Monday, December 27, 2010

Jackie Chan with an American Accent

There’s a small stack of movies on my DVD shelf set off from the others.  Loners, outcasts, many still in their plastic shrink wrap, these films sit, collecting dust, waiting for me to finally pop them in the DVD player. 

I often rummage through my DVDs, looking for ones I seldom watch, or have over-watched to go out with the next round of Amazon sales or Goodwill boxes.  But, I will not oust a film I have not seen.  And so, these lonely films continue to wait.

Then a moment comes, a moment like today.  A day for me to do me things.  So while sorting laundry, eating meals and straightening up my home, I popped in one of these lonely waiting movies, Jackie Chan’s The Young Master.

Pretty sure I picked this up from one of those $4.99 crazy bins in Walmart some years ago.  You know the big baskets in the middle of the store aisle where you rummage through has-been films, straight to DVD duds and classics no one appreciates any longer.  Piled willy-nilly on top of each other, it’s like a Chuck-E-Cheese ball pit of rectangular plastic cases.  I must have had The Young Master sitting around for awhile, “Chapter Stops” are listed as a special feature on the case.  That’s like listing the ability to rewind as a special feature on a cassette tape.

The movie’s pretty cute.  I suppose that’s not really an appropriate word for an action movie, “cute,”  but that’s what this movie is, cute.  At least, that’s what this American release DVD version is.  The whole audio-track is dubbed.  It’s funny to see Jackie Chan’s mouth move and hear some random American.  It’s even more amusing to see a cross-eyed cop that sounds like Yogi Bear.  Other characters have all sorts of random English accents from different parts of the world.  The music sounds like it’s also been replaced, being almost completely late-70s rock music.  I’m also still trying to figure out why the Master reminds me so much of Tim Curry.

Silliness created by odd dubbing aside, I quite enjoyed the film for its story and very well choreographed fight scenes.  One of the neatest things about the film is that it could be taking place at any time – or at least, I couldn’t put it in any specific period.  Maybe someone more familiar with China or the history of Kung Fu could date it.

Now I just have to decide, keep the film?  Or send it to Sir Barnabas, royal knight and protectorate of Queen Jackie Chan.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My First CDs

My first cd.  The first cd I bought.  Both gotten when I was in 6th grade and both, despite many purges of my cd collection, still in my possession.  Back in the day when music didn’t magically appear at your finger tips, getting your first album was a big deal, a special occasion to remember.

The First CD I Owned

I got my first cd before we even had a cd player.  It came free with a subscription to this newsletter my mom had gotten me and I got to choose “Compact Disc or Cassette.”  Even though we didn’t have a way to play it, I chose the CD.  I knew cassettes were on their way out and figured sooner or later we’d have a cd-player.  I guess I was, in the words of Mr. Trizzle, future-proofing.

The newsletter was called How on Earth, self-abbreviated to HOE.  It was a very Berkeley-esque publication about saving animals, preventing animal cruelty, not wearing fur, not eating or using animal products.  All that environmental stuff that was really in for awhile in the early-90s.  I wasn’t that into most of the stuff in the articles, but I saw the subscription as a nice gesture on the part of my mother to show that she supported me in my newly-declared vegetarianism.  Even if she thought it was just a fad.  That meant a lot to me.

So this CD came with it, Tame Yourself, a crazy collection of anti-fur, pro-animal, pro-vegetarian songs by some of the eras best genderless save-the-world-singers, and some random artists like the B-52s.  It was played a lot when we finally did get a cd player, for awhile being the only disc we owned.  (I still remember how exciting it was the first time we could fill up our 5-disc changer.)

Of course, my sister and I had a favorite song on the album, which we played over and over and over again – a task made so easy by that new “repeat” button!  My poor mother.  Our favorite song was called “Don’t Kill the Animals,”  and it was our favorite pretty much only because it had this really obnoxious part in the chorus that went “ee-ee-eeeee” in a very high pitched squeal.  And I just happened to find a video for it so you can hear it yourself!

The First CD I Bought

As if I were designing my cd collection solely for the purpose of torturing my mother, the first cd I ever bought, and thus the second cd I actually owned myself, was The Village People’s Greatest Hits.  Yeah.   What sixth grader actually buys that as their first album?  One who’s too young to know any better.

You see, what happened was Alfred and I were watching some tv show that was showing old clips of The Muppet Show and there were all these Viking muppets in a ship and they were singing, you guessed it, “In the Navy.”  And we loved it, and we loved the song.  And we made our own ship out of the back of the couch and sang “In the Navy” as we rowed through the family room.  We liked it so much, we put our tape recorder next to the tv speaker to tape it so we could listen to it and sing along.  It was probably the only moment in our life when we liked any vikings.

