Lessons in Chauvinism

We had a meeting in the office today, which isn’t so surprising in and of itself. That’s what we do here, is have meetings. It helps make work less efficient and last longer, so people can have an extra excuse or two to justify staying at their desk until 10 pm.

The meeting was a GOLF event (gentleman only, ladies forbidden). Or sausage fest, whichever term you prefer. I, personally, am partial to the one  that doesn’t inspire images of gay Germans. The meeting ran long, of course, there’s just so much to talk about. After about an hour, with no end in sight, or even within the realm of hypothetical consideration, people got thirsty. One of the managers decided it was time for everyone to have some tea. However, there were no women in the room. What to do? After about 10 seconds, the same manager turned to me and asked me to go out and get some tea for everyone. I didn’t want to because, you see, getting tea is woman’s work. It would set a bad precedent.

I said, “No; I’m not your waiter.”

You know how in anime, when something embarrassing or unexpected happens, people suddenly flip over upside down and fall? That basically happened in real life. After everyone regained their composure, re-got their shit together, the manager explained to me that since I was the youngest, it was my role to get tea for everyone. It is the Japanese way. By the by, I have discovered the best way to explain a concept that has no rational explanation is to dub it a “Japanese custom.” It’s like,  just being part of Japanese culture automatically makes something timeless and incomprehensible and magical: a rule that must be followed without question or consideration.

Anyway, I got up from my chair and walked over to the phone in the corner of the room, and dialed the accounting department. 5 minutes later, a 20-something girl walked into the room carrying a tray with 8 tea glasses and carefully set them in front of everyone.

When she was done, I looked at the manager and said “Actually, that’s the Japanese way.”

Everyone laughed, including the accounting lady, whom I had just humiliated. She only laughed because everyone else did; I doubt she actually found humor in the situation. She was out of the room for most of it, but i think she understood the joke, or at least its implications. But she smiled anyway.

She left the room, and presumably went back to her desk, where she continued doing her job as usual, no doubt taking a few more breaks during the day to get some older guy tea or coffee.  Did she think about what happened in that meeting today? Or was it just standard procedure? I had already left the office by then, but at 8 or 9 pm, she most likely clocked out and headed home. After 1 or 2 hours of crowded trains and slow buses, getting home was probably a relief. Whether she lives alone, in a small one-room apartment, or still inhabits her childhood bedroom at her parents’ house, I’m sure home provides some measure of escape and relaxation after her workday. Does she watch TV? Does she read? I don’t know how she spends her time off of work. She probably hangs out with friends, or goes out on dates. I wonder how much time she spends thinking about marriage and children? How long she thinks about her advancing age? Does she text friends a lot? Does she browse fashion magazines? Maybe she worries about her parents’ health. I don’t know.

However, I do know she doesn’t spend her time planning a career path, thinking about her possibilities for advancement. I know she doesn’t plan future vacations based upon higher wages. And I know she doesn’t dream about becoming a manager, leading her team to success, and navigating the corporate world. I know she spends zero time out of her day considering her myriad career options and future wealth and success.

And if you don’t understand why, I suggest you sit in on a management meeting sometime.

India has some problems: A Review of Aravind Adiga’s Between the Assassinations

Aravind Adiga understands the cosmic. He knows the world in which we live is governed by immutable rules, and in Between the Assassinations he endeavors to educate us of those guidelines with a tragic sense of the inevitable that would make 19th century Naturalists feel depressed. Oh, and it’s funny, too.

Told through a series of vignettes, the novel describes 7 days in the life of Kittur, a fictional Indian city, between the assassinations (see what he did there?) of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. So basically, the 80′s. And as every Reagan fan knows, if you weren’t white and and in America, the 80′s sucked. Adiga uses the separate tales to describe the injustices and ironies of Indian life. As we learn about Kittur’s physical geography, we are also introduced to its social makeup. By the time Adiga has fully explored landmarks like the train station, Lighthouse Hill, and the Muslim slums, he’s also exposed us to the people and social character of the city. These 14 stories breathe a certain character into Kittur, and by the end of the novel we are familiarized with a harsh, unforgiving city, but not one without a sense of humor. Though granted, it’s a very dark comedy.

