“Howl, howl, howl, howl!”

  • 1 February 2016: My Mouth Is Golden!

    February 1, 2016, by

    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?

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  • 23 January 2016: Westerns, Easterns, and Northerns

    January 23, 2016, by

    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.

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  • 13 January 2016: Brown Is Now The New White!

    January 13, 2016, by

    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!

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  • 10 January 2016: The Big Short

    January 10, 2016, by

    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.

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  • 5 January 2016: Checks and Balances

    January 5, 2016, by

    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.”

     

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  • 3 January 2016: Landscapes or Mindscapes?

    January 3, 2016, by

    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.

     

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  • 31 December 2015: Asian Restaurants in Lawrence

    December 31, 2015, by

    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.

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

    December 15, 2015, by

    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.”

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  • 14 December 2015: THE MERRY WIDOW(er)

    December 14, 2015, by

    Although I had seen the Metropolitan Opera’s energetic new production of Franz Lehar’s THE MERRY WIDOW in its Live-in-HD series in movie theaters last year, I could not bypass the chance to see the same production live onstage this past weekend at the Lyric in Chicago.

    Instead of Renee Fleming and Nathan Gunn, this time we had a more age-appropriate Nicole Cabell as the wealthy young widow, and Thomas Hampson as her reluctant lover.  It’s hard for me to decide who’s better, Gunn or Hampson, having been a big fan of both for a long time. But, comparing the two in the same role in the same production, I think Hampson was perhaps having more fun with the part.  The real winner, however, is Susan Stroman’s refreshingly innovative direction and choreography. She brings Broadway glitz and pizazz to this beloved operetta, and everything old is suddenly new and young and vibrant again.

    Just as a side note, in the Metropolitan Opera production (now available on DVD and Blu-Ray), the non-singing comedic part of Njegus was played by University of Kansas graduate Carson Elrod, who stole every scene he was in with his rubbery face, his pitch-perfect line delivery, his clown-like agility.  In Chicago, the part was played by Jeff Dumas, who seemed to be channeling the fey and mincing spirit of Truman Capote.  Funny, yes, but the caricature was also vaguely disconcerting.

    Finally, I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive about this past weekend in Chicago.  The last time I was in the Windy City was in March of 2014, with Grant Goodman, my friend and colleague for nearly 50 years.  We saw three operas at the Lyric on that trip, and also two concerts.  It was a wonderfully memorable trip, but Grant died unexpectedly a month after we returned to Lawrence.  I was afraid that, this time, without Grant, Chicago would be sad.  It also rained the whole time I was there.

    In life, Grant Goodman took good care of me, always looking after my well-being.  In death, he continues to do so.  I think he would have been as disappointed as I was by BEL CANTO Saturday night, as rejuvenated as I was by THE MERRY WIDOW Sunday afternoon.  When I was sipping my complimentary glass of Proseco by the fireplace in the lobby of the tony Allegro Hotel yesterday evening before dinner, watching the bartender and all the subsequent uniformed waiters dancing in attendance around me, I could hear Grant guffawing because I was playing the part of “the merry widow(er)” in his absence, at his expense.

    Here’s to you, Grant.  Thanks for all the memories.  Long may your archetypal laughter and joie de vivre remain in my collective unconscious!

     

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  • 13 December 2015: No Bel In My Canto

    December 13, 2015, by

    I read Ann Patchett’s BEL CANTO shortly after it came out in 2001.  The diva in the novel was said to have been inspired by opera star Renee Fleming.  So when Fleming announced nearly five years ago that she had optioned the novel for a new opera to premiere at the Lyric in Chicago (music by Peruvian-American composer Jimmy Lopez, and libretto by Pulitzer-winning Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz), you could almost taste the excitement in the air.

    And then, when it was revealed that Danielle de Niese had been engaged to sing the part of the diva at the Lyric during its 2015 holiday season, I could no longer contain my excitement.  Just as Mr. Hosukawa in the novel had fallen in love with Roxane Coss from the first moment he heard one of her recordings, I have been in love with Danielle de Niese ever since I saw her on DVD as Cleopatra in the Glyndebourne production of Handel’s GIULIO CESARE.  With no hesitation whatsoever, I reached for my wallet, deciding this would be my extravagant Christmas present to myself this year.

    I loved Ann Patchett’s novel.  One reason is that, in spite of the large cast of characters, because the narrative is told from the omniscient point-of-view and we are privy to everyone’s thoughts, we feel as though we know each one of them intimately.  I wondered how Nilo Cruz would handle this in his libretto.  Sadly, in my opinion, he didn’t. Except for two arias given to two secondary characters in the second act of the opera, we are mostly just outsiders observing the action, and we remain mostly unmoved. Danielle de Niese looked petulantly beautiful, but I thought she was otherwise completely wasted.

    Sometimes I wish I weren’t a writer or a playwright. If I voice any negative opinions about somebody else’s work, I risk being accused of having pen envy. But, truthfully, last night at the Lyric in Chicago, I did not enjoy my Christmas present to myself. There was no bel in my canto.  Be that as it may, the opera will probably go on to win the No-Bel Prize in Music.

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