Sand falls in Saitouki
I had another one of those hugely elaborate adventure dreams again the other night. I've been sad because I haven't had one in several months, or haven't been remembering them anyway. This dream had a title -- it was called "Sand falls in Saitouki", which is my first dream with a title since "The Skyhook Cuts Deeper" a couple years back. I don't know if my subconcious comes up with the title first and then plots the dream around it, or the other way around.
So, I was in charge of this tribe of people in a dying land. The country was a long narrow strip of land, steeply sloped from north (where there was a mountain ridge) to south (where it plunged into the sea), but extending many leagues west to east. The land was dying because it was being buried in sand that kept falling down from the top of the screen. (I think the "top of the screen" was a metaphor for "from nowhere".) Once we were a proud and civilized people, but the rising sand had forced us to abandon our ancestral city on the coast and become nomads. Constantly moving from place to place to stay one step ahead of the sand was rapidly wearing away our layers of civilization. Every place we tried to settle was rapidly buried under sand, and we had to dig ourselves out and move on again. We were becoming desert nomads in order to adapt. It was kinda "Lord of the Flies". What kept us going was the legend of a land far to the east where the sand would not fall, and also where we could get really good fried chicken. The promised land was called Saitouki.
This is a pun, I think, on "Saiyuki" ("Journey to the West"), the massive Chinese folk story. Well, "Saiyuki" is what it's called in Japanese anyway, where "Sai" means "west" and "yuki" means "going". "Journey to the East" would be "Touyuki", but my subconcsious seems to have gotten it wrong and stuck the "tou" in the wrong place.
I remember passing the entrance to a cave, at one point, and I really wanted to explore it, but the sand was piling up so quickly that I realized I would be trapped inside. We kept moving. We had to climb over shifting dunes and pull ourselves up rocky cliffs and keep moving upward and eastward to avoid being buried. It went on for weeks and it was exhausting. And there was no fried chicken to be had anywhere. And every land we came to that was still green and alive, I would say "Surely the sand will not fall here", and then it did, and we were discouraged, and had to keep traveling.
Finally we topped the easternmost peak. The mountain range ended in two spurs, which between them cradled a glorious coastal valley. On the far side was the sea; this was the end of the continent. Sparkling rivers ran through the plain, and there were patches of lush forest and cities with domes and minarets. This must be the land of the fried chicken, I thought, but it is also our last chance, because if it gets buried in sand, we had nowhere further to go. But surely the sand doesn't fall in Saitoki...?
I consulted the Oracle. I don't know if I had to go find her, or if she was just standing around the whole time, but there she was, and she told me that I had jinxed each of the other places I had stopped. By saying "Surely the sand will not fall here" I had made the sand fall. So I had to be all reverse-psychology. I named the land with a word that meant "Sand falls in Saitoki", and then we settled there, and mingled with the natives, and the sand never fell, and we ate the really good fried chicken of legend. The end.
Fall, like leaves in... Fall.
I saw Batman Begins on Sunday. Good movie. On the way out of the theater I saw a dead bat on the sidewalk. How appropriate! Then I went to Phil's house and ate a whole handful of pure MSG crystals. Mmmmm, they taste like meat. Then they made me feel woozy.
The officers of the anime club each got an envelope from "End of the World" containing a rose-seal ring. I am so not kidding. And then we started getting emails from End of the World (firstname.lastname@example.org). After this week's club meeting we had a "duel" for the "rose bride". The "rose bride" is a toy chiuahua. Whoever wins her in the duel can make her walk forward and bark by pushing the buttons. The "duel" is basically Family Fued with Utena-trivia-based questions sent to us by, once again, End of the World. Everybody si getting really into it. Now there is talk of sewing a tiny Anthy-type costume for the "Rose Bride". I am not making any of this up. Nobody knows yet who End of the World is, and nobody has admitted to it.
Halloween snuck up on my this year. I used to always make huge elaborate plans for Halloween and start my costume a month in advance, but lately my creativity has been going into Warhammer, and drawing comics, and planning next year's Acen skit. I've got an idea for a cool costume I can do fairly quickly, though.
Chicago is cool. I've done more exploration of the city in the past couple of months than in the years before that. Horay for public transportation! I'm going to explain the L system now for the benefit of people who don't live here. If you do live here, you can skip the next paragraph.
Chicago has a color-coded local train system, collectively called "The L" for "elevated" because the tracks are on platforms above the street. But confusingly, it's still called "The L" even in the places where it runs underground. All the L lines converge and form a rectangular loop in the center of downtown, which is why that area is called "The Loop". The Green Line goes south from the Loop, and has a stop on the west side of Washington Park (which is huge). On the east side of Washington Park is Hyde Park, which is not a park, it's a neighborhood which contains U of C. So hiking through Washington Park to the Green Line is often the quickest way of getting downtown. Problem is, Washington Park as well as everything west of it is The Ghetto, and is said to be quite dangerous, so many students are scared to use the Green Line. I'm usually the only white person on there. But so what? I know plenty of people who were mugged in the supposedly safe region of Hyde Park, and I don't know anybody who was mugged on the Green Line.
