Never leave your wallet on the CTA!
I left my wallet on the train on Thursday. This was a very bad thing. It's pretty much the worst thing I could have lost, in the worst place I could have lost it. It only contained about 6 dollars (mixed in with huge wad of useless reciepts which I always save for some pathological reason), but it also contained my bank card (gasp!) and my state ID card (shock!) and my CTA card (zounds!) and my social security card (what was I carrying that around for?) and my University of Chicago student ID card (don't need that anymore!) and my Official Mystery Science Theater 3000 Fan Club Membership Card.
Also in my wallet was a little pink ceramic frog which was given to me by Watanabe-sensei of the Kamaishi Kyouikujimusho. Carrying frogs in your wallet is a Japanese tradition based on a pun, because frog is "kaeru" which is also the verb "to return" so it will supposedly make money "return" to your wallet. Grr. I hate being absent-minded. It really is like a curse. The thing is, I can look back and analyze the exact thought process, or lack thereof, which led to me losing it. I got to the Red Line station Thursday morning, wearing my backpack and carrying my aikido weapons over my shoulder, with the bag of gear hanging off the weapons, because and as I got off the bus I saw the train pulling up below, so I ran and ran and pulled out my wallet while running to swipe the card through at the gate. I still had my wallet out in one hand as I ran down the stairs and jumped through the doors on the last car of the train just before they closed. Then I put my wallet down on a seat, put my gear and swords and backpack on the seat on top of it, and sat down next to it. Then I took out my computer and started working. Then I hear "This is Jackson. Transfer to Blue Line trains at Jackson" so I stuffed my computer back in my backpack, stood up and grabbed all my stuff just in time to run out the door. Yup. That is the exact moment when my wallet got left on the seat. Bad Jono. Baaaad.
Should have looked behind me, should have put it back in my wallet right away, should have gotten ready to change trains a little earlier. I actually have a chain on my wallet which is made for clipping onto a belt buckle, and I usually have it so clipped. (Once, in a train station bathroom far from home in rural Japan, the chain saved my wallet from falling down a pit toilet. I had my wallet out because I was using receipts to wipe with, there being no toilet paper dispensers in rural Japanese train station bathrooms.)
But Thursday morning, I made the mistake of changing my pants as I do every week or so, which means transferring all my cool stuff from one set of pockets to another. So the wallet was not clipped on to the new pants.
So, these were the thoughts that I dwelt on after I got to work that day and realized what I had done. They helped me to keep my mind off of the idea that somebody who found the wallet could have right then been stealing my identity, clearing out my bank account, taking out loans in my name, committing crimes in my name, impersonating me to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Fan Club... who knows what. Maybe even getting free bubble tea at the Tea Leaf Cafe in Chinatown using the buy-10-get-one-free card that I had laboriously almost filled up. That bastard!
I called Chase/Bank One immediately to have them cancel my ATM/debit card immediately and order a new one. I'm used to dealing with crummy customer service, so I was very impressed with Chase when I was quickly connected to a friendly and helpful dude, who knew exactly what to do, and even told me other things I could do to protect myself, like notifying credit bureaus. I wish I got that guy's name so I could call his boss and praise him.
Dealing with the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) was more of a mixed bag. They answered my emails right away, which was impressive, but their phone service sucks. I was trying to do two things: find Lost-and-Found so I could see if anybody had turned the wallet in, and get my CTA card canceled and replaced. When I lost the wallet I was going north and so I expected that it would end up at Howard, the northernmost terminal. But every time the CTA system connected me to Howard, I would get this series of weird relay clicks and then... "If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try again.". This happened like five times. Whether it was a person, a touch-tone robot, or a voice-recognition robot that connected me to Howard, I always got disconnected immediately. I am imagining that where the phone line goes into the Howard station there are probably just two naked wires sticking out of the wall and dangling in midair, maybe sending out sparks periodically, because somebody must have stolen their telephone.
