or part of one, at least.”

“And then after the dance we had espresso and cannoli with my friend Lisa and her date at a trattoria in the U-District, which was also a first for you, if I recall.”

“You guys were a bit more… cultured than me. I was kind of from the sticks.”

“And then afterwards we ended up at my friend Anna’s parents’ place on Lake Washington…”


She lowered her voice. “…where I gave you a blowjob on the couch.”

I attempted to summon the scene, but drew yet another blank.

“You gave me a blowjob?

“Yeah, I gave you a blowjob.”

“Oh, man… I… I don’t remember that.”

“How could you not remember? You told me it was your first.”

“Really? Sorry, I uh… My first blowjob? Really? I think I’d remember it.”

“Do you think I’m making it up?”

“No no no… I just don’t… uhhhh… What I’m trying to say is… oh man…” I let out a pathetic wheeze and zoned out on the wrinkles in the wallpaper, which seemed to dance on their own. My head felt like it had been exposed to uranium.

“Are you high?”

“No. No no no. No.”

“Well you sound high.”

“Listen… I’m not… high.”

But I was, and part of me wanted to cop to it. I wanted to tell her that I was coming off a beast of a tweak, that a few years back I had developed a vicious little drug habit and that since coming to L.A. I had generally managed to keep the ogre chained to the rock, but how from time to time he snapped free of his fetters and took me on a wild ride. I wanted to tell her how just, three days ago, I was drinking away my afternoon at a tiny East Hollywood dive, and after getting good and juiced I decided to score. I wanted to tell her how I followed my demon’s instinct and located the entrance of a rough looking gay bar where I could just smell the gear, how I ended up paying a homeless street hustler and his buddy to hook me up (and them in the process), how we hiked up the hills behind Hollywood under a full moon and shot up within eyeshot of the big sign. I wanted to tell her how I spent my night wandering Hollywood and Santa Monica Boulevards and streets in between, just walking and walking and walking sunset-blvd-at-night-by-J.P.Silva_ until I ended up on The Strip, where obscene people cruised in Hummers and limos under garish billboards promoting such gems as Rob Schneider’s “The Animal” and “A Knight’s Tale” starring Heath Ledger. I wanted to tell her how the next day I returned to the bar to score some more, this time through a blond ex-con named Glenn who I drove out to the far-flung suburb of West Covina, where I passed the next night with a house full of malevolent men lost in the spirals of speed. After taking an informal poll, it was determined that I was the only one there not on parole.

I wanted to tell her all of this, but that would require stringing together sentences and forming consonant and vowel sounds in the dried out cavity of my mouth. It would require being honest, not just with her, but with myself. Lying was easier, and it would get me off the phone that much more quickly, which was really my overriding concern.

“So…” I asked. “Are you married?”

“Yes,” she answered. “I’ve been married for four years now. How about you?”

“Me? Nah…” I rocked back and forth on my sore feet, twisting the receiver chord in my fingers. “Still single…”

“I see.”

“What does he do? Your husband?”

“He works for Microsoft. Project manager.”

“Okay… of course…”

“What do you mean, ‘of course?’”

“Uh… I don’t know man… I mean… it seems like everyone in Seattle is working for Microsoft or Amazon or something… What… about you? What do you do?”

“I’m a corporate consultant.”

What the fuck does that even mean?

“Yeah, she continued. “Just doing the corporate thing.”

“Sounds like good bread,” I said.

“Uh, yeah. It is. I do very well.”

“I bet.”

“We have a beautiful house on Queen Anne here in Seattle. Things are good.”

“Any, uh… kids?”

“Nope. Not yet.”

“Cool…” I lowered my voice. “Are you still hot?”

She took a beat and then answered back: “Yes. I am.”

“I bet you are.” I attempted to direct enough power to my worn-out synapses to conjure an image of her in a corporate power skirt, glasses, and fuck-me pumps, with her blond Hellenic mane pulled back into a tidy, fascist bun. For a moment, the remnants of speed in my system helped to shoot a flash of electric heat into my groin.

“So, you’re in L.A.?” she asked.

“Yeah… uh… yeah. L.A.”

“Do you like it?”

Oh God what do I say?

“Uh, yeah, yeah…” I nodded my head as if to convince myself of my own words. “It’s cool. Sure.”

“What, are you like trying to make it?”

“Um… no… I mean yes, but not make it make it… Sure, that’d be nice, but… I moved down here three years ago with some college friends. We… uh… had a group in Seattle…. Did kind of well for a while… Catastrophe Theatre. Ever hear of us?”

“No… can’t say I have.”

“Well, we were a little popular in Seattle… thought we’d, uh… give it a shot down here.”

“So how’s it going then?”

“How’s… what going?”

“How are you doing? Are you making it?”