Actually, while I'm on the subject of mugging and race, there's something I've been thinking about lately. I don't want to go around being scared of black people. But someone from a lower-class background is much more likely to commit a mugging. And the lower-class people around here are disproportionately black, because of past history, property values, the way the city is laid out, etc. Pretty much the only people around here who aren't black are students and faculty from the university, and they don't have much reason to mug people. So statistically, I'm most likely to be mugged by a black person. Wouldn't it be reckless of me to ignore this fact when considering my personal saftey?
On the other hand, the vast majority of black people are law-abiding and friendly, and plenty of them are from the university, or from middle-class backgrounds. I need a better predictor of who's dangerous. I'm talking game theory here, and Bayesian probability calculations. I've done some reading and found out that the vast, vast majority of violent crime is committed by young, unmarried men from poor neighborhoods. These are the people who feel like they have been abandoned by the system, feel like they have nothing to lose, and feel like they have to prove they're tough. It's the teenage and 20-something boys you have to watch out for. This predates humanity, in fact. It holds true for any pack animal. Their instincts are telling them to leave the pack and set out on their own and compete with other males for territory and mating rights. On the small scale this leads to forming gangs and on the large scale, armies -- all throughout history armies have been recruited mainly from young (and poor) unmarried men, who have the instincts to... I have gotten way off of my original subject, haven't I. I was going to tell you stories about Chicago.
OK, so this one time I was on the Green Line coming home, and a guy stood up and asked for everyone's attention. I thought he was going to beg for money like they usually do, but instead he wanted to collect signatures on his petition. He was running for City Water Reclamation Commissioner, and he needed X number of signatures to get on the ballot. How random. So I asked him, What does the Water Reclamation guy do exactly? What's your plan? Why are you better than the other guy? He talked a bit about taking water samples in the lake, making sure fishermen aren't dumping oil out there, making sure toilet flushes don't end up in our drinking water, etc. "We're trying to get more brothers and sisters into public..." and then he looks at me and realizes I am the only white person on the train "We're trying to get more minorities into public office", he said. It was funny. I like "brothers and sisters" better. All men are brothers, right?
I've heard that the city water department is amazingly corrupt and full of cronyism, so he probably doesn't have a chance of getting elected if he isn't part of the machine. I guess these are the same guys who made the Chicago River flow backwards and who die it green every year, so I wouldn't put anything past them.
Another time I was in Chinatown, and there were big signs celbrating the "National Day of the Republic of China". In case you don't know, Republic of China means Taiwan, whereas People's Republic of China means China. I think what happened is that when the communists took over, the old Chinese government fled to Taiwan and continued to insist that they were still the true government of China. Which evolved into today's situation where Taiwan thinks it's independent, mainland China thinks it isn't, and the truth is somewhere in between. And the way this plays out in the streets of Chinatown is that some stores were proudly flying Taiwanese flags, while others were flying mainland-China flags in silent protest. The New Chinatown Square (with the cubistic zodiac animals all around it) was occupied with a bunch of tents -- some kind of cultural celebration was going on. When I got in there, though, I was surprised and bewildered to find that it was a Latin American cultural celebration. Weird.
Last story for today: I was on campus one drizzly day when I ran into four middle-aged Hispanic women who were lost and looking for directions to "Lasku street". I said I was pretty sure there was no Lasku street around here, but I wanted to help them out so I led them to one of those campus map signs and we all looked at it for a while -- nope, no Lasku street. Maybe it's a building? Nope, no Lasku building. What are you trying to find, anyway? Only one of the four seemed to speak English. She told me that they were looking for work and they had heard from a friend that there were cafeteria jobs to be had. At the cafeteria at Lasku. There are at least six different cafeterias on campus, and --oh! Is it possible you heard the name wrong? Maybe it's the cafeteria at the Law School? But it turns out there is no cafeteria at the law school. I pointed the ladies to the administration building where they would hopefully find out where, if anywhere, these job openings were. Later I talked to Maria about it and she said they were probably thinking of the Lab School, which is the experimental middle-and-high-school for smart kids that's attatched to the university. Ohhh! Duhhh.
Friday night Sushu, Maria and I went up to the north side to hear Fetla, our friend Stephen's "post-indy" band. (Yes, "post-indy" is a joke. They don't take themselves nearly that seriously.) Like last time I saw them, the sound mixing was bad -- the guitars were way too loud and I couldn't hear any of the words. They sound much better on the CD of theirs I'm listening too right now. This might just be Fetla's last show, because Stephen is moving to Osaka to be with his girlfriend Helena, who is on the JET program.
Ha ha ha, this song here is about having a crush on Pamela Anderson -- "Not the one from Baywatch but the one from my chemistry class".
