Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Giving Tree

Okay, so the anonymous commentor asked my interpretation of the giving tree. I watched it and will tell you what I think.

I hate it. I have always hated it. I feel sorry for the tree and I don't like the thoughtless taking of the boy. But that is not a comment on the work itself. I think this is what Shel Silverstien intended -- what the story is supposed to do. I think it is supposed to create revultion and subversively critique the idea of "selfless sacrifice."

I have heard many people talk about how beautiful the tree is, because it just gives and gives with no thought for itself -- just a desire to make the boy happy. Whatever. That's one way of looking at it I suppose. But I think the irony is built in, when it says "the boy loved the tree." Really? What is love? The boy takes and takes and never gives. Does calling exploitation "love" really make it love?

And the tree is pathetic enough to allow all thist to happen. Why? What's so special about this boy? Couldn't other kids have come to pick the apples and play in the tree and climb up the trunk? Not after the boy who (supposedly) loved it was finished destroying it.

So that's my interpretation of it, jaded and cynical as it is. What do you think?

Bart channels Mick

This is Bart Davenport with the group Honeycut singing "Shadows." I dig it. Can you dig it? I know, someone is going to say he looks ugly. Tsk tsk. Shallow. You think he is intentionally channelling Mick Jagger?

I dedicated an entire radio hour to Bart. It`s here if you want to check it out.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rubbing Elbows with Movie Stars

Early in season 4 of Lost, Miles Strom went into a black woman's house to chat up a ghost. On the stairway wall was a picture of a young black boy -- many speculared it was the young Mr. Eko. But it wasn't. I asked him.

Yesterday my wife and I were at a grocery store in Mira Loma, California, and I saw this kid who looked so familiar. I knew I knew him from somewhere. Maybe a former student or something? But then -- WHAM! -- it hit me. This was the young Mr. Eko! Or at least he looked exactly like him.
Now I am overly sensitive when it comes to any kind of racist claim, so the last thing I wanted to do was approach him and ask "hey, you're young Eko, huh?" cuz of the whole you-must-think-all-black-people-look-alike thing. But my wife was smarter and generally less concerned about that sort of thing than I am, so she walked up to him and asked him, "excuse me, have you been on TV?
He smiled shyly and said yes.
"Were you on Lost?"
And we spoke to him for a few minutes. Nice kid. His name is Kola (officially Kolawole Obileye, Jr. ). He just bought a new house near the area and came to the store to get a can opener. He is very busy with school -- only did Lost as a fun little thing to do -- doesn't really even follow the show much. When I told him that we hoped to see him again on the show, he smiled and said "I'm dead now." But with Lost, you never know.
Checkmate, young Mr. Eko.

Of course Tracey wanted to tell everyone "we met a movie star, guess who it was?" But me, being the wet blanket stick-in-the-mud "details and accuracy matter" kind of guy that I am argued, "well, he hasn't been in any movies, and he's really not a star -- just two episodes of our favorite TV show, that's it."

But no. That's not how things work around here. He's a movie star. And now, apparently, we are best friends with him, too.

Nice to meet you Kola. Good luck with the rest of your career! (I'm sure we'll be in touch).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Normal Form

When I taught my F101: Intro to Folklore classes, early in the semester I would introduce a concept known as “normal form.” It’s a pretty simple concept to understand. It states that within all the different variations of any given tradition, the version that will seem most “normal” to you is the version you were first introduced to. That version then becomes the standard by which you measure every other variant you might enounter. But here is the important, non-judgmental thing that I wanted my students to remember: Your normal form is not intrinsically any better or worse than anyone else’s normal form. It’s just different. And different does not mean wrong.

For example, I grew up hearing the children’s song “little old house in the middle of the woods, little old man by the window stood.” My wife grew up hearing it “little old house in the middle of the woods, nice old man by the window stood.” A small variation, but big enough to make me cringe and want to “correct” her every time I heard it the “wrong” way. But according to normal form, it isn’t really wrong, it’s just different than the way I learned it. It’s just not my normal form.

