Personal Pieces postsSaturday June 16, 2018
I think the metadata on me floating around between corporations and their handers is screwed up in some fashion. Everyone I know says when you hit 50, when you immediately hit 50, you begin to get AARP magazine. Or you get some notice from AARP. They reel you in, in other words. I'm 55 (and a half) and I haven't gotten bupkis from them. I almost feel bad about it.
I was hoping it was because I looked young, but today I got some spam snail-mail from Neptune Society that puts that to rest. Literally:
Time passes so quickly. Before you know it, a year has passed, then two. You start thinking about all those things you should do, but haven‘t. Take the time now to make an affordable, sensible choice. Cremation is dignified, inexpensive and has less impact on our environment.
I’ve passed retirement and gone straight to death.
Still practicing my Chinese—slowly but way not-so-surely—and was working on gei or “to give.” Wo gei ni kahn, etc. This is that character:
Oddly, though, every time I'd begin, rather than a straight line under the radical, the part on the left, I'd add three vertical dashes. I did that like three or four times, again and again, chastising myself all the while. “Where did that come from?” I wondered.
It came from the past. It came from muscle memory. Because that's how the traditional character, which I learned 30 years ago, is written:
I do think China screwed up a lot of characters when they simplified. For example: This is ur, or “son,” first as traditional and then as simplified:
兒 vs. 儿
The traditonal always reminded me of a wobbly-headed kid on splindly legs. That's how I always remembered it. It looks like what it is, and it's kinda cute. Don't know what to make of the simplfied version. Just legs? Like spider legs? I'm getting nothing here.
They also butchered dong, or “east”:
東 vs. 东
The first is a rising sun, which, you know, makes sense. The second is ... what ... the Fantastic Four signal? I‘ve got no clue. It’s lopsided, too. I hate writing that character.
I know: Who am I to criticize. 我是什么东西？
In the new session of my weekly Chinese class at the downtown Seattle library, our teacher asked for volunteers to present on one of three topics, and I went with the “My Hobby” option. “Hobby,” I quickly learned, is translated as two familiar characters: 爱好. love/good.
In Taiwan, 30 years ago, I learned traditional characters, and now I'm learning the simplified versions, and this was the first time I'd noticed the difference in “love.”
This is the traditional Chinese character for love: 愛.
And this is the modern simplified version:爱
It may be tough to see the difference, but here it is: They took out 心.
What's that? Xin. It means heart. That's right. To simplify “love,” they took out “heart.” Not sure who was on that committee, but, as we say today, the optics aren't good.
My presentation is below. It's about movie box office, particularly Chinese movie box office—a topic that was way too difficult given my level. Put another way: You have no idea how much work went into sounding this stupid.
China is about to become the world's biggest movie market.
我也写电影评论 。十五年以前，我给西雅图时报写过。 现在，我用我的博客。
今年, 我听说, 中国票房比美国票房大。
- 一一 (Edward Yang)
- 饮食男女 (Ang Lee)
- 警察故事,第一，二， 三 (Jackie Chan)
- 功夫（Stephen Chow： 在美国是“Kung Fu Hustle”）
- 巴尔扎克与小裁缝：Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Not Brand ECCC: 2018
No, honey, not Betty Page.
Last weekend I did something I hadn't done for six years—and before that, whoosh, decades. I attended a comic convention. Specifically, the Emerald City Comic Con 2018. ECCC to friends.
Speaking of: I went stag, which is a bad way to go—although it does make it easier making it through crowds. It also helped that I wasn't in any hurry. Plus I'm still thin enough to—apologies, sorry, my bad—squeeze through when necessary.
My goal again was the comic resellers in the far back of the main room—the whole point of the comic convention when I was a kid, and now an afterthought. I‘ve been reading a book, “Take That, Adolf!” about WWII-era superheroes who, on their various covers, deck Hitler (Captain America) or choke him out (Cat-Man), and I was curious if there were more books about same, or, ideally, not exorbitant copies of originals. Not the popular ones, mind you (I’m a working man), but heroes who didn't last long: Uncle Sam, Steel Sterling, The Shield. How much does a Shock Gibson go for these days? I was curious.
I remain curious. There was one table that laid out their Golden Age comics in easy-to-rifle-through fashion, even as I was extra careful in doing so. These things were almost as old as my father, after all; they had made it through so much just to get here. Some, shockingly, were affordable—i.e., less than $250. I kept thinking, “Hey, I could buy this!” And I kept having to rein in that thought. Because ... to what end? I don't collect. When I was young I had the desire but not the money; now I have the money but not the desire. Well, not an overwhelming desire, but there's something there. Just holding a copy of Action Comics #28 was thrilling. Just the smell of old comics took me back. It's my madeleine.
At one point, thinking practically (i.e., relating it to my day job), I asked after copies of “Betty Bates, Lady at Law.” Ever since I found out about her, about 10 years ago, I‘ve been intrigued that she became a comic-book character at a time when women were, what, two percent of law school grads? And probably less of practicing lawyers? And probably less of comic-book characters? The guys at the Golden Age stand nodded and directed me to another seller, where, they said, they’d seen such a copy. But when I arrived, I didn't see any “Betty Bates”; I saw “Betty Page.” Had I been misunderstood? I asked again. And again, they thought I said “Betty Page.” When I clarified, they exchanged glances and eyed me dubiously, then looked her up in their comic-book catalog. Bupkis, as they'd suspected. I got a “Check yer facts, kid,” look, to which I nodded. I should‘ve checked my facts. She existed, she just never had her own comic. She was always part of “Hit” Comics. (And now a book is available that collects all over her old comics in one place; I might have to get it.)