Muslims, Hindus, and Christians co-inhabit the crowded mass of streets and construction, constantly coming into conflict with each other, and themselves. Adiga focuses his narrative on the downtrodden, on the poor. We are introduced to country bumpkins looking for work, small-time factory owners, Muslim luggage porters, hired maids, etc. But by the end of the novel we find ourselves asking, are there any free, rich people at all? We get the feeling even Mabroor Engineer, the alleged richest man in the city, most likely has many politicians he has to bribe, and limits even he can’t overcome. There never seems to be an actual “top” to the hierarchy. Just a sprawling caste system trapping everyone inside its procrustean confines. Adiga does mention that some people do seem to step outside the system’s boundaries; unfortunately, the few who do get out, die. (see: Indira and Rajiv Gandhi).

The short stories themselves are great overall though, of course, some are stronger than others. I personally liked the last 3 or 4 the most. The little narrative about the childless couple living near the woods bordered on poetry. It hits an almost Buddhist aesthetic, dwelling on the ephemeral nature of the world to really tug at your emotions. It’s rare to be so affected by 2 lives you’ve only read about for 20 or so pages. Also, The story about the old maid being hired out to richer families by her sister strikes a pitch-perfect balance between the ridiculous and tragic. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at something so depressing. The old communist’s tale is great, too. It’s interesting to read about people who theoretically reject class distinction, and yet are forced to live in a world completely defined by the very concept.

The book is not without its flaws, however. The narrative can be a little blunt at times, and the book lacks the subversive sophistication of Adiga’s other novel, The White Tiger, which you should read if you haven’t. Also, a few of the stories are significantly weaker than the collective whole, and a couple tales step on each other’s toes thematically.

Though not as good as The White Tiger, Between the Assassinations is still an excellent book, and very worth your while. Highly recommended by your impetuous reviewer.

Later days,

Sagremor

300 Pages Too Long: A review of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

This book is a crazy, hot chick. Not “crazy hot,” as in “very hot,” but “crazy, hot,” as in crazy and also hot, independently. For those who have never had the pleasure/misfortune of dating a beautiful/insane woman, let me explain the dynamic. This is a girl who is physically attractive enough to make you set aside any misgivings and warning signs and date her, until one morning you wake up next to Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction, and you realize this was a mistake. That’s how I felt when I put the book down after having finished it. This was a mistake.

The novel concerns itself with chronicling the rise and fall of two fictionalized comic book creators during the Golden Age of the late 1930’s-early 1940’s. The two writers in question are the eponymous Kavalier and Clay, the former being a Jewish refugee from Prague, and the latter being a Brooklyn bred closet homosexual, also Jewish. I myself love comics, and am currently working on one with my podcast partner Deprava, so, conceptually, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay seemed like it would be my cup of caffe latte (I don’t like tea, so I’ve changed the expression to suit my tastes. I also don’t like right up my alley, since I don’t have an alley. Quite frankly, I don’t know what kind of person would own an alley, and then store activities that would potentially suit him there.) Plus, it had a cool cover, and lots of literature awards and fawning reviews graced the entire outer surface, front and back. At first glance, this girl was hot.

The problems began when I opened the book and started reading it. The novel is wordy as hell. There’s no reason for it to be over 600 pages of super-tiny font long. I’m not kidding, Dickens would roll his eyes at the unnecessary length. Nothing is stated directly in the book. Every sentence is in passive voice, and employs 2-3 adjectives per noun. For example, if the goal was to say “The cat was hungry, so it ate a fish,” Chabon would write “Lucille was a single mother, as most Atlantic Bluefin tuna women tend to be. Having your eggs fertilized on the bottom of the sea floor by dozens of ejaculating males doesn’t lend itself to building strong, monogamous relationships. But she made do working several jobs; she even put all her children through private school. With so little free time to herself, Lucille’s days tended to fall under a strict, immovable routine. So imagine her surprise when her daily grind was irrevocably altered by a large fishing net trawling through her neighborhood. Fortunately for poor Lucille, she passed into the beyond long before her lifeless body was dragged up onto the fishing boat, packed away to a distribution plant, and dissected into savory steaks destined for American dinner tables. Parts of little Lucille fed 7 different American families, including the Smiths of Hattiesburg, VA, who often fed leftover scraps to their magnificently spoiled cat, Thomas. Thomas, also a single parent…” See what I mean? Ridiculous. In addition, every chapter starts with a self-important and over-generalized life observation, in the vein of  the immortalized happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. The difference being Tolstoy, though he had no qualms against writing a book that would take longer than the average human lifespan to read, also knew to keep iconic life observations to 1 per book. Conversely, Chabon hurls them at the reader chapter after chapter, like an aging hooker desperately throwing herself at less and less appealing customers in an effort to turn tricks and earn that dollar her sagging tits can’t bring in on their own anymore. There is such a thing as trying too hard.