“Uh, sure… I’m—I mean, we’re trying… doing late-night shows at some little theaters in Hollywood… here and there… writing some scripts to sell… you know Christina Ricci? Our buddy was her boyfriend and… well we wrote a thing with her in mind but… uh… she, uh… never mind… so now we’re just… just…”

The words evaporated in my mouth. I looked to the TV, but the credits were rolling. Shit, I missed it.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Uh… yeah… just kind of out of it.” I scratched my neck. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. I just… uh… well.”


She went on to tell me about her time down here. How after going college in the area she spent a couple of years working the town. She had an agent, booked a few commercials and other TV gigs. An improv group she was in performed on the Tonight Show at the end of Carson’s reign. She’d had a taste of it, at least.

“… but the life of a struggling actress wasn’t for me,” she concluded. “I am more than happy not acting these days. I don’t like being poor.”

Neither do I.

I tried to keep it upbeat: “Well it sounds like you’re doing quite well.”

“I am,” she replied. “I am… I’ve thought about you here and there over these last many years. Just curious as to how you were doing. I always imagined that you’d be very successful.”

I let out a weak laugh. “Work in progress,” I said.

We ended the conversation by exchanging email addresses and promising to write, but I knew that this would never come to be. In LA, failure is considered an infectious disease; people want nothing to do with you once you are branded with the Scarlet F. At this point the letter had been irrevocably seared into my skin, and I knew that even she could smell it over the phone.


*            *            *

“Who was that?” Chaz asked from inside his room, where he was doing his nightly yoga stretches. He kept things clean, sober, healthy. I could learn from him.

“Blast from the past,” I replied, snatching up my box of smokes and heading out the door into the cool night air.

Our rental house sat atop the main hill in Echo Park, a historic neighborhood that was known more for gang shootings than the old movie star bungalows tucked into the canyons. But things were changing now. Crime was on the decline and rents were going up. The yuppies and hipsters were moving in, a wave that we were surely part of. The barrio was being colonized by the industry crowd.

I strode out to the massive wooden deck just beneath the house. It was easily the property’s best feature, constructed over the street-level garage. I stopped at the rickety railing, looking out over the roofs and palm trees, down onto the twinkling flatlands splayed-out in the distance. These were the bowels of L.A., the dirty, violent, unglamorous neighborhoods that housed the people who weren’t here to make it. For them, and even some of us, life in the city was just an act of survival. I lit a smoke and took in the scene. A police helicopter circled far off, blasting its spotlight onto the boxy houses and streets below. Perhaps I would finally get some sleep tonight, but all I really wanted to do was hide.

popo copcop

Ulysses S. Granted

by Pablo Harris

First weekend after starting a new teaching job, just getting settled in Busan, I went out with a colleague, Bass: an east coaster, a veteran of a few tours here who had recently got promoted to his F2 status. He invited me out to the PuDae neighborhood. PuDae, as my Lonely Planet guide describes it, is the place that used to be “the place” to go. Every first of the month at a little basement bar they have an open-mic stand-up comedy night. Fell for a lithe, pasty, dark-haired Scottish girl who kept talking about her pussy going “flap, flap, flap.” Bass says, “I need a shot before I go on, you like Jack Daniels?” Internally, I’m shouting, “Not as much as I like Jameson, look at the Jameson!” But to paraphrase the tune of the English football anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone, “And you’ll never shoot alone, you will never shoot alone (clap clap clap).”

After the show, it’s around 1 a.m. Bass tries to convince me to go to the casino, to which I decline. Got enough vices, not trying to add any more, so he leaves me smoking alone out on the street. I end up meeting a drunken local, however, who does persuade me to follow him to this really great bar he knows. We proceed to circumambulate the site, like pilgrims in a procession around the Kaaba, before walking back downstairs to the exact bar we were just at. His English is terrible, my Korean is worse, but we both speak drink. So, 1 a.m. turns into 6 a.m. Last thing I remember, he asks where I live. “Suyeong jihachil, ship chil beon,” I slur. He hails a cab, shakes my hand, shoves me into the back seat, and yells something at the driver.

Next thing I know, the sun is up. I look around and I see I am outside a police station flanked by four men. I casually, vato style, look to my left. Lips pursed a bit, shake my head. There’s one cop and the cabbie. Look to my right, two cops. No words are spoken. I stick out my lips like I’m Mick fucking Jagger, more head shakin’. I know the score. I spent all my indigenous currency at the bar, there’s no Won in my wallet, and I passed out in the taxi on top of that. Then the cab driver, from the few words that I gather and his gesticulations, begins to plead to the cops that I am another deadbeat wayguk and that I should be arrested for my transgression. The cops are conferring with cryptic glances, I am still vato stoic. So, knowing the score and without saying a word, I fumble through the contents of my wallet; I find, invaginated behind the expired IDs and tapped debit cards, there is one note there, fifty U.S. dollars. I extract the bill from the leather bi-fold, slap it into the hand of the cop on my left and walk home. Without a word.