Anyway I then got an email out of the blue from Mom, saying she had gotten a call from the lost and found at the 95th street station (at the south end of the red line). That makes sense since the only phone number on any card in my wallet was an old one from when I still lived with Mom.
So, lucky me, somebody found it and turned it in, my faith in the goodness of humanity gets a huge boost, etc. After work I rode all the way down to the 95th street stop, which is a bad part of town. The lost-and-found there is through a series of unlabeled doors in the back of the station next to a Dunkin' Donuts. It's fairly obscure.
They didn't have it.
They didn't have any record of anything belonging to Jonathan DiCarlo ever having been there.
Well then... um... I see. Now what?
I began to wonder if maybe, after somebody turned it in, a CTA employee had stolen the wallet right out of the lost and found. Faith in goodness of humanity gone! There could be a CTA employee riding the CTA using MY CTA card. The irony!
At this point, I had exactly three quarters left in my pocket. (I had borrowed two dollars to ride home from work, but that was now gone of course.) I had had five earlier when I was doing laundry, but I had given two of them to homeless people. I also had a used, and probably expired, CTA transfer card. Hmmm, it's like a puzzle game. I used two of the quarters to call Jeremy to ask for a ride, but he was in Second City and I just got his cell-hone answering machine. No good. I tried to use the transfer card to get back on the train, but the machine didn't like it. Lucky for me the CTA lady opened the gate and waved me through.
Back on the Red Line going north, another homeless man came and sat next to me and started giving me his whole sob story, and I interrupted him and said "Look, man, you picked the wroooooong day to ask me that. Under normal circumstances I might help you out, but I lost my wallet today, I was down at 95th looking for it but they don't have it, I am as broke as you are, and I don't even know if I'm gonna be able to get home.". When he heard that, suddenly it's like we were brothers. We shook hands, he said his name was Joshua, he asked me about aikido (between my weapons that I was still carrying, my topknot hairdo, and my U of C Aikido Club T-shirt, I was Very Obviously A Martial Arts Guy), he told me about his father who was a third-degree karate black belt, and one time when he was 9 years old some bum who was asking his father for money spazzed out and accidentally hit 9-year-old Joshua, and his dad went nuts and started beating this guy to a pulp on the sidewalk, and they had to go to the police station... it was quite a story. Joshua's dad died two years ago in a car accident, he said. We got back to my stop and I said good-bye. He said I was alright guy and I was gonna go far in life. I told him I hope life treats him better tomorrow than it did today.
So, then I was at the 55th street Red Line station, where I always wait for the bus. Since I had only one quarter and a used, probably expired transfer card, it seemed like my only options would be
- Walk back alone at night through Washington Park -- and that's a BAAAAAAD IDEEEEAAA, I had no wallet but somebody could mug me and steal my laptop, and a bokken isn't much good against a gun.
- Beg for money from strangers at the bus stop.
See, there have been times before when I've been at the bus stop and somebody has given me a whole elaborate sob story about how they got stranded and just need one more dollar to get home. More than once, I gave the guy a dollar, and then when the bus came I watched him not get on it. Look, I'm willing to help out a person in trouble, but don't lie to me about it. That really gets my goat. Grrr. So anyway, if I had tried to give a sob story about how I was stranded and just needed two dollars to get home, people would probably not believe me even though it's true.
While I was thinking about this, guess what happens? Another bum comes up to me and starts giving me the exact same line I just described. Once again, I interrupted him and said "Look, man, you picked the wroooooong day to ask me that. Under normal circumstances I might help you out, but I lost my wallet today, I am as broke as you are, and I don't even know if I'm gonna be able to get on this bus." And then, once again, suddenly it's like we were brothers. I guess it's the cameraderie of the destitute. He said he had seen me before, swinging that sword around when I was practicing in the park. So, we wished each other luck, and then the bus pulled up. I got on, thinking maybe I could convince the driver to let me on somehow, and put my used transfer card in the slot. The red LCD display lit up: "Please insert 25 more cents". If you remember, I had exactly that one quarter in my pocket that I hadn't given to anybody. Wow.