Despite the wordiness, the novel starts out promisingly. The first 15 pages introduce us to Kavalier & Clay as 2 young artists with big dreams. It’s all good so far, but then Chabon flashes us back to Joe Kavalier’s escape from Prague, complete with magicians and Golems. I appreciate Chabon’s endowing his protagonists with superhero-worthy origin stories; I’ve read enough comic books to understand the sentiment. However, in practice, the exposition turns out uninteresting and overly long, not to mention forced. If you can somehow survive through the expository doldrums, the novel really picks up after page 100, when it beings to really focus on the budding comic industry. Reading about the process of creating a comic, and seeing Kavalier & Clay’s marquee creation, the Escapist, grow from a half-assed idea invented in the middle of the night, to a full-fledged pop-culture icon is great fun. So even though the first 100 pages were filled with red flags, including family issues and scarred childhoods, the middle of the book is attractive enough to where we ignore the warnings, and commit to this beautiful yet bat-shit insane woman.

Furthermore, the 100-400 page zone really showcases some interesting themes, which help drive the great plot. Probably the most important theme is escapism, which isn’t a surprise coming from a novel about comics. The book is filled with literal and figurative feats of escape. The entire first section of the book is an account of Joe’s escape from Nazi-occupied Prague. Kavalier and Clay’s superhero creation himself, The Nazi-fighting Escapist, serves as an outlet for Joe to defeat the Germans who persecuted his family, and for Sam to escape his polio-stricken body and self-perceived deviant desires.  Chabon also stresses the role and importance of Jewish writers in American comic books and pop-culture as a whole. Pulp fiction served as an outlet for immigrants and outcasts to create a new, American mythology based on heroes and supermen capable of delivering the weak from harm. The novel highlights the origins of the Golem early in the story to emphasize how Jewish culture lends itself to the creation and belief in these kinds of characters. All pretty interesting stuff, but, unfortunately, it’s bookended by an uninteresting origin story and pointless melodrama. However, the middle of the book is quite good. Like I said, she’s hot.

And then we hit page 400, and the full crazy comes out, revealing we’re dating Basic Instinct Sharon Stone. The novel ceases to be about comics at all, and plummets to Mexican Soap Opera levels of melodrama. I don’t want to give plot points away, but it gets crazy. One of the guys runs away with the navy ( the straight one, believe it or not), and there’s illegitimate children and loveless marriages of convenience involved, etc. I kept expecting the rich ranchero’s wife to seduce one of them, or an evil twin to show up. The ending is completely unsatisfactory and resolves nothing, but by that point I was so grateful the book ended at all, I didn’t give a damn. If only everything could have ended at page 400, when she seemed normal and beautiful. But the main question is: was it worth it? Was the great sex and pleasure of being seen with a hot girl worth the fearing for your safety and emotional baggage? Was reading about Kavalier & Clay’s creative exploits during Comics’ Golden Age worth also struggling through hundreds of pages about a Polio-stricken closet gay guy in a loveless marriage and another guy stationed in Antarctica for 2 years?

After much deliberation, I’d say I recommend this book. She’s crazy, man. But she’s damn hot, too.



Podcast Episode 19, Part 2: “Sharks are Sons of B%#%$”

The second half of episode 19 is now online. Many apologies for this one coming out one day late. In my defense, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is an awesome game.