At some point while steering our giant couch and recruiting pillows, Timmy Bear and Daddy Bunny to join our navy, Mommy walked in and went, “oh, no, disco!?” And nicely informed us that the song that so delighted us was originally by the Village People.  That was all I needed to know.  Pretty soon we were running around the house singing not just “In the Navy” but also “Macho Man,” “Hot Cop” and, of course, “YMCA.”  The dream of every parent that had survived the 70s. ;)


It’s kind of funny, those two cds seem to predict my ending up in San Francisco more than anything else in my life.  I wonder if today’s kids will remember their first mp3.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Crafting Crafting Crafting, Keep Those Girls a-Crafting

About a year ago I joined a book club.  I was looking for something to do and a way to meet  people that weren’t Mr. Trizzle’s friends.  There was an ad on Craigslist by Book Club Kate for a new book club forming in my area.  So, I joined.  So did a whole bunch of other girls.  (The two guys that came to the first meeting quickly disappeared.)

What I learned over the next several months was that I don’t really like book clubs.  A bunch of the other girls learned that, too.  Many of us had come for the meeting people purpose rather than the book club purpose.  The book club sort of dissolved into nothingness and that was that.

Then, Book Club Kate had a brilliant idea.  We wanted to meet people and have a chance to hang out, but we didn’t really like the homework aspect of book club and didn’t care to read the same types of books.  What we needed was something else to gather around: craft club.

Last week, we had our first craft club meeting and it was fabulous!  Five of us gathered at Book Club Kate’s with our various projects: beading, mending, sewing.  One girl was making adorable animal head hats for a craft fair, another repairing a present for a friend.  We sat in the cozy living room, orange flames flickering from the fireplace, a nice breeze from the open porch door, Christmas music playing in the background.  It felt so old-fashioned and nostalgic and, well, perfect.

A great time hanging out with friends, chatting, eating, but also being productive.  The best way to spend an evening.  I can’t wait for the next one.

Friday, December 10, 2010

You Say ‘Potato,’ I Say ‘Latke’ (or ‘Twas the Last Night of Hanukah)

‘Twas the last night of Hanukah and on the house boat, Short Fabulous was hosting a party that’d float. 

The potatoes were laid on the counter with care, in hopes that her friends soon would be there. 

The candles were lit in the menorah of tin, burning quite quickly much to goldenrail’s chagrin. 

And Meg&Jack with a bowl and her potato shredder, scraped furiously while Short Fab mixed the batter.

While on the stove top a pan of oil did heat, we all stared at it eagerly, waiting to eat.

Into the pan it dropped with a splash, shredded potatoes and some salt, just a dash.

Potato and onion and egg made up one.  Another to come after those were done.

The second were simpler, they came from a box, supposedly Jewish like bagels or lox.

With a flip of the spatula by Meg&Jack’s man, the potato pancakes were upside-down in the pan.

The grease sizzled and popped and made them all brown, as Short Fabulous hollered out “Gather around.”

“Sit, Meg&Jack! Sit, goldenrail! Sit, Mr and Pole!” 

“Pick up your napkin and fork she did call.”  Now sitzen sie, sitzen sie, sitzen sie all!

A smattering of latkes they sat on our plates, sour cream and applesauce waiting to mate.

Into our mouths one forkful at a time, a piece of potato on each little tine.

“Yummy!”  “Delicious!” “Scrumptious, you bet!”  “Such flavor.”  “Good taste.”  “I haven’t tried that one yet.”

Four kinds we did eat, each made a good latke, except for the box, which were a bit farkakte.

Once the dishes were cleared it was time for dessert, rich marble halava from her friend Bert.*

And with dessert must come games oh happy delight, a long round of dreidel lasting into the night.

With the coins all won and then given away, we packed up our items to make no delay.

Up the stairs to our shoes, our coats and our boots, we said our goodbyes and made our way off  of das Boot.

We heard Short Fab call as we walked up the dock,  “Happy Hanukah friends, now try not to get lost!”


*As far as I know, Short Fabulous does not have a friend Bert and purchased the halava herself in Jersey.  But Jersey does not rhyme with dessert.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Have I Mentioned I Hate Bugs?

A Story

I was exhausted, it had been a long, hard-fought battle against the ants.  I collapsed onto my bed, my luxury princess bed in my mud and thatch castle.  The large pile of blankets atop the foam mattress felt like heaven.  I tucked a satin-cased pillow under my head and reached for my book.