*   *   *

Later that afternoon, beat down and hung over, when given a respite from the internal replays of the night, I recall my first “date” with Jenn Zeek. I was bartending at an urbane, farm-to-fork bistro downtown and dating Mama Steph back then–a petite, olive skinned, tattooed, smokin’ younger lady with two kids and glasses I met in a contemporary philosophy class. Jenn was living with her boyfriend in Davis while she was studying viticulture and enology and had been working with us, hostessing, for about six weeks. Though she was way overqualified to be a greeter and a seater, she was biding her time waiting for an opening on the floor, and socially, wasn’t in yet. She had the restaurant version of Vietnam Syndrome working against her: got to be in country six months before we give a shit about you (like salty profs contempt for newbies). However, from the intelligence gleaned over small talk while folding napkins and buffing flatware, her boyfriend wasn’t into too much other than progressing in an online poker tournament. She was looking for some other action.

So, Friday night, we are sitting out on the patio in our penguin suits enjoying our after work beers and spliffs with a handful of freaks of the industry, discussing plans to go spend the weekend out on the Sonoma Coast–Steph and I included. It turns out on the eve of the trip, Steph breaks up with me via text message. She didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t into her kids. Fair enough, miss you Sweetheart, but you’re right. Jenn catches wind of our plans and the fallout with my girl, so she pulls me aside and explains,

“You know, I am supposed to go to Napa tomorrow but I would rather go with you all to Sonoma. I love pinot noir and the Russian River and I think you need a date, though you know I have a boyfriend. But I promise I’ll be fun. Maybe I can go with you guys?”

We end up on a Monday night in the tony hamlet of Healdsburg at the L & M motel: a faded, old-school u-shaped place anchored by a parking lot. An expensive dive just south of the railroad tracks and the town square. Two couples, Jenn, and I checked out of the beach house and decided to milk one more night of this trip. We’d just completed day three of wine tasting, beer drinking, and barbecuing. Jenn discovers a pool room at the motel. She wants to swim. I’m not much of a swimmer but I do like girls that like to swim. So we change into our bathing suits and head over to the pool house. It’s five past 11. We open the door and walk into the room. There’s a sizable, six-foot deep pool and a small, hot, bubbly spa and a man who works for the L & M standing next to the jacuzzi.

“Sorry, closing up,” he announces.

I glance at Jenn, who is standing by the door clearly eager for a dip, and walk over to him. I approach him with, “Look man, I got a girl here who wants to swim, and, I like this girl, how ‘bout lettin’ us swim?”

He bargains: “$40 and you got an hour.”

I reach into the left pocket of my trunks, there are three things: a pack of Marlboros, a lighter, and a fifty-dollar bill. Why I would feel compelled to grab the last bit of cash I have until Thursday to walk 20 feet to the pool room? I don’t know. And how often do you really have a Grant when Lincolns, Jacksons, and Franklins are so much more common? I cusp the paper note in my left hand, surreptitiously move it to my right, extend my hand to the maintenance man, grab his palm and pull him close so Jenn couldn’t hear, and offer, “Here’s a fifty and we stay as long as we want.”

A few weeks later, Jenn and I begin the Sunday Funday drinking bloodies, reading The Times. We recall the L & M. She said she didn’t know the details but she saw me shake hands and the man walked off. She didn’t know exactly what transpired but she knew it was life imitating art in front of her eyes and knew I was the one.

It was the story she loved to repeat to her friends and some days we would reminisce, usually over brunch and a newspaper. It was the story that would certainly be recited by her maid of honor at our wedding. It was the story we would . . .

It was, if not for: Busan Calling.

* * *

Now I’m convinced that after I die I’ll start out in purgatory. It’s exactly where I belong. I know the score. I have not been virtuous enough for Heaven but I also have and will not be nefarious enough for Hell. I’ll be in purgatory and one day the Lord’s Director of Highland Security will come down from his Pearly Gates to assess the situation. I imagine that at least once a year there is a day when the Great Gatekeeper condescends to the middlings, evaluates everyone there, and offers a bit of grace to a couple of lucky souls. He calls them up to the show, like a supplemental draft or making the Hall of Fame on your last ballot. Again, I won’t be chosen.                                                                                    

But, this time, I’ll be in rare form. Having casually maneuvered my way through the field of contestants to the front of the line, as Tom Waits croons a ballad from his pickled piano over the PA, while all the other purgators walk off dejectedly–on this day–I’ll be incredibly, exceptionally smooth. I’ll tap him on the forearm with the knuckles on the back of my left hand, draw his attention with a head nod and whisper to St. Pete.

“Hey, come on man, I think you got room for one more.”

And I’ll fish out of my pocket my last possession, cup it in my hand, and clandestinely pass it to Peter when we skin it. St. Peter will slip the Grant into the front pocket of his robe, shake his head from side to side with an exasperated sigh, before finally divining, “Fine, Pablo, come on up to the house.”