Enjoy.

Fear and Loathing and Espresso

Last week was a busy week; professionally, I mean. My personal life doesn’t tend to get as busy as my work life, unfortunately. Right, so I was busy last week. Thursday was an especially busy day. Details would be superfluous in this context, but suffice it to say several appointments and a trade show visit figured prominently into me getting back to the office at 6:45pm, and wanting to get the hell home as soon as possible. Imagine my elation when my boss said I would need to go to an espresso tasting in his stead since he didn’t feel like attending, and the company had already paid the fee to participate. Somebody had to go.

What the hell is an espresso tasting? Great question. I’m still not sure myself. It does seem to involve old Italian men with too much time on their hands, old and single Japanese women, and levels of pretentiousness that shouldn’t be possible. Apparently, an espresso can be judged by over 15 different olfactory, visual, and taste dimensions, which I think can all be mathematically supported by string theory. I don’t know, but it was all damn complicated. What made things even harder was the fact all espressos, whether from Lombardy or Sicily, taste like burned paper. There’s a reason people invented sugar, milk, cappuccino, regular coffee, tea, etc.  Anyway, long story short, I drank about 10 different espressos, from 8pm to 10pm, and that set up the following.

Warning: mature/explicit content

Sagremor was jogging. It was almost 11 pm, but sometimes he liked running after dark. The city always looked better at night in his opinion, all lit up. He wanted to write poetry. The Tokyo skyline looked like glowing pillars holding up a tenebrous cloak. Well, that was crap; maybe later he could think of something better. Granted, he usually jogged in shorts and a t-shirt, not wearing a 3-piece suit and carrying a briefcase. But tonight was special. Tonight he had 10 espressos coursing through his veins, pumping him full of unholy, roasted energy. His inner body temperature was about 200 degrees; he could feel his blood turning into vapor and flowing behind him in a stream as he ran home from the train station. He noticed he was coming up on a lady walking a little Chihuahua-like dog, and he ran straight at them, leaping over the dog. It let out a little yelp of surprrise as he flew over it, and he waved behi-

He was standing in front of his door, on the 3rd floor of his crappy, little building. He turned around just in time to see the spacetime wormhole close in on itself behind him. He had just leapt 7 minutes into the future. He unlocked his door and stumbled inside, bathed in sweat. As his body temperature continued to rise, Sagremor stripped off his suit down to only his underwear, and stood directly beneath his air conditioning unit. He was still crazy hot, and the AC didn’t seem to be working. He ran over to his bathroom and splashed cool water onto his face. Then he ran back under the AC….no change. Dammit! What the hell was go—oh, it wasn’t turned on.

He heard the little dog-mounted knight from Labyrinth scurry across the ground behind him, but he didn’t want to turn around, since he was afraid. Sagremor kept standing under the AC hoping to cool down. After a few minutes he moved over to his bed and sat down. He grabbed his pc (not a Mac) and turned it on. He also turned his television on. He heard a crashing noise in his kitchen/dining room/living room hybrid small-ass Japanese room thing. He slammed the door shut, and checked email. His computer felt hot, but somehow, the pc heat against his thighs counteracted his espresso-fueled inner body temperature. This hot balance seemed to work, so Sagremor just sat on his bed, sweating.

He opened up the word file for a short story he had been working on, but he couldn’t concentrate. He looked at his clock; it was 11:38pm. He was hella tired, but also wide-awake. He wanted to watch illegally obtained Naruto episodes on his TV, but he didn’t want to reach for the HDMI cable because of the Indian man at the foot of his bed jiving his head from side to side like some kind of hypnotic cobra thing. He had met him earlier that day at the trade show, kept bobbing his damn head left to right like a brown metronome with creepy eyes. Disconcerting as shit. How had he gotten into his apartment? He turned his computer off and put it away. He stared at the clock; it was 11:27pm. He got up, and walked over to his AC unit again. After a few more minutes he decided to try and go to sleep, so he turned the light off and lay down on top of his sheets.