The next day, I made a bunch of phone calls, and found out that the lost-and-found manager, "Beverly", was keeping my wallet safe with her instead of putting it in the general lost-and-found area. Maybe she didn't trust the other CTA employees not to steal it. So I just had to keep calling the lost-and-found and asking for Beverly, until Monday morning when she was finally in. I went down to 95th once again and, finally, my wallet was coming back to me, wrapped in tags and rubber bands. I thanked her effusively (I started bowing before I remembered we don't do that in America) and got back on the train to go to work.
I am just ecstatic right now, that I was lucky enough to get it back, that some person was good enough to turn the wallet in after finding it. The funny thing is that I am no better off now than I would have been if I had simply not lost the wallet in the first place, but I'm a lot happier than I would have been if I had not lost it. Maybe the lesson is that happiness is not a function of actual well-being but of the perceived change of well-being over time. The first derivative. Or maybe it's like the sum total of all the positive changes you have to be happy about. The integral of the first derivative -- no wait, that just gives you the function again. Anyway, it's better to go through some rough spots and then feel good when you get out of them than it is to just coast on the level.
Epilogue: On the train to work that day, there was yet another homeless guy, one I recognize, because he always comes through each car and gives the same spiel. It's an entertaining spiel. "Hey, good morning, brothers and sisters, sorry to bother y'all, but listen to me for a second. I'm homeless and I'm trying to get a dollar to get something to eat. Now how am I gonna get a dollar you ask? Well I figure if four people each give me a quarter, then I got a dollar, and that's somethin.
If you ain't got it, I understand, cuz I ain't got it, knowhaI'm sayin? But if you're feeling like life has blessed you and you wanna bless somebody else, then you can spare a quarter to help me out. Cuz life is funny, you can start out rich and end up poor, start out poor and end up rich. Well, some places you start out poor you're for sure gonna end up poor, but in America at least you've always got the chance that somethin's gonna change. You never know, you could be begging tomorrow. So, anyway, who's willing to help a brother out with a quarter?" I fish out a quarter and wave it in the air. "Hey, I know you", he says, "You gave me a quarter once before too, didn't you? You're the guy with the -- what is that hairdo supposed to be, you like the Shogun or something, right?"
Acen 2006 And What It Taught Me About Myself
A Very Long And Soul-Searching Convention Report
I didn't get one good night's sleep during the week before the convention, because I was staying up late working on my costume and rehearsing our skit and editing the soundtrack for our skit. Thursday night I got maybe 3 hours of sleep, then had a full day of work, then went on a long grocery shopping expedition to get okonomiyaki and onigiri ingredients. Then came carrying many armloads of crap up to the 10th floor hotel room. So by that point I was dead tired, grumpy, and not in the mood to enjoy anything. The hotel room was a party atmosphere but all I wanted to do was sleep. I say this by way of apologizing for my grouchiness. I don't remember too clearly but I think that before I passed out on the bed I snapped at a couple of people who I really shouldn't have snapped at. If this was you, I'm sorry.
The group from University of Chicago was 35 people! Transporting us, our costumes and props, our clothes and toiltetries for the weekend, our food, and our cooking supplies, to the hotel, and getting rooms for all of us, and registering our skits with the masquerade people, and then getting everything cleaned up again and checking out and transporting everybody and all the stuff home: That was inherently a logistical nightmare. Many kudos to Sushu for pulling it off with style (she printed out sheets of who was sharing a room with who, and everybody's contact info) and for keeping everybody from killing each other!
Acen itself is also inherently a logistical nightmare. (So us going there as a group is a logistical nightmare within a logistical nightmare.) Acen has grown to almost 10,000 attendees who all descend on the hotel and convention center for a weekend. Events have to be organized, schedules prepared, guest celebrities flown in, dealers signed up, registration taken, hotel staff negotiated with, and so on and so on. There is a nonprofit organization called MAPS (Midwest Anime Promotion Society) which exists solely to make this one weekend happen, and it keeps them busy for most of the rest of the year.