Three days, it’d been at least three days, this battle with the ants.  At first there were only a few.  I didn’t mind a few, as long as they stayed on the ground or the walls.  They weren’t the impashi (“ihm-posh-eee,” fire ants) that can devour a human baby whole in a few minutes.  They were regular little ants.  And after all, inside isn’t all that much different than outside when everything’s made of mud and grass.  But then, they’d started getting into things, those pesky ants.  Climbing over the salade (“salad-eee,” cooking oil) bottle, around the balsamic vinegar cap.  Hey, that’s my breakfast!  Getting on stuff I needed to touch: the chair, the table, my sewing machine.  That was when I decided to fight back.  I had no idea it’d be so long or so torturous a fight.

At first, I just swept them out.  Short straw broom, hunched over, sweep, sweep, swee-eep.  Out go the ants, back outside where they belong.  But it wasn’t enough.

I put all the food away.  Well, the little bit that was out.  Most of the food was already tucked away in thick plastic buckets with tough snap-on lids to keep the imbebe (“ihm-bey-bah,” rats) out.  So the few glass jars and such, into the buckets they went, too.  With out any food out, there should be nothing to attract the ants.  Another sweep, sweep, swee-eep, and the ants were gone.  Briefly.  It wasn’t enough.  Time to call in reserves.

Ba Lenix, Ba Feya, Ba Joyce and Hampola came to investigate.  Where were the ants entering?  Maybe there was something we could do to block the entrance, or to make the entrance less appealing.  Considering the windows didn’t close, the roof didn’t meet the ceiling and the whole place was made out of mud, this seemed like an odd idea to me.  Oh well, anything’s worth a shot.

With the hut half emptied into the front yard, we found a few possible entry points and brushed some wood preserver around the areas.  On the brick, on the concrete, on the wood.  Sweep, sweep, swee-eep.  Goodbye ants.  Seemed good.  I rested. It wasn’t enough.  Time to call in the extra special back-up reserves: the village.

Ba Lenix had decided the ants were coming through the cracks in my concrete floor.  We emptied the hut, again, this time everything but the bed.  Ba Lenix and several men from the village began chipping away at the cracks in the cement floor.  The cracks had been small carcks, now they were deep gorges carved out with rough hoes and spare pieces of metal.  The men filled the newly enlarged cracks with new cement from a spare bag they’d scrounged up.  The previously smooth and shiny, but slightly cracked floor now looked like a relief map of the Missouri-Mississippi river system, with rough lines of various thickness running here and there.

It was done.  No more ants.  I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled.  I took out my floor polish and polished my new floor ‘til it shone brightly.  Everything was moved back into place and I polished the legs of my table and chair and bed, the bottom of my bookshelf, anything that touched the floor that the ants might want to crawl up should they come back.  There would be no more ants.  I was determined.

Finally happy and relieved, I dropped my exhausted body into that princess bed.  I lay there reading my book, muscles aching, smile on my face.  Then I felt a little tickle on my neck.  I reached my hand up to move my hair away, but as I brushed at my neck, I noticed my hair was not there.  I brought my hand back to where I could see.  There was an ant.  Slowly, stiff with fright, I rolled my head to the left.  The entire side of the bed was a wave of ants crawling over the mounds of fabric, headed straight towards me.

A Summary

That feeling, that twitch on my neck, the stiff fear that took over my body, the view of hundreds of ants coming directly towards me at eye level, it’s one of my most vivid memories from Zambia.  It was probably my hardest days there. One of those things that once it happened and I didn’t flee for the US made me realize I could handle a lot more than I ever expected.

I didn’t necessarily handle it well.  I jumped out of that bed and out of that hut as fast as I could.  I threw all the blankets and sheets  over the clothesline and hopped on my bike for town.  I  fled.

A Repeat

Today, I got to relive part of this story.  When winter starts in California, it rains.  And when it rains, ants become a problem.  I keep boric acid, and when I see some ants start to come in, I line the baseboards with boric acid.  That generally gets rid of the ants.

My roommate was supposed to move out while I was gone.  He did.  But before he did, the ants started to come.  I had emptied all the trash and put away all the food before I left.  If the ants came before my roommate left, he’d put down the boric acid and they’d be gone.  At the very least, the ants would just be trailing over empty counters.  After all, he’s a grown-up and grown-ups are responsible, right?  Nope.

Apparently, the ants did come before he left.  A lot of them came.  My roommate sprayed them with all-purpose cleaner and left them, large piles of drowned, smooshed ants all over the kitchen floor, the counter, the sink.  Knowing there were ants in the vicinity, he proceeded to leave dirty dishes in the sink, food out on the counter, and empty beer bottles and cans around the apartment.  And then he moved out.  Happy homecoming goldenrail.

