“Howl, howl, howl, howl!”

22 June 2016: My Birds of Yesteryear

I was ten years old in 1954 when I saw, in a dark air-conditioned theater in Manila, the movie adaptation of Sigmund Romberg’s operetta, The Student Prince.  I thought Edmund Purdom was remarkably good looking as the prince, and Ann Blyth passing fair as the barmaid he wooed but could not marry.  The songs from the show were all quite memorable, but “Serenade” was the one I liked best.  It was the first real pop song I learned to sing by heart, and I still, on occasion, sing the first stanza to myself:

“Overhead the moon is beaming,
White as blossoms on the bough;
Nothing is heard but the song of a bird,
Filling all the air with dreaming.”

Also in 1954, I saw, for the first time, in the hot and crowded gymnasium of the Jesuit elementary school I attended in Manila, the 1939 movie adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.  When Judy Garland sang “Over the Rainbow” in the movie, I started to cry.  I was ten years old and, until that moment, I had not realized that I was unhappy.  I was an only child because my two older siblings had both died during the war; I had no friends or playmates because my parents were overly protective, afraid that I too might die. I had lots of toys and comic books, but I was sad and lonely.  The lyrics of the song reinforced my longing for a life elsewhere:

“Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow, why then, oh why, can’t I?
If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow,
Why, oh why, can’t I?”

It’s hard to believe that Judy Garland died 47 years ago today, and that I have now been living in Kansas for 48 years.  She died the year after I left the Philippines for the United States, on wings which flew me first to San Francisco, then New Jersey, and finally to Lawrence, Kansas.  Both “Serenade” and “Over the Rainbow” are songs I still listen to because they are on my iPhone.  But there is another one on the playlist I am fond of, also from childhood, about a pair of yellow birds, one of which flew away, leaving the other one alone:

“Yellow bird, up high in banana tree,
Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me.
Wish that I were a yellow bird,
I fly away with you.
But I am not a yellow bird,
So here I sit, nothing else to do.”

What life has taught me, now that I am 72 years old, is that being alone can be a blessing, not a curse.  I lived with a good friend from 1968 to 1985.  They were good years, but then I decided to buy my own house, which I eventually populated with a dog, an aquarium full of tropical fish and, yes, half a dozen caged birds.  I retired five years ago.  Although I continue to see many friends and colleagues on a regular basis, I also love the quiet moments alone, the solitude.  My parents eventually had three more children, but they arrived when I was already in my early teens, so in my mind I have always been an only child, alone, with just my birds of yesteryear for company, taking me along on their incredible flights of fancy.

“Lullaby of birdland, that’s what I
Always hear when you sigh;
Never in my wordland
Could there be ways to reveal
In a phrase how I feel.”

2 February 2016: Mourning Becomes the Electorate!

In his holy acceptance speech for being the godly winner in the Iowa caucuses last night, GOP presidential nominee Ted Cruz quotes a verse from Psalm 30:  “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”  Is this meant to be proof of his divine mission, or is he trying to console the losers last night, promising them a better tomorrow?

In any case, this being a democracy, we all deserve the officials we vote into office.  To borrow a page from Eugene O’Neill’s Electra playbook, when this is all over, I hope the electorate will also welcome whatever “joy cometh in the mourning.”

1 February 2016: My Mouth Is Golden!

After five visits to my dentist, spread out over two months, to initiate and go through all the stages of a root canal, today the gold crown was finally installed with great fanfare.  When the assistant who was helping Dr. Charlie first brought the gold crown in, she exclaimed, “This is so heavy!  Do you want to feel it?  It is so heavy!”   When I demurred, she repeated, “Are you sure?  It is so heavy!”

For the next 15 minutes or so, as she continued to do the prep work for Dr. Charlie, putting the gold crown in, then taking it out, then putting it back in, then taking it out again, all I could think of were the gruesome pictures I had seen of mounds of gold fillings which the allies had found in the various concentration camps after World War II.  Were these extracted before or after the Jews were gassed to death?  What was the Third Reich going to do with all these gold fillings?  And then I started to cry.

“Am I hurting you?” the dental assistant inquired, sounding really alarmed.

“No,” I mumbled.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, quite sure.  I’m just thinking about what all this gold is going to cost.”

“Oh,” she laughed.  “You’re such a joker.”  And then Dr. Charlie came in to do the final art installation.

My mouth is now golden.  But will I be able to chew on my new crown without thinking of those mounds of gold fillings, ever again?

23 January 2016: Westerns, Easterns, and Northerns

First we had “westerns” from Hollywood, which mutated into “spaghetti westerns” from Italy.  Then came the “easterns” by way of samurai movies from Japan, which in turn mutated into the high-flying martial arts movies from Hong Kong and China.  And now we have the “northerns.”

There may be earlier “northerns” than The Savage Innocents, which I found absolutely absorbing and mesmerizing when I first saw it in 1960.  Directed by Nicholas Ray, it’s about an Eskimo (Anthony Quinn) in the early 1900s who, true to the rules of hospitality in his culture, offers a stranded white missionary (Peter O’Toole) not only a place to sleep in his igloo, but his wife (Yoko Tani) as well.  When the missionary is horrified by the offer, the Eskimo is gravely offended and, in the ensuing scuffle, accidentally kills the missionary.  The Eskimo flees into the Arctic wilderness with his family, and the rest of the movie shows the cavalry and/or police in hot pursuit.

