Thursday, May 25, 2006

Do You Smell That? It Smells Like Freedom... And Ripe Cheese


This morning I went to visit my orthopedist, filled with self-doubt and worry. Wearing a cast, while far from the worst thing that could happen to me, has been an annoying experience, and I desperately hoped to be done with it.

My hopes were met. The fracture isn't wholly healed, but it's so close that Dr. Huffer felt it was safe to take the cast off. I need to be easy on my wrist for the next few weeks, no fistfights or anything, but that's about it.

It feels really weird to have my hand back again. After Nurse Lupe took off my cast, I unthinkingly re-enacted a crucial scene from Kill Bill: "Move... your thumb..." By now, a few hours later, I can move my thumb and wrist in all directions, though I still don't have a great range of motion and it's a little painful when I extend something too far.

Ahh.... typing. Typing feels glorious. It feels a little like I'm getting used to it again - I just typed "littke" instead of "little" in this sentence - but after the last four weeks I finally feel like I'm being, you know.... productive? Yeah, that.

For those of you who haven't seen my at a keyboard in May, it was a fairly disgusting sight. Basically, my left hand did what it has always done. My right hand, in a short-arm cast with a thumb spike, was permanently rotated 90 degrees from the standard position. I operated it like a claw, striking out at keys I wished to hit. It would be a little like typing using only your index finger on one hand. I was surprised by how fast I got towards the end, but still, even in its dessicated state a full right hand is both easier and far more potent.

Enough about me. On to business: throughout the month I've been jotting down some things I want to blog about. Most of these topics could easily fill an entire post on their end, but I'm behind in enough things in life already without working through a month-long backlog of blog posts. Therefore I will spurt out a ton of bullet points and half-baked thoughts here. I reserve the right to return to some of these topics in a more in-depth manner later, but realistically I'll probably have plenty else to keep me busy.

Onwards and upward with the arts:

  • Books, books, books! I started the month with Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore." I haven't read anything by the author before, but the reviews I read for this book intrigued me. It was amazing, with pretty much everything I love in a novel: weird symbolism, ambiguous plot, possibly supernatural forces, inscrutable motives. It also felt profoundly Japanese in a way that made me feel like I wasn't getting everything. Some references to incest were kind of disturbing, as they were probably intended to be.
  • Kafka was followed up with another intentionally surreal book, Thomas Pynchon's "V". His shorter novel "The Crying of Lot 49" is on my all-time top five list, again because it is such a wonderfully weird and compelling book, and I had high hopes for "V." They were disappointed. It's not a bad book by any means, but I don't hesitate in prounouncing it inferior to "Crying." A lot of the familiar Pynchon elements are present - themes of alienation and estrangement, cryptic situations with a slight supernatural tinge, engagement of science as a metaphor for life - but what's missing is the fun. "V" takes itself too seriously much of the time, and the moments when Pynchon lets himself unwind and just have fun with the novel illuminate how much better it could have been. After reading this, I have decided that from now on I will refer to the Wheaton North gang as "The Whole Sick Crew." I haven't given up on Pynchon - I still enjoyed the book - and next hope to tackle Gravity's Rainbow, after a breather of a year or so.
  • I made a trifecta by finally getting a hold of "The Third Policeman" after waiting for over six months on SJPL's waiting list, learning the book had been stolen, and then hunting it down through interlibrary loan. What, me pay for a book that I want to read? This is America! Anyways, this is the book that was briefly glimpsed on an episode of "Lost". I didn't have high hopes for its literary value, and was reading it more out of curiosity, but ended up being surprised by its quality. Once again I was reading a strange book filled with cryptic pronouncements, unsettling visual images, possibly insane characters, and a generalized feeling of unease and malaise. Success! The book starts off reading very much like an Edgar Allen Poe story, but at a specific point a chapter or two in, the book the plot turns about 90 degrees, and suddenly feels a lot like Borges. It stays in this weirdly altered state for the bulk of the book before returning to an almost horror theme. I don't know that I would recommend this book in general, but for those whose tastes align with mine, it gets the nod of approval.
  • What's next? I'm a few chapters into "At the Mountains of Madness," my first-ever H. P. Lovecraft novel. I've been vaguely aware of him and the Cthulhu mythos since junior high, but this is my first venture into that territory. It's... pretty good, I guess. I'm not into horror, and the overwrought narrative style is occasionally more amusing than frightening ("I trembled at the horrible thought of the great sweeping evil that lurked malignantly beyond the darkest shadowy pits of hell"), but surprisingly atmospheric. He bears an obvious debt to Poe, and his words help me remember how much I have enjoyed Poe's work in the past.
  • I did Japanese festivals constantly! First up was the Cherry Blossom Bestival in San Francisco. This was AMAZING. Tons of exhibits, displays, musical performances, food booths, martial arts, and more. The highlight, though, was the parade. I got to within a few feet of Gavin Newsom (I don't think people outside the Bay Area really understand how strongly he is admired here - he gets a rock star's reception everywhere he goes, and has gone from being grudgingly tolerated to almost universally admired), had my mind blown by an amazing Taiko performance, and watched in awe as a host of people carried a shrine down Sutter road, shaking it back and forth while others bounced up and down on top of it. The very next week I was in Japantown San Jose for their annual Nihonmachi celebration. This wasn't quite as massive as the San Francisco extravaganza, but was still a lot of fun and I ended up staying for pretty much the whole duration, from 10AM to after 4PM. They had a bigger emphasis on performance (dance, music and martial arts) than San Francisco, with less emphasis on spectable. I may do both again next year, I'll almost certainly do the SF one.
  • A primary election will be held here on June 6th. This will be the second time I've voted and I'm still not totally plugged into the political environment yet, so I'll be heavily leaning on the recommendations of the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News to make my decisions. I'm currently leaning towards supporting Steve Westley for Governor and David Pandori for mayor. On other issues, I'm enthusiastically supporting Measure A, a half-cent sales tax that will bring BART to San Jose and fund social services; supporting a state bond measure for public libraries and another one for infrastructure (while shaking my first and cursing the legislature for delaying the one for high-speed transit. I want my bullet train to LA, darn it!); voting AGAINST Rob Reiner's initiative to tax the very wealthy to fund universal preschool (a laudable goal, but it needs to happen through the regular budget process). For everything else, I'll probably just do what the papers tell me to do.
  • Spring in the Bay! It actually got up to 80 a few weeks ago, which is the hottest it's ever been since I moved here. More recently it's been in the low 70s. I love this weather. The days are long and getting longer; sunshine is everywhere; I can spend hours outside without getting sweaty or chilly. Mmmmmm.