Not only did I have those lovely piles of dead, drowned, smooshed ants to clean up, I also had nice streams of live, crawly, creepy ants to clean up.  Armies of ants marching across the walls.  Lines of ants going in circles on every bottle in my liquor cabinet.   A wall of ants covering the sink with its dirty dishes.  Even the faucet handles were teaming with ants.

This time, there was nowhere to run.  No reserves to enlist.  No super-special reserves to call.  Just me.  Me, a pack of cleaning gloves, a sponge and my boric acid.  Have I mentioned I hate bugs?


ants close in Double click for full-size terror.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Winter Garden–Book Review

They say don’t judge a book by its cover.  For Kristin Hannah’s Winter Garden, I’d say don’t judge a book by it’s first 60 pages.

I was bored.  So very bored.  Nothing in the book was grabbing me.  The only part I got even mildly interested inwas when one of the characters was at a lodge in Livingstone staring at the Zambezi river.  I was only getting through the pages by forcing myself to read a chapter a night before bed, like homework.

Then, something changed.  It took awhile for the characters to develop, for the story to start to come out of the book, but once it did the depth and intricacy were amazing.  I found myself sitting at the breakfast table wishing bedtime would arrive soon.  I couldn’t wait to get back into the story and find out what would come next.

The novel revolves around a small nuclear family somewhere in the northwestern US.  While the two daughters struggle to figure out where their lives are headed, they also find themselves deeply involved in a quest to understand the mother they never knew although she’s been there their entire lives.

Half everyday modern America, half war-torn Russia, Winter Garden is all human life.  And it’s worth trudging through the first 60 pages to get into the meat of the book and the fabulous ending.

I’m glad I read this book in WI, saves me the shipping cost of sending it to Mommy. Winking smile

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 1st is World Aids Day

It was a hot sunny day, the kind of day common most of the year in Southern Province and especially during Zambia’s hot season.  Stretched out on citenge clothes spread across the hard packed dirt of the yard, hunched over on small wooden stools, we sat together chatting and enjoying the afternoon.  The thatch overhang of the nearby mud brick hut provided welcome shade as a soft breeze rustled through the nearby mulberry tree and made the hot day comfortably pleasant.

It was the time of day for easy tasks, the types of chores that can be done in the half asleep loll of a lazy mid-afternoon, Shelling groundnuts, slicing vegetables for the evening meal, getting maize kernels off the cob.  It was also one of my favorite times of day, sitting together with the wives.  Not just enjoying the beautiful weather, but also enjoying the good company, the chats, the friends.

I couldn’t always keep up.  With the same Tonga imageskills as my four year-old brother, Mazoka, I was lucky to follow any of the conversations.  When the neighbors came over I was particularly lost, imagethey talked so fast.  But the wives, Ba Fare (pronounced Feya) and Ba Joyce, they were wonderful and always tried hard to make sure I was included.  “Mwonwa?” they would ask, “do you understand?”  “Inzya,” I’d answer them.  “Yes.”  Or else just look at them with my brows furrowed and say one of my favorite Tonga words, “ndapyopyongana.”  “I am confused.”

This particular afternoon was more than just the regular small talk; there was news to share.  The second wife had gone to the nearby mission.  I knew little about her.  She lived on her parents’ compound in some nearby village and came infrequently to ours.  When she did come, it seemed it was only to yell at her husband and clean her and her daughter's hut.  She had been sick for a long time, on and off.  Everyone said that was why she lived on her parents’ compound.  I wondered if it wasn’t also because she and her husband (and the other wives) got along so poorly.

But on this day, there was no yelling, no screaming, no strange plastic items launching into the blue sky from the doorway of a small round hut.  Today there was just the quiet voices of Ba Joyce and Ba Fare as they talked about the news.  “She’s gone to the mission.”  “For a workshop?”  Lots of people go to the mission all the time for all sorts of events; it’s the center of activity for many villages across this side of Monze.

“No. She has gone to the hospital at the mission.”  I listened, unsure what it meant, stones of fear piling up in my stomach.  “She has been sick a long time.  She is sick enough now to need to be at the mission.”  “Everyone that goes to the mission hospital is tested.”  She means tested for HIV.

Understanding dawned in my eyes, I could feel them widening, my eyebrows creeping up my forehead.  I’d thought of this before; it would have been hard not to.  At this time, the HIV positive rate in Zambia was 20%, one in every five people.  I’d looked at the statistic and looked at my family.  Wife 1, Wife 2, Wife 3, Wife 4, Husband, 5.  But that was just statistics.  That was just numbers.  This was my family.

I looked at Ba Fare, afraid to ask, afraid to hear the rest.  She looked at back at me, our gazes saying more than words.  Then she laughed a sad half-laugh.  “Tuyakufwa.”  “We are all going to die.” 

We are all going to die.