Now that I've been a part of organizing a small one-day anime convention (Uchicon) at the U of C for two years, I have some appreciation of the massive amount of volunteer labor that must go into ACEN, and for the skills and patience of the people who run the masquerade every year and put up with our insane skit ideas and our last-minute changes and stuff. Every year they get better and better at what they do. This time they had a secondary badge for registered masquerade participants, which solved the problem of knowing who should be allowed into the Green Room.
Anyway, the ACEN people are so cool that I am seriously thinking of volunteering to help staff the con next year. The thing is, I'm not actually all that into anime for its own sake anymore. If somebody else puts it on the TV I'll watch it, but I don't go seeking it out. Most new series don't interest me, and even for the few that do, I feel no need to obsess over them or to watch every single episode. I'm old and jaded. But I still love cosplay and the con experience and hanging out with cool weird people and seeing the insane costumes that other people come up with. So staffing the con might be the thing for me.
My single biggest complaint about the logistics of Acen: the hotel really needs more elevators. There are only four. Our hotel room was on the tenth floor, the events were on the first and second, and I ended up taking those nine flights of stairs many, many times because it was faster than competing with the big clump of waiting cosplayers. At more than one point there was a huge traffic jam because the hotel staff had to commandeer the escalators and one elevator to bring somebody who was having a medical emergency down to street level. The elevator problem was exacerbated by this huge bar that we had as a stage setting for one of our skits. More on that later.
Oh, we usually share the convention center with some boring convention. We avoid stepping on each other's toes but it makes an interesting contrast. Like last year there was an Optometrists' convention. This time it was the Powder And Bulk Materials Expo, an industrial trade show which sounds like it must be the most boring thing on earth. Just imagine if you were a manager at some powder factory and this show was like the high point of your year. Scary thought.
The show is not in the showing rooms, the show is in the hallways.
I have this sorta love-hate relationship with american anime fandom. I love that the fandom is approximately 50% female, unlike American comic-book/sci-fi/RPG fandom where the gender ratio is still skewed. I love their passion, I love how crazy these people are and the amount of work they put into their costumes and their fanfictions and the way they chase after and hunt down their entertainment instead of just watching whatever's on TV.
But when they look back on their lives, this thing that they have poured all their energy into is, still, after all, a commercial, mass-marketed product. It's a passive form of entertainment. They're putting their energy into somebody else's creation instead of creating something of their own.
The anime fans I respect are the ones for whom anime was a gateway to something more worthwhile, like learning Japanese, or making their own comics, or their own animation, or learning to sew kimonos, or something. The people who discover that making is infinitely healthier and more fulfilling than watching.
But they will constantly be replaced by the influx of sparkly-eyed newbies for whom the cliches of anime are still fresh and exciting. I envy the fun these people are having, even as I roll my eyes at the stupid stuff they say. Like when a Vincent (FF7) cosplayer walked past and these two girls went "Vincent-san! Wai, wai!" Their bad and childish Japanese ("wai" is not even a real word, it's like a literal reading of a manga sound effect) is not as annoying as the affectation of it, like affecting a fake British accent or something. I know because I used to do the exact same thing myself.
Trends In Fandom:
Costumes that remain popular year after year include characters from Mario, Zelda, and Final Fantasy games,
and always, always, Vash the Stampede. Vash is a perennial favorite and if you counted the total number of costumes
over all the years that Acen has been running, Vash just might be the most popular cosplay of all time. Not hard to see
why. He's a character who everybody loves from a show who everybody loves, and his costume is cool and highly
distinctive. Even women like to dress up as Vash.