I admit that when I first came to Japan in 1991, I was a little grossed out by the toilet-sink unit in my apartment. To conserve space, the Japanese had built a water spout right on top of the toilet’s water tank. When you flushed the toilet, water came out of the spout, reminding you to wash your hands… in toilet water. It was not normal to me, and it took me a while to feel comfortable touching that water, even though I realized I was getting it on the front end, before it came into contact with anything I had, um… placed in the toilet myself. But the Japanese are generally a meticulously hygenic people who take great care to wash and be clean, so as long as the water was on the front end and it was clearly separate from the other toilet business, I figured I could get used to it, and I have.

Yesterday, however… well, you just have to see this for yourself.

I was at the DMV to take a driving test. I saw this sign in the public bathroom stall and just couldn’t believe it. The picture is a little fuzzy, but here is an example of some brainiac Japanese engineering wizard who decided to conserve space even more. Why build a spout on top of the water tank when you can put it right there in the toilet bowl?

Instructions for use:

1. Locate the flushing button.
2. Turn the flushing button on.
3. Wash your hands as the water spouts into the toilet bowl.
4. Turn the flushing button off.

Yep. That’s right! Wash your hands right down there above the pretty, colorful whirlpool – just be careful of swirling debris.

So much for the relativist fairness of normal form. Sorry students. This is simply wrong.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Highway to Hell

I must have been a junior in high school when this happened. My bedroom was in the basement. It was a big room with two twin beds, although I had the room completely to myself. At the far end was a window that looked out into a small dirt-filled window-well with a barred fire-escape grate above. It was a good, comfortable room.

As usual, I said my prayers before going to sleep. I frequently enjoyed listening to my radio as I fell asleep. It was soothing. But this night was different. My radio was on a different station than normal, and they were playing more hard/classic rock than my Billy Joel-accustomed ears were used to. But I was sleepy and too lazy to reach over and change the station. So I just laid there, until AC/DC’s Highway to Hell came on. It was night, it was dark, and I started getting a little scared.

So, I leaned over and hit my snooze bar. Only, it didn’t work. So I hit it again, harder. Still nothing. I leaned over further and twisted the knob to the “OFF” position. But that didn’t work either. I could still hear the music, and now I was getting really creeped out. So I reached out and yanked the plug out of the wall. But to my fear and amazement, that had no affect, either. The lights from the clock were completely dark, and the music was not quite as loud as it had been at first, but I could still hear it, and it was still creepy. So I started to pray.

I felt little comfort praying over the sound of the music. When the song ended, I finally heard silence. But I kept on praying. Something just didn’t feel right. Somehow -- I don't know exactly how -- I was eventually able to fall asleep.

A few hours later (I can’t be sure of the time, because I had unplugged the clock radio) I awoke with a start to the sound of my name. Someone was calling out to me, from inside of my room. I can’t describe the cold chill that ran through me as I heard my name again and again. Shakily, I reached up and flicked on the light. There on the far side of my room, just inside the window, was a man. He was wearing normal looking clothes and just looked like an average guy. He smiled.

“Who are you?” I asked.

He said that he was a messenger from God. He explained that God had heard my many prayers over the years and that he had been sent to provide further light and knowledge. It is true, I had been praying for such an experience for many years, but I still felt very uneasy. I wanted some reassurance.

As I looked at this guy standing there so casually – so friendly – I remembered a lesson I had heard in church, that if a spirit comes to you claiming he is from God, ask him to shake his hand. If he is really from God, and is a resurrected being, you will feel the handshake. If he is not yet resurrected, he will honestly explain that to you and refuse to shake. But if he is an evil spirit, he will try to deceive you. He will reach for your hand but you will feel nothing.

My voice was trembling so much that I could barely form the words. “Can I shake your hand?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, with a reassuring smile, and he moved – it was like he glided – over to the side of my bed. “Here you go,” he said, and he reached out his hand.

I tried to steady my trembling so he wouldn't see that I was scared. I reach out and felt nothing. Still, he continued to smile as if nothing were wrong. Terrified, I raised my arm to the square and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave.”

No sooner did I start the motion than he recognized what I was about to do, and in that single moment his entire countenance changed. His face became lined and pointed and ugly. He scowled and gnashed his teeth. Spit came from his mouth as he swore at me again and again and told me I would never be rid of him – that he would always be with me -- and that there were more of them. They would get me in the end. I had no hope.

As he said these things, he moved backwards towards the window, as if struggling against a force that was sucking him out of the room. He finally disappeared into what I can only describe as a folding cloud of dark light, and then he was gone.