Sagremor dreamt of peeing. Recalling the specifics later proved impossible, but he knew he dreamed of peeing a lot. Gallons.

He woke up, suddenly, with an aching pelvis. He had to pee urgently. He got up and ran to his bathroom. He lifted the toilet lid and looked down, only to see quite possibly the largest and hardest erection he had ever experienced. He managed an awkward, angled crouch, which would in theory aim most of the pee into the toilet bowl, but none would come out. It then became clear he physically didn’t need to pee. However, dreaming of peeing had somehow convinced his mind of the urgent need to relieve himself. So his brain was projecting the pain of a full bladder onto his actual, not-so-full bladder. Sagremor was freaking out. How the hell could he pee? Meanwhile, his angled crouched over the toilet was getting harder to maintain has his legs tired. He started stamping his left foot impatiently, and concentrated as hard as he could into peeing. After a few minutes pee somehow shot out into about 4 different streams, most of the discharge falling into the toilet bowl. He flushed and stumbled back into his bedroom. He lay down again, completely awake, and tried to sleep one more.

Sagremor dreamt of sex with elderly women and masturbation. He wasn’t sure why he would dream of masturbating; I mean, it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill….wait, the masturbation part was real.

He opened his eyes. His sheets were drenched in sweat, and that dam Indian man just kept bobbing around and staring at him. He heard strange noises from outside his window. It was cats having sex in some alleyway, near his house. Great, those damn things go on for hours…He rolled off the bed, and started doing pushups to work off some energy. After about 7 he got bored and got–

He landed just past the dog and kept on running towards home. Deja’ vu washed over him like a sledgehammer as he jogged onwards. Can something even “wash over” like a sledgehammer? Anyway, The streets were completely empty; not a car in sight. He looked into windows, and convenience stores, but saw no one. The lady and dog he had recently run past were gone. He came upon a red light and stopped. The world was completely still. The various lights and functioning electronics added to the eerie feeling of desolation. He strained his ears trying to catch something, but he heard nothing but the inner sounds of his own body. Suddenly, the faint sound of a pan flute wafted into his consciousness, seemingly bypassing his actual aural sense.

The flute grew louder, and then a drum joined in. Sagremor canvassed the horizon, but could not pinpoint the origin of the sound. Cymbals and wood blocks jumped into the musical panoply, creating an Asian festival atmosphere. The traffic light was still red. His peripheral vision caught movement far off to this right. Soon, a group of about 5 people came into view. The procession wore red coats and straw hats, and little else. They came forward in an awkward dance as they played various instruments. As they moved in closer, Sagremor noticed none of them had faces. Their hairline descended upon a blank, skin canvas. The band walked on through the street, right past him, without pause. A sense of dread seemed to accompany the group, and Sagremor would have hidden were he not frozen with fear and incomprehension. As the group moved further and further away the music dwindled, and he let out a nervous cough of relief. The band froze in tracks; the music stopped.

The flute-player looked in Sagremor’s direction inquiringly, and the entire group quite suddenly rushed back towards him. He turned to run, too late, and felt hands grab his legs and force him to the ground. He struggled as they turned him around and grabbed his head, probing around his face. Fingers gripped his left eye socket, as others grabbed hold of his eyeball and pulled. He would have screamed, but his tongue was similarly being forcibly removed. He waved around frantically, trying to fight off his aggressors when a—

He was sitting down on his kitchen floor, with his back against the refrigerator, drinking a hot cocoa cappuccino. A truly delicious drink. It blends the best of hot cocoa and cappuccino into possibly the best hot drink that has ever existed on the mortal plane. The cats were still going at it outside, and he looked up to the clock on his rice cooker. It was 1:12 am. He still had a boner for the ages. And he was still crazy hot. But at least the cocoa cappuccino tasted good. He dropped down to the ground, and rolled out of the way, then opened the refrigerator door. He took out an apple, a banana, some kimchi, and Parmesan cheese. That’s all he had in there. He got up, and took a jar of chestnut honey. He had brought it back from Italy with him, but hadn’t tried it yet. He opened the jar, savoring the popping noise of the lid’s first removal. It smelled delicious. He looked down at the banana, the apple, and the kimchi. None of those options seemed to lend themselves to chestnut honey. Sagremor had always been a big believer in the fact that fortune favors the bold, so he decided to be bold. He sliced the apple into thin strips, and dipped them into the honey. It was delicious. His boner got a little bigger. He then sliced the banana, and dipped that in the honey, but it wasn’t as good. He put the kimchi back into the refrigerator.