It wasn’t a bad few hours. I checked out the wares, checked out the cosplay. On some level, these should be my people, fellow nerds, but I feel like an interloper now. This thing that used to be just skinny nerds and overweight resellers has been turned it into a party, a real party, and I'm late to it. I'm late to a party I left early.
If you can't have fun with Deadpool...
Always bet on “Game of Death” yellow.
Harry Potter and the Knight of Dark. Dude even nails Adam West's self-important smile.
This guy caused a sensation. No disturbing lack of faith here.
DUN duh-nuh-nuh-nuh DUN DUN...
It was January 20, 2016, my birthday, and I was checking out social media, as we do, when I was distracted by a trending headline about director Spike Lee and #OscarsSoWhite. I kind of rolled my eyes. OK, what did he say now? Turns out Spike's thoughts on the controversy were similar to mine—that the lack of black artists up for awards is less an Academy problem than an industry problem. The roles needed to be there in the first place for the Academy to honor them. “We need to be in the room where it happens,” he said, and the writer helpfully added that this was an allusion to the new hit musical “Hamilton,” then even more helpfully included a link to a cast member singing that song on YouTube.
Me: Oh right. That hip-hop musical about the first treasury secretary, with people of color playing the founding fathers. Sounds dreadful.
But I clicked on the link.
First viewing: “Hey, this is pretty good.” Second viewing: “Holy crap, this is good.” I searched for more on “Hamilton,” then came across a 2009 White House video of some guy rapping about Hamilton and was blown away again. That guy, it turned out, was Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created it all. Did iTunes have the Broadway soundtrack? It did! I listened to several songs before downloading the entire thing as a birthday present to myself. I figured, while I probably wouldn't listen to all the songs, there was enough there to make it at least a little bit worthwhile.
Well, I did listen to all of the songs. Over and over again. Ask my wife. For six months it was about all I listened to. I listened to it like I was running out of time. My world would never be the same.
I searched for tickets to the Broadway show, too, but they didn't have anything for like a year. I probably should've tried harder. Then Miranda and other members of the original cast left the show in July. That door was closed now; it would never be open again.
But two weekends ago, in Chicago, I finally got to see the show.
My sister got tickets for her family and my wife made sure one of those was for me. So even though I'd just spent two and a half weeks in Europe, I packed up again and headed to Chicago.
I didn't expect to be blown away. It wasn't the original cast, it wasn't on Broadway, and I had the whole musical already in my head. What could they give me that I didn't already have? What could they tell me that I didn't already know? Mostly I was just interested in seeing how the tone of this one differed from the tone of the original.
But I was blown away. After the show, my sister reposted on social media Joe Posnanski's great essay about seeing “Hamilton” on Broadway last year with his daughter, and it includes this graf:
The thing about seeing Hamilton RIGHT NOW at its peak moment is that even before it begins, the entire theater is filled with wonder. Every single person would rather be here than anywhere else in the world. As a sportswriter, I often feel that sort of energy at the biggest events, at the Masters or the Super Bowl or the Olympics, but it's even more pronounced in this theater. People look at each other with the same wide-eyed expression: “Can you believe we're here?”
That was the feeling in Chicago. The crowd was buzzing, smiling “I can't believe I'm here” smiles, and taking turns taking photos near the stage. As the house lights dimmed and the opening chords to the opening number played (DUN duh-nuh-nuh-nuh DUN DUN), unsuppressed squeals of delight were heard. And when Daniel Breaker as Burr asks “What's your name, man?” and Miguel Cervantes as Hamilton responds, “Alexander Hamilton,” the crowd burst into applause.
The talent on the stage was amazing. The dancers rocked. Alexander Gemignani took the familiar King George songs and made them funny again. He just owned the stage. He brought the house down multiple times and viewed us all with the disdain of an 18th century half-mad monarch. Loved Chris De'Sean Lee as Lafayette (less his Jefferson, which felt over-the-top), and Ari Afsar as Eliza. Meanwhile, the actress playing Angelica, Aubin Wise, has a combination of high cheekbones and dimples that seems decidedly unfair to the rest of us. You should get one or the other, not both. Plus she has the pipes. Get this: she was the understudy.
But I was particularly impressed by Breaker as Burr. Right from the start, right from the “Aaron Burr, Sir” song, you not only heard him singing but saw him acting. His reactions to this pestering kid seemed just right: putting Hamilton at a distance, then being won over by him (kinda sorta), then the rivalry and the seeming constant betrayal—until the big one during the election of 1800. Also the pain of realizing he was, and would always be, the villain in our history.
That's the thing that was surprising in Chicago: feeling the pain of being Aaron Burr. In the original, Miranda plays a sympathetic, sensitive Hamilton who wears his heart on his sleeve the way Miranda often does. He's all big sensitive eyes and overwhelming dramatic emotion. Cervantes' Hamilton is colder and more ruthless. It feels truer to the historical man but also less dramatic. We care less for Hamilton here, and more for Burr. I didn't cry when Hamilton's son died or when they sang “It's Quiet Uptown,” as I had done numerous time at home listening to the soundtrack; but I nearly teared up when Burr realizes the tragedy of his life. “Was I supposed to care so much about Aaron Burr?” my sister asked after the show. It was the play turned upside down. It makes me wonder what other variations there might be to this story that has lived with me for 18 months, and that I thought I knew so well.