I was sweating from head to toe, and my heart was racing a mile a minute. I opened my door and turned on all the lights in the house on my way upstairs to my parents’ bedroom. I didn’t say a word – I just crawled on to the foot of their bed and tried to get some sleep. I have never been so terrified in my life.

Pretty good story, huh? Of course none of it is true (aside from the description of my bedroom, and my prayers for angelic ministration, and the hand-shake lesson I had heard at church, and -- of course -- the Billy Joel-tuned ears). But I used to tell it like it was THE MOST traumatic experience I had ever had. And I was good at it, too – very convincing. One of my spiritual gifts, perhaps -- I've always been a good liar.

It started simply enough with the devil music that wouldn’t shut off (the first version was Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven) and at some point evolved into a much larger tale. I originally intended it as a joke to my friends Kevin and Clark who wanted to listen to that kind of music in their car when I wanted to put on the Beatles. But somehow it grew.

The last time I told it as a “real experience” was my freshman year at college. A group of us were up in the Canyon one night around a campfire. People naturally started telling scary stories. They were all FOAF stories (Friend Of A Friend) about someone’s aunt who’s brother-in-law had seen a chair move, etc etc. I knew I had them all beat. So I waited for the right moment and gave my little performance. When I was finished you could hear a pin drop – it was awesome. But later that night, something really disturbing happened.

A guy came up to me with tears in his eyes. He shook my hand and thanked me profusely for my bravery and strength and personal righteousness. He told me that I had changed his life that night. See, his two older brothers had rebelled against the family and the church, and he was starting to follow in their path. He had brought his girlfriend up to the canyon that night with a couple of sleeping bags in the back of his truck. They had been virtuous and pure up to this point, but were planning to... you know… do unspeakably devilish things to each other under the pale light of the silvery moon. But then he heard my story, and he felt the promptings of the Holy Ghost stronger than he had ever felt in his life before. And he knew that what I was saying was true and he knew that what he was about to do was wrong and he knew that he needed to turn his life around. So he did, and he had me and my righteous example to thank for it.

I felt empty – shocked – guilty. And a little confused. I knew my performance was good – that the details of the story met traditional expectations and that my delivery and tone and dramatic pauses and facial expressions were all right on – but Holy-Ghost-strength-of-the-Spirit-your-story-changed-my-life-forever good? Troubling.

That was probably the first time I actually considered that these powerful spiritual promptings people feel may possibly be something else. But I decided that day that I didn’t want any part in that powerful deception and manipulation of emotions -- at least not where this story was concerned. That even if the outcome could be considered "good," I was playing with fire, and maybe – just maybe – that experience scared me a little straight. It's all still up to debate.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Walking to work, pt.2

The walk to work is a time for deep thinking. So here is today's amazing message for the world (aka myself):

As I was walking in to work, I passed a guy who looked rough -- earrings, tatoos, an angry scowl on his face. It made me think he was angry at the world, or something, and it launched me into this sophomoric "philosophical" mode where I split the world into two camps, those who believe in God and have hope in a better tomorrow, and those who think that first group is stupid.
It made me upset at the people who I unfairly stereotype at church -- those people who have this supposed christ-like faith but aren't more kind and accepting of people like my new hardened tattoo buddy. I even thought that these so-called church-goers are actually the ones who push people to the extremes like this.

Stupid, huh.

But my conclusion was that instead of being angry and unfair to my churchy brothers and sisters, I could try to be one of the few "enlightened" ones who is not petty and intolerant (or a bad speller -- or, eh hem, a hypocritical elitist) -- one who is actually kind and generous and friendly to all people (and animals, too). What are my angry spiritual tattoos? Where are my angry spiritual piercings? Why must I be so judgmental? I should stop thinking I'm all that and just be a better, kinder person.

Pretty good piece of thinking, huh? All this in about 35 steps. And if that isn't proof of my eminant brilliance, I don't know what is.
All signs point to...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Purpose Envy

Can someone please explain to me what this huge billboard sign is doing on the side of a building in downtown Osaka?

No you can't play with mine because you've broken yours off!


Friday, May 9, 2008

Walking to work, pt.1

So I was thinking about writing a new post on my walk in to work today. Tokyo is an interesting place. It is busy, people everywhere. But there is also a remarkable sense of solitude. Maybe it's because I am so obviously a foriegner here. Or maybe it's my breath.