  • I've watched a good number of movies. "On the Waterfront" was the rare classic that actually stood up to my expectations. All the classic lines reverberate when they are uttered, but mostly I was entranced by Brando's performance, and captivated by a wonderful moral sensibility that this country seems to have lost in the past fifty years. The image of a preacher suffering abuse to rail against the greed and corruption of a union that fails to stand up for working people... it's so pure in this movie, and feels so unthinkable today. What else... "Lost in Translation" was good, pretty much just what I expected but that's OK. Also saw the Family Guy Stewie Griffin story thing, which made me laugh many times. And of course am keeping up on my shows. The Office and Earl are done for the season, I think House and Lost wrap up this week or next.
  • I was at the Southern Kitchen by myself one day and decided to try something different than my typical Eggs Benedict. So I was scanning the menu and read the entry for "Pigs in a Blanket," a term I have heard before but never actually encountered. I read, "Three sausages wrapped in pancakes." I'm thinking, "Just three sausages? That doesn't seem like very much, but I'm also not very hungry. I will order these 'Pigs in a Blanket' and then eat them." They bring out the plate, and I stare at my death. See, when I hear the word "sausage" in the context of breakfast, I immediately think of breakfast sausages, like sausage links. Nope. By sausage, they mean sausage, like bratwurst. I have rarely seen that many calories gathered in one place. I survived that day, beaten but wiser.
  • Now I know that I work for a dot-com. When the Sharks were in the running for the playoffs, Young brought a hocket net and some sticks into the office. It wasn't unusual for some engineers to take up sticks in the middle of the afternoon for an impromptu game in the hall, getting off slap shots between cubicles. I love Silicon Valley.
  • I am very dumb. I signed up for the "Classes Without Quizzes" with the Wash U alumni club. I really enjoyed the one in KC and was looking forward to the one here. I felt oddly self-conscious about my cast, but was resolved to attend anyways since I had already paid and I liked the idea of using Shelley's Frankenstein to discuss modern ethical dilemmas. I planned out the BART schedule, enjoyed a stroll down Market Street, and then walked into the Four Seasons Hotel to find... that it was scheduled for Saturday night, not Sunday night. It was even on the sheet of paper I'd brought with me. Tarnation. I'll get you next time, alumni club! All was not lost, though; no trip to San Francisco is ever a true waste. I did the north end of Market Street, which I hadn't seen before; got a closer look at the Transamerica pyramid; and crossed Embarcadero to explore the Ferry Building. Most shops were closed on Sunday night, but it was still nice to check yet another thing off my list.
  • Speaking of which, Caltrain has been my preferred method of getting into SF, but I'm starting to experiment with BART. The problem is that it requires a decent amount of driving to get to a BART station; the advantages, though, are threefold. First, the total trip time is slightly less than Caltrain's weekend time of 90 minutes. Second, if you miss your return train (as I inevitably do), it's just another 20 minutes for the next BART car as opposed to an hour (or, sometimes, two) for the next Caltrain train. Thirdly, BART drops you off in happenin' Market Street, while Caltrain deposits you in the depths of SOMA... convenient for some bus connections, but not a very pleasant area to explore. Anyways, I have two main BART options; in the past I've done Millbrae, which requires a longer drive up the Penninsula and then a short ride to the city; I'm also intrigued by the Fremont station, which is a shorter drive and a longer ride. In principle I'd rather have a long ride where I can read, but the one time I tried this traffic was so bad on 880 that I was scared off. Obviously, the long-term solution is to bring BART down to San Jose; assuming Measure A passes, we're looking at about a decade for that.
  • I attended and enjoyed the Cinco de Mayo parade in downtown San Jose. I'm a huge political nerd, and was not disappointed: almost the entire city council participated, as well as the consul general of Mexico, but mayor Ron Gonzales, who is reeling from an ethics charge, was not in attendence. There was a ton of music, and it was nice to see that most of it was live... there was the occasional cheap boombox thing, but far more produced and amplified from the floats. One of the coolest parts was at the very beginning, with a whole troupe of Aztec-style dancers who were led by several people on huge drums. Everyone had enormous headdresses and way more energy than anyone should. The rest of the parade was also good, with a nice mix of musical and community groups. One interesting difference between this parade and other ones: there seemed to be a lot more waving and a lot less clapping than I'm used to. Coming very soon after the immigration demonstrations, you could feel a great deal of energy and pride in hispanic heritage. That was cool. Afterwards I wanted to go to a cinco de mayo festival down in Woz Park, but it was a dollar to get in. Darned it I'm going to pay money to attend a festival! This is America! So instead I went to Muchos and enjoyed a chimichanga. That's good eating!