Hentai is mainstream now. I saw a car in the parking garage
had "I <3 TENTACLES" painted across the windows. It's no longer "you
look at hentai eewwww", now it's "Oh what kind of hentai do you
like?" It's quite clearly labeled in the dealer's room, and it's
advertised openly but tastefully. A very popular item for sale lately
is the "Yaoi Paddle", a wooden paddle proudly bearing the word "YAOI",
sometimes "SEME" and "UKE" on opposite sides (if you don't know what
"uke" and "seme" mean... don't ask.) Lots of people were carrying
these around. I met one guy who was collecting signatures on his yaoi
paddle of people who submitted to being spanked with it. He was in a
contest with a girl he knew to see who could collect more signatures.
There is also a "YURI" paddle.
More and more people are brining their kids to the con. There is a generation of anime fans who are now beginning to raise their kids as anime fans. I wonder if the kids will later rebel and become, like, huge Disney fans just to make their parents mad. There was a whole track of children's programming at the con. I saw all sorts of intergenerational cosplay -- like a teenage girl dressed up as that devil girl from Disgaea, with her 40-year old dad as her blue penguin sidekick, doing a skit together. Man. Talk about a cool dad. I hope I am that cool when I'm his age. I wonder what will happen when this trend and the previous trend collide. "Mommy what does YAOI mean?"
There were SO MANY KINGODM HEARTS costumes!!! What the heck? Every way you looked you saw those silly keyblades. Last year it was FFx2. There were like hundreds of FFx2 cosplayers. I think every job of every character was represented. I see why that game is a cosplayer's dream come true, since it's basically "barbie j-pop-star dress-up" disguised as an RPG.
Full Metal Alchemist, Bleach, Naruto. Super-popular new shows I've never seen. And I don't really intend to. (Maybe this is shallow of me, but seriously, what kind of stupid name for an anime is "Bleach"? Is it a story about a laundromat or something? And "Full Metal Alchemist"? Is that what you get when you cross Stanley Kubrick with Albertus Magnus? At least I know what "Naruto" means -- it's that pink spirally fish-paste thing used as garnish in bowls of ramen -- but it's still a dumb name for a ninja anime.) But because I've never seen these shows, I'm missing out on an awful lot of jokes. That kinda makes me sad. But not sad enough to start watching them.
Here's a practical joke I want to do sometime. Come up with a huge elaborate costume that looks like an anime character, and then make up some plausible sounding name for a character and a show which doesn't really exist. So when people ask me what my costume is, I would tell them it's character X from show Y of course. What? You've never heard of it? It just started playing on japanese TV last week, you must be behind the times. Come up with a plot synopsis that makes it sound like the most incredibly awesome show ever. See if I can start an urban legend about this amazing show that nobody has seen.
Costumes I Was Impressed With
Then there was our very own Cat as Maromi from Paranoia Agent which doesn't count for the above list because I helped to make it. Well, I made the infrastructure for the head, Cat did the sewing and everything else. Inside that huge scary pink head there is a bicycle helmet attatched to a latticework of aluminum tubing held together with zip ties and covered with insulation foam. We're all proud of how this came out. Here's some pictures of Maromi from the cartoon show along with a good review of Paranoia Agent (the best new anime I've seen in years).
There was also Guy with huge foldable gun, I think he's from Trigun or something. He had a great idea making his huge gun foldable. That way he avoids inconveniencing anybody when he's carrying it around but he can unfold it to pose for pictures. He's obeying the letter and the spirit of the "4-foot rule" while also remaining true to the character design. That's called being a good congoing citizen, folks.
Sushu made a lovely Kenshin costume over the course of like two days with her amazing speed-sewing skills. This was to be part of the Pretend Robot Pants skit. Aza wore it and got mobbed by fangirls. We were both surprised by this. We thought that Kenshin cosplay must be totally overdone and boring and played out by this point and people would be like "bah, another Kenshin, why don't you try being creative". Nope. MOBBED BY FANGIRLS. Had to pose for pictures every five minutes. He had all these 14-year-olds asking him for his phone number. It reminded me of teaching junior high in Japan. My favorite phrase for situations like that is "juunen hayai" which is a bit of samurai-movie stock dialogue meaning "[you are] ten years too early [to be able to defeat me]". I did not see a single other Kenshin cosplayer at the con. I guess Kenshin is so old and played out that he was ready for a comeback!