My apartment is pretty much under the "e" where you see the "Roppongi Hills Residence" in this picture of Tokyo, and I walk through Roppongi Hills and past the Mori tower every day on my commute to and from work.

There is a big spider statue in a courtyard at the mori tower. Thousands of people walk by it every day. I'm one of them. One of the fattest.

So I was walking today and thinking "what can I blog?" I was thinking about how Roppongi has a reputation as a "red light" district, and I was going to play off that -- play stupid, like I didn't know what it meant, and say something about how there are also yellow lights, green lights, white lights, and blue lights, although I've never seen a K-Mart. But then I decided that was stupid, and I wouldn't say it.

Then I thought about talking about some of the traditional children's folk-toys still popular in Japan -- like the wooden multi-colored tops that kids play with. I was going to build it up by talking about how fun they are to spin and you can pretty much play with them anywhere. I was going to say that people pretty much carry them around with them wherever they go, except for some places in Roppongi where they are not allowed -- some bars that open up at night that are strictly top-less bars. But then I realized that was stupid, too.

So basically the only thing I have left to blog about from my walk into work this morning is a scene I saw while I was crossing a street just before the subway entrance. This is a typically narrow Japanese backstreet -- I can cross it in three or four long strides, and yet it doubles as a two-way street. And there is a streetlight. And a crosswalk. And the crosswalk light was red, which even in Japan means "don't walk." And yet the Japanese commuters were all crossing anyway. Why not? There was no traffic whatsoever, and it is such a narrow road in the first place.

Except for one guy, with his briefcase and his dark suit. He stood at the corner, waiting for the light to turn green, watching all of the people around him crossing the street anyway. And I thought to myself, "what is going through that guy's head?" Here is a guy who obviously believes in following the rules, no matter what. What does he think about the people who aren't stopping like they are supposed to? Is he silently judging them? Is he silently patting himself on the back for being such a law-abiding guy? He stood there for 3 minutes. Why?

Oh well. Another day in the life in Tokyo.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Butt-prints In The Sand

One night I had a wondrous dream.
One set of footprints there was seen.
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.

And then the strangest print appeared.
I asked the Lord, "What have we here?"
This print is large and round and neat.
“But Lord, it’s much too big for feet.”

“My child,” He said in somber tones,
“For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and gained no strength.”

“You laid quite still. You would not grow,
This walk is not for me, you know.
So I got tired. I got fed up.
And there I dropped you on your butt.”

“Because in life, there comes a time,
When one must strive, and one must climb,
and one must rise and take a stand;
Or leave his butt-prints in the sand.”

(and can you blame them?)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cruel and Insignificant

That's how I felt on my walk in to work this morning.

On my way to the subway, I passed two homeless guys in their sleeping bags. They were just lying there asleep in this tunnel on the side of the road. Hundreds of people were walking right by them not giving them a second thought. I looked into the face of one of them as I passed -- haggard, worn -- greasy black hair. I imagined what he must smell like, and I was immediately repulsed.

But that repulsion quickly turned on to me, to myself -- to all the judgmental thoughts I have ever had about what it means to be homeless – the possible mental illness, or drug addictions, or simple laziness. How cruel I am to walk by and judge them like that?

When I was a teenager – a very sheltered, privileged teenager – I took a trip with a church group down to ride ATVs in the Yuma sand dunes. We were at a McDonalds and some of the guys were hopping around and jumping over the top of a big pile of rags, blankets, garbage, and clothes – just ‘cuz it was there. Suddenly the pile moved, and the guy inside it sat up. It startled us, but we just laughed – especially when the guy proceeded to stumble step-by-step into the middle of the busy road and start directing traffic. He didn’t have a name, or a family, or a story. He wasn’t even a real person, as far as we were concerned. He was just a joke -- an untidy ornament placed in our path for the sake of our own entertainment on the way to the dunes. Funny stuff, huh.

A year or so later I was driving with my friends in their car. I must have been 15 years old. For reasons I no longer understand, we thought it was funny to throw raw eggs out of the window at cars and buildings and people while driving by at about 45 miles-per-hour (a drive-by egging – thank you Mrs. Doubtfire). When we hit some random guy in the face as we drove by and then turned around to see him staggering aimlessly in the middle of the road behind us, we just laughed. It’s an image that is burned into my mind over 20 years later. But it's not nearly as vivid as the homeless guy sitting on the side of the road with his cardboard sign and his sleeping bag – a bright red one – a nice easy target. As the egg left my hand, his eyes met mine, and then WHAP! Too late for me to take it back. It was Christmas time.