  • KQED, the local NPR affiliate, finally wrapped up an interminable two-week pledge drive. They do this twice a year. It's annoying as heck, but apparently they're the most-listened-to NPR station in the country, so I guess others are willing to put up with it. What's funny is that there's also a much smaller NPR station that's also based in San Francisco, that carries much of the same programming (All Things Considered, Fresh Aire, etc.), but also reports on what the day's school lunches are, and for some reason has a 5pm program that's entirely about Canada. I listened to them a lot the last two weeks.
  • I went home again two weekends ago. It served three purposes: I got to see James and Karen get married (beautiful wedding, tons of people, fun dinner conversation); celebrated Andrew's 20th birthday (Happy Birthday!); and had an all-too-brief Mother's Day celebration (Mom got to wake up at 4:30AM Sunday morning to drive me to the airport). My next trip home will be late July for Jeff's wedding, but I'll see the family twice before then: once in Minnesota for Joel's wedding, and then in North Carolina for the enormous King Family Reunion.
  • We have a ton of new hires at work, which is awesome. It takes a while to bring people up to speed, but once they're all on board, it will hopefully be a big help to our workload. They seem to be bright, friendly people. One, Paul Zhang, is my new officemate, and is a very open, intelligent person. It'll be interesting to see how Rocket Mobile's culture and feel continues to change as the company grows and evolves.
  • I rarely watch South Park, but I caught three episodes this year (long after they aired): the season opener where Chef gets "killed" and the two-part Family Guy / censorship episode. They were all pretty funny, but I'm not that tempted to start following the show regularly. South Park has always been one of those things that I can only handle in small doses; beyond that, its profanity (in all senses of the word) seeks being shocking and amusing and just feels tired. For the record, Family Guy's nonsequitor-heavy style is what I like most about it. It's like Monty Python in the way it illogically strings together events. That said, South Park's criticism felt genuine and I respect it.
  • I finally got a new camera. It's hard because I can't shake the nagging suspicion that I still have a perfectly serviceable camera buried in one of my boxes somewhere that has resisted repeated attempts to locate it. Still, even if it exists, I have not seen it for over a year, and... if a camera is in the woods and nobody sees it, does it really exist? I'm sticking with Sony and picked up a DSC T-5, which I'm loving. It's one of those ultra-compact models and fits easily in my front pocket; has 5 megapixels, which is more than I need but I'll take it, and supports video and some other neat features. I also picked up a 2GB memory stick that was on sale, and feel confident that I will never run out of picture space.
  • One downside to having a new camera is figuring out what to do with my pictures. My current approach, which I'm not very happy with for reasons I may explore in a future post, is to start a new blog that will only contain my photos; you can find it at I'll occasionally include pictures here but only if they directly relate to a post.
  • I had a funky dream over the weekend. I've been having more than normal this past month; I'm guessing it's related to how hard it was to sleep with a cast on and the way I jumped in and out of consciousness more quickly. In this dream, I was hanging around a guy who was basically Rick Warren, except that he was pale, introverted, and about 19 years old. (For those of you keeping score at home, that means he was nothing at all like Rick Warren.) I couldn't decide whether I really supported him or not, but wanted to help him out while I made up my mind; since he was so introverted, I was forced into occasionally being a pseudo-spokesman. At one point we were in a high school auditorium type of thing, and one of his nemeses was giving a speech. The crowd was definitely antagonistic towards us, and I got a bad feeling as they cheered the speaker and started eyeing us. Some people started to throw cups of water and other objects at us. I felt like I should do something, but I knew any action of mine would be distorted by the media, so I just sat there while everyone laughed and threw stuff. Later in the dream, pseudo-Rick and I were doing a team-building exercise that was whitewater rafting through a series of caves. However, our enemies were also there, and tried to take over the boats. I shoved a few overboard, then was horrified to learn that they had drowned and I was now wanted as a murderer. Then I woke up.
  • What did the dream mean? I don't know. The funny thing is, Rick Warren is probably the least interesting evangelical figure to me. I don't hate him, and I don't really like him that much (though I really respect his work on poverty). Still, perhaps it has something to do with my sense of religious isolation in California, where people tend to automatically equate Christians with far-right Falwell-style fundamentalism. The part in the auditorium is just good old-fashioned fear of confrontation and being disliked. The last bit puzzles me, and makes me wonder if there's some guilt that I may be subconsciously burying.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaand that's it for now. It's good being back! Hope all is well with your lives. Peace out.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, sure. I post a dream-journal on my blog, and two days later, what happens? Chris posts a dream-journal on his blog! Coincidence? Perhaps. But then again... PERHAPS NOT!!!