Satiated by the honey and cocoa cappuccino, Sagremor lugged his swollen belly back to his bedroom. The cats seemed to have finished their business, but now there was a vampire floating outside his window wanting to be let in. He closed the curtains and dropped back down into his bed.

Sagremor dreamt of being a Power Ranger. He was a strange checkered, flannel looking color Ranger. He kept trying to take the lead, but the Red Ranger wouldn’t let him, so they fought, but the Red Ranger won. Sagremor told the others they should fight again, and do a best 2 out of 3, but they wouldn’t listen. It was frustrating because he knew if they battled again he would win this time.

A cat’s yowl woke him up. Dammit! Those cats had started up again. He leaned over to his window and peaked out, but couldn’t see any cats. A naked man wearing a little red coat and a straw hat looked up at Sagremor from the street. He only had one eye. He leaned back into his pillow, and shut his eyes. This night wouldn’t end, and neither would his boner. He needed to wash the espresso out of his system somehow….how do drug people get over being high? He walked back into his kitchen, and got out a bottle of Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon, Jack Daniel’s, and Amarone grappa from a low cupboard. He filled a coffee mug with a few pours of each liquor drink, and downed it in one go. Ha! The combined power of 3 different whiskey drinks should be enough to counteract the espresso though he seemed to have burnt off his esophagus in the process. Everything has a price, they say. He sat down on his armchair, directly across from the refrigerator in his kitchen/dining room/living room/really small room thing. His stomach felt like crap, and everything between his mouth and liver hurt. He leaned back out to the refrigerator, and drank some Kagome fruit/veggie juice straight from the carton while his mother’s ghost lambasted his manners. He felt refreshed. He sat back down in the chair, and closed his eyes.

beep. beep. Beep. BEEP BEEEP BEEEEPPP!!!

Sagremor’s alarm tore him from sleep sweet embrace with the subtlety or a car horn. He dragged himself from the chair, and tripped over a juice carton as he stumbled his way into his room. He looked back at the spilt juice, but decided the annoying noise took precedence. He picked up the alarm and fumbled with it until he found the “off” button. It was 6:25am. He ran back to the kitchen, and picked the carton up then stuck it in the fridge. He lifted the carpet and threw it on top of the spilt juice, then walked back into his room. No way he was running this morning. He re-set the alarm to 7:30 and dropped back into his bed. Without even covering himself—

beep. beep. Beep. BEEP BEEEP BEEEEPPP!!!

Sagremor’s alarm snatched him from slumber’s saccharine hug with the subtlety of a rifle shot. He rolled off his bed, and slammed his knee on his dresser’s drawer knob as he reached for the alarm clock. He picked up the howling device and fumbled with it until he found the “off” button. His heels hurt with every step; they weren’t oiled yet. He limped, and dragged himself to the kitchen and opened the fridge. All his bananas and apples were gone….He drank some milk straight from the carton while his mother’s voice cursed his poor manners. The kitchen smelled like fruit juice and wet carpet. Sagremor went into his shower room to brush his teeth, but knocked his toiletry stand over by accident. He sighed, and just turned the tap on and showered. 15 minutes later he was out the door and on the way to work. As he walked to the station he devised a new modus operandi for the future.

F&’#k espresso. Drink normal f$%&ing coffee instead.

Podcast Episode 19, Part 1: “Percy Harvin and the Lightning Thief”

Episode 19 of the podcast is now up! We have another guest on the show this week, an actual person of some significance (TM): John Patrick Lowrie, noted actor, video game voice actor, composer, and soon to be published writer. This podcast was so full of awesome we had to divide it in two.

And be sure to check out John’s blog here, where you can learn all about his upcoming book, Dancing With Eternity.

Well, that's actually only one windmill…