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these…

Merry Christmas brother, I thought to myself. I felt awful. Ashamed. And although I have had far more than my share of thoughtless cruel moments in my life since that day, I never did anything even remotely close to that again.

But that thought gave me little comfort on my walk to work this morning. Maybe I’m not hopping around and jumping over their piles of clothes. Maybe I’m not throwing eggs at them from a moving car. But I didn’t stop. I didn’t help them. I don’t really even believe that I could if I tried. Cruel. That’s what I am. Cruel and insignificant.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Good vs. Smart

So I am having a conversation with my mom, and she is telling me about a guy she knows at church, and she says, "he's a really good guy, but he's also really smart..." I just started laughing. She wasn't even able to finish her thought. It was just too hilarious to me.

Okay, so what does this mean?

Are smart people not good?

Are good people not smart?

I don't think this is something just isolated to my mom (don't ask about the mariachi music), cuz I see it all around. Is it that people are intimidated by intelligence? Or is it that intelligence leads to inquiry which leads to criticism which isn't nice or good? Or is it harsh agressive criticism masquarading as intelligence? What is going on here? I would hope I could be both good and smart. Is that even possible?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I am clairvoyant... or however you spell it.

Okay, so explain this to me (if you can).

Last night I had a dream about a basketball game. And Greg Oden was running the floor, moving really well, jumping up and blocking a couple of shots. I have no idea why I dreamed this. I don't really know anything about Greg Oden. I haven't seen anything lately about Greg Oden. He has been injured and out of the spotlight all year. There is absolutely no good reason why I should be dreaming about Greg Oden.

So I wake up this morning and log on to There is an article that Greg Oden played a pick-up game yesterday and his team is upset with him for it.

If that isn't proof of my magnificent clairvoyanescency, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Happy Life Day

This is one of the funniest things I have ever seen -- I guess it's how they celebrate Christmas on Tatooine. Of course, as I kid, I would have gone nuts over it. The look on Harrison Ford's face says it all. How much do you think they paid Carrie Fisher to do this? May the force stay in that galaxy far far away.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Paul is Dead

Well, not really... not yet. But this is a bit of folklore that has interested me for many years -- all the supposed "clues" and the suggestion of conspiracy. I put this little documentary together a few years ago for my F101: Intro to Folklore classes when I taught at Indiana University. The narrator is a guy named Dave Foxx who was a DJ in Washington DC around 1980. I got a hold of his audio and put the pictures to it. About four years ago I was able to track hm down and show this to him. We actually had some discussions about doing something more with this, but nothing ever came of it. It's a little cheesy, but I like it.

On a side not, one of Tracey's friends here in Tokyo works for the London-based lawfirm that is representing McCartney in his divorce case. Maybe I'll see if I can work that connection and get him to watch this and comment -- but only if I can be sure I won't get sued for anything.

Go to

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Handsome Name...

Years and years ago when I was first married, my wife looked at me and very thoughtfully said, "You know, I think that Glenn is a really handsome name."

She thought about it for a minute and looked at me again,

"You don't really look like a Glenn. You look more like a Dennis."

And we're still married.

Crushing on Kira

A place, where nobody dared to go...

I'm not ashamed to admit that the movie Xanadu made me cry. Olivia Newton-John with that high ponytale and her roller skates -- I was deeply in love, man. And when she vanished into thin air saying "I will love you forevah" and her lame love dude had to skate head-on into that massive muralled wall to bring her back from that neon yellow Tron place... oh, my poor young heart. What did she see in that Sonny Malone guy anyway? He had all the charisma of a bowl of oatmeal (Tuesday's Wednesday -- you tell him Sonny!), and yet they made him out to be this massive lady-killer. But he had Kira -- the muse -- and he got to dance (or at least violently shake his shoulders out of rhythm) to all that awesome ELO music. It's one of the greatest awful movies of all time. So to my elusive roller-skating muse, Kira -- I dedicate this most recent of my many narcissistic efforts to you.