Now comes The Revenant (2015), directed by Alejandro Inarritu, in which a frontiersman (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the 1820s, having been mauled by a bear and left for dead by avaricious members of his own hunting team, somehow manages to survive against great odds.  He decides to pursue and confront the evil men who tried to bury him alive just so they could profit by his death.  The narrative is riveting, the cinematography spectacular, the acting flawless, and yet…

The Savage Innocents won no awards in its day; the movie came and went without much notice, and only recently did it become available on DVD.  The Revenant, on the other hand, has already won three Golden Globes (Best Movie, Best Director, Best Actor), and we are just waiting to see how many Oscars it will take home (it has been nominated in twelve categories) at the Academy Awards.  It certainly deserves all the awards it can get, but in my mind, The Savage Innocents was the first “northern” I saw, and I remember it now, more than fifty years later, more vividly than The Revenant, which I saw only a couple of weeks ago.

13 January 2016: Brown Is Now The New White!

A white supremacist group which has proclaimed Donald Trump as “The Great White Hope” is now sending out robocalls to Iowans to caucus for Trump in the Iowa caucuses.  The robocalls begin with a peculiar homily from Rev. Ronald Tan, a Filipino-American pastor of the Assemblies of God Christian Church of Carson, CA.  He is also the co-host of a radio show “For God and Country,” which is sponsored by the American Freedom Party, founded in 2010 as “a Nationalist party that shares the customs and heritage of the European American people.”

Here is the convoluted message from Rev. Tan:  “First Corinthians states:  God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise and God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong.  For the Iowa caucuses, please support Donald Trump.  He is courageous and he speaks his mind.  God Bless.”  This is followed by a crystal-clear message from Jared Taylor, the editor of American Renaissance:  “We don’t need Muslims.  We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture.  Vote Trump.”

In 1935, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was established by the United States, and full independence was granted to the Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946.  Why a Filipino-American would be affiliated with a white supremacist group in 2016 truly boggles the mind.  Orange may be the new black on Netflix, but Rev. Ronald Tan and his followers seem to have convinced themselves that brown is now the new white!

10 January 2016: The Big Short

There were half a dozen people in the theater today for the 12:05 PM showing of THE BIG SHORT.  I don’t know about the other people there, but I thought the film was brilliant, at least the 10 percent of it that I understood.  I need Bernie Sanders to explain the other 90 percent, which is why he has my vote.

5 January 2016: Checks and Balances

Every year, on my birthday, Grant Goodman, who was an early riser, would call me at 6 in the morning and sing “Happy Birthday” most endearingly because it was also mostly off-key.  Later in the day, we would get together for a special celebratory lunch or dinner, just the two of us, after which he would give me my present.  Every year, on my birthday, he would hand me a cute card containing the usual birthday greetings, plus a check the amount of which would correspond with the number of years I’ve lived, starting with $25 in 1969.  This went on without much surprise, year after year

And so, on 5 January 2014, when he handed me the usual card with, presumably, a check for $70, I put the card aside, because that year I decided we would not eat out, that I would cook some of my favorite dishes from the Philippines, which required my full attention in the kitchen.  That night, after dinner, after Grant had long departed and all the dishes had been washed, I sat down for one last glass of wine and opened his card.  I took no notice of the check until I started to put it away, when I saw that he had written it, not for $70, but for $2,565.  There must be some mistake, I thought, so I called him even though it was past his bedtime.

He was still awake.  He had been waiting for my call.  “No mistake,” he laughed boisterously.  “That check should take care of all your birthdays until you turn 100.”

I turned 72 today, my second birthday without Grant because he died in April of 2014, six months shy of his own 90th birthday.  When my first dog (Imelda) died at 10 1/2 years old, and my second dog (MyKee) at 14 1/2 years old, it was only because Dr. Tom Liebl at Clinton Parkway Animal Hospital said “the quality of life has degenerated” and “it’s time.”  Did Grant subconsciously know he would not live to celebrate another birthday with me?  Did he suspect his time was up?

I don’t know that I want to live to 100, especially if my health should start to deteriorate and I’m no longer enjoying myself.  My only regret is, if my third dog (KeeWee) should outlive me.  But I’ve already made provisions for her in my will.  Checks and balances, that’s what keeps me going, for now.  I hope I too will know when “it’s time.”


3 January 2016: Landscapes or Mindscapes?

I subscribe to the print edition of the Sunday New York Times, and it’s something I look forward to like nothing else all week because it affords many hours of informative and absorbing reading that I almost never get from the local paper.

The Sunday edition always comes bundled in two sections.  I read all the news first, saving the opinion pages for last, before taking a break.  Then comes the “Arts & Leisure” section, the highlight of the week.  It makes sense that “Travel” would be included here, but I’ve always wondered why “Book Review” is tucked in with “Travel,” as though it’s part of “Travel.”