Before Fetla there was an interminable sequence of boring acts. There was a girl playing the keyboard, with guys on drum and bass as backup, and instrumentally they sounded pretty good, but she was trying much too hard to sing like Tori Amos, and that ruined everything. The world only needs one Tori Amos, if that many.
The show was at a bar. I hate bars. I always forget how much I hate them, and every couple of months I'll go to some event or other with my friends that ends up inside a bar, and I am reminded why they put me in such a foul mood. It's like being trapped in a small dark box full of cigarette smoke and noise. The ceaseless jibber-jabber drowns out attempts at conversation, but as the night wears on and my companions drink more and more they get less and less interesting to talk to anyway.
But the bar was within walking distance of Chicago Comics. Yaaayy! I got a book called "Persepolis" which is an autobiographical comic about a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, 1979-1980. This follows on the heels of "Palestine", a massive non-fiction comic by Joe Sacco about his time there. It's cool because he doesn't have a political axe to grind: he's just reporting what he sees and telling the stories of the people he interviews. You should read both of these. You can get a much better understanding of the reality of life in the Islamic world this way than by any quantity of mainstream media. The comics medium works for this because it's personal, it's immediate, and it's relatively underground. Comics can put you in the author's shoes like nothing else I know.
Other good comics I've read lately include "Sandman: Endless Nights" (I had a dream where Neil Gaiman turned into a caiman, as in the South American reptile Caiman Crocodilus, as in a bad pun from my subconscious, and tried to bite my toes.) And "It's a Bird", by I forget who since I have already returned the book to its owner. It's a story about a comics writer who is asked to write for Superman, a character he has no interest in -- his family troubles are counterpointed by his savage deconstruction of the whole Superman myth.
So, in summary: Comics good, bars bad, rock + roll good, Tori Amos bad.
You can't take the Pine Sol from me
So, so much to talk about in the past couple of weeks. Life continues to surprise.
Last night Jeremy had a Firefly marathon. Firefly is this short-lived cult-following western-flavored sci-fi show, written by the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" guy. It has gotten a lot of buzz lately, since the movie ("Serenity") just came out. There were only 15 episodes made before the station axed the show. The station had aired the episodes out of order, guaranteeing that nobody would be able to follow the plot and that it wouldn't become popular.
I didn't like it much the first time I saw it. My reaction was the same as to Cowboy Bebop: OK, this is a very competently done show, and the music is cool, and there are nice touches about it, but there isn't any character or plot point that reaches out and grabs me.
But with everybody ranting about the movie, I felt left out, so I decided to give it a second chance. Jeremy basically offered to tie me down and make me watch every episode over and over until I start to appreciate them. At the marathon I got to actually see the first episode first (like the people watching it on TV, I started in the middle) and it does work a lot better that way. You need the first episode to introduce who the characters are and why you should care about them before the rest of the series means anything. So yeah, it's growing on me. (I remember now, I didn't like Farscape either until I started it from the beginning.)
"If the Reavers catch us", says Zoe matter-of-factly, "they will rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skin into their clothes. And if we're lucky, they'll do it in that order." This line has been spooking me. It's extra-scary since you never actually get to see a Reaver. Also, I'm wondering about the rape-to-death part. It sounds like that would take a really long time. Maybe that's the point. Also it makes you wonder how the reavers reproduce among themselves if that's their MO. Brrrrrr.
During this marathon, I did an experiment with Pine Sol. A while back, I won a bunch of Warhammer models for cheap on eBay. What seems to happen a lot is that someone buys an army, starts painting it, then gets bored or decides he hates painting, and sells the whole thing, so you see lots of armies on eBay with like two guys half-painted. Anyway, I got some models with atrocious color schemes. One guy thought it was a good idea to paint a tank red, black, yellow, green, and purple, and then glue glitter all over it. Yes. That glitter will really intimidate the enemy. So, I did some research, and the best ways to remove acrylic paints from plastic models are Pine Sol and, oddly enough, brake fluid. Pine Sol is cheaper, so I left the tank and other dudes in a bowl of it for a couple hours while watching Firefly.
The results were gross and cool! The paint turns into a slimy film that falls away like the skin of an overripe plum. A little scrubbing with an old toothbrush and the models are plain plastic grey again, ready to recieve a more sensible color scheme.
If you try this, I recommend you wear gloves. Too much contact with undiluted Pine Sol has left the skin of my hands dry and wrinkly, even 12 hours later. It's like a preview of what my hands will feel like when I'm old.
Last night was also the going-away party for Michael, a friend from Aikido club. This week he defended his physics dissertation successfully and gets a Dr. in front of his name. Congratulations! He'll be moving away to Maryland to work for the NIH. I hope he'll find a way to make rats superintelligent and they'll create a miniature utopia under a rose bush. That would rock. OK, yeah, that was NIMH, but I can dream, can't I? He got married this summer, too, in a Shinto ceremony in Idaho, so congratulations for that too. I'm gonna miss him a lot! His blog is here.