And today I understood why.  The two are bound together because “Travel” allows us the possibility of escape from wherever we are, whether by air, sea, rail, automobile or even on foot; and “Book Review” offers journeys to even more places, wherever the mind can take us.

Landscapes or Mindscapes?  Take your pick.


31 December 2015: Asian Restaurants in Lawrence

Perhaps because I’m Chinese, I’m single, I eat out a lot and I also entertain a great deal, friends always ask me what’s my favorite Asian restaurant in Lawrence.  My answer, usually, is that I go to all of them because they all have dishes on their “special Chinese menu” that I like.  But if I have to rate them according to which ones I go to more frequently than others, then it’s true that I do have my favorites.

On top of the list would be Oriental Bistro & Grill on 23rd Street—it offers the widest variety of Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Korean dishes, and I’ve never had a bad meal there.  Next would be Jade Garden on Kasold Drive—the place draws a lot of Asian students, and that’s always a good sign.  After that, it’s a toss up between Encore, Yokohama and Zen Zero, all in downtown Lawrence.  As for Chinese buffets, hands down it’s King Buffet on 23rd Street—besides the usual items you find at all Chinese buffets, King Buffet also regularly features roast duck, eggplant in garlic sauce, stewed tofu, etc.  Other Chinese buffets in Lawrence mostly try to outdo each other as to how many ways they can cook and disguise chicken.

The service at all the establishments I’ve named above is fast, friendly, courteous.

This, in contrast to an experience which I had recently, on Christmas Day, at a popular local Chinese restaurant which I will not name.  I had a 6:30 PM reservation there, in its semi-private room, for a special pre-ordered dinner for nine people.  When I arrived at 6 PM to make sure everything was okay, I discovered that the semi-private room was filled to overflowing with other people.  The owner told me that my group had been moved to a corner in the back part of the restaurant, where we were subsequently squeezed in like sardines, with tables of uneven height joined together, making the table-top cooking somewhat precarious and dangerous.  On top of all this, the appetizers arrived late, and the specialty dinner which I had pre-ordered was missing several items we had agreed on.

The next day, because it was obvious that I was not happy about how my party had been treated, the owner left a long voice mail on my phone, part of which said, “I’m sorry I did not give you the room we had agreed upon.  Another group came in with 20 people and I had to give them that room.  You are an intelligent person.  You only had nine people.  Twenty people is more than nine people.”  What I find shocking is that I had been a loyal customer at this particular restaurant for over 30 years, that I had habitually given large parties there, not just on birthdays and holidays, but also cast parties for many of our theatrical productions.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end.  2016 is the upcoming Chinese Year of the Monkey.  I hope that 2016 continues to bring this particular restaurant more “monkey business” than it can handle.  Meanwhile, there is no shortage of other better Asian restaurants in Lawrence to tempt us with their better food and better service.

15 December 2015: “Feeling the Bern” in My T-shirts

Like some women from yesteryear who acquired pretty sets of panties with the days of the week delicately embroidered on them, a couple of months ago I bought a bunch of “Bernie Sanders for President” T-shirts in different colors, one for each day of the week.  Although I know Bernie does not really stand a chance against Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for the 2016 presidential election, I feel that the longer he stays in the race, the more Hillary will be forced to move left of center, perhaps even take on Bernie’s life-long crusade against millionaires and billionaires, with his raging battle cry against the country’s top 1% for owning over 90% of all the wealth in America.

I’ve been wearing my Bernie T-shirts everywhere, sometimes over heavier turtlenecks when the weather is cold.  The reception I’ve been getting varies greatly, depending on where I am.  At the farmer’s market in Lawrence or Dean & Deluca in Overland Park, or Trader Joe’s and  the Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City, I get smiles and lots of thumbs up.  At musical events at the Lied Center in Lawrence, or the Folly Theatre and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, people look at me quizzically, then move away discretely.  But not in Chicago.

I was in the Windy City this past weekend, seeing a couple of operas at the Lyric, for which I dressed properly, because I had been forewarned on television about all the street violence and shootings there.

Early one morning, however, wearing one of my Bernie T-shirts, I found myself sharing an elevator with a couple in the tony Allegro Hotel where I was staying.  One isn’t supposed to look at people in elevators, so I didn’t.  But I did note out of the corner of one eye that, early though it was,  they were dressed as if for an evening party, or maybe just returning from one; that the woman was much older than the man; that she was wearing around her neck artificial pearls the size of Christmas tree ornaments; that the pancake on her face was so thick she had better not smile or we would all crack up with her; that she looked like Marlene Dietrich just before she died.

In any case, as the elevator door opened on a floor before mine and the couple started to leave, the man glowered at my T-shirt and muttered darkly under his breath, just loud enough for me to hear: “More power to the one percent.  We earned it, and we get to keep it!”

To which I replied meekly, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

He gave me the finger and, before either of us could reach for our guns, the elevator door shut and I was able to return to my room without further incident, where I replayed the rather surreal event in my mind several times and slowly began to “Feel the Bern.”