I tried to like the Rurouni Kenshin anime. I really tried. The Meiji restoration is such a cool time period, rife with possibilities for nifty historical drama. And it has a really strong central character. And it had good animation and a sense of style. I remember renting episodes of it from the Japanese video store and watching them with a translated script from the internet. I remember getting about five episodes in and then realizing that it had already turned into a boring fight-of-the-week-against-villian-with-stupid-gimmick show, and there were no signs of anything else happening, so I gave up watching it. Some fans told me that I need to watch the Kyoto arc, or the OAV series. Well, I saw the OAV series and here's my impression of it:
The moon is pretty!
STAB KILL BLOOD SPLATTER
The freshly fallen snow is pretty!
SLASH STAB BEHEADING MORE BLOOD
The falling maple leaves gracefully alight on the still pond and are pretty!
BLOOD BLOOD DISEMBOWLING STAB CUT POKE SLASH BLOOD
repeat for four episodes with a brief interlude about shacking up in an abandoned farmhouse
OK, so it was all artistic and stuff, whatever. It was boring. OK, I get it, I get it, every single character
gets chopped up with swords, how much longer does this thing go on?
So, I failed to become a Kenshin fan. Aza suggested that you have to
encounter it at the right point in the course of your Anime Fandom
Arc, as he and Sushu did. I understand. When I was at the beginning
of my Anime Fandom Arc I would watch anything. I was an overzealous
Sailor Moon fan for crying out loud. But now I am at the end of my
Anime Fandom Arc and 99% of anime shows make no impression on me.
Something has to be really oustandingly original and good to catch my
interest these days.
Wanna Try Some Okonomiyaki?
So in previous years I made onigiri for my friends as a way to combat the Con Hunger caused by lack of access to sources of real, non-Pocky food during the convention. This year I decided to go one better and make my specialty, okonomiyaki. I stocked up on ingredients at Mitsuwa and brought an electric hot plate to the hotel room to cook.
Wait, it gets better: I cosplayed as Ukyo from Ranma 1/2, who is an okonomiyaki chef in the cartoon. I sewed a two-layer kimono and painted kanji all over it (Satomi helped with that!) and made a huge 4-foot spatula and a rambo-style bandolier for normal-sized spatulas. Turns out the costume is extremely comfortable and practical for cooking in. And when I was done I stuck the dirty spatulae back into the bandolier, and the fact that they were dirty was part of the costume. In-character cooking.
Cat Nagle brought another electric hot plate and made pancakes and bacon for everybody in the morning. Aza brought a rice cooker and made onigiri. There was also instant ramen and PBJs. So all things considered we had a ton of food. We're still eating leftovers. Next time you go to a con you should do this. Ask the hotel for a room with a minifridge. It improves the experience immensely when you don't have to leave the convention to get food.
We had so much leftover okonomiyaki after lunch on Saturday that I decided to give it away to random strangers. This is an idea I've been toying with for a couple of years, and I finally got to do it. Chopped the okonomiyaki into bite-sized pieces, stuck toothpicks in them, put them on a makeshift tray, and carried them around the con offering them to everybody. Good times! Reactions ranged from "What the heck is this are you trying to poison me?" to "Oh my god that's really good thank you so much!"
I went to Artist's Alley and gave okonomiyaki to the people there, like webcomic artist Dirk Tiede. I've met him before at Uchicon, he is cool. The artists in the alley were more appreciative than the general public, maybe because they are stuck in booths all day and can't go back to their hotel room for ramen and PBJs any time they want, so they think that people bringing them food is a great idea.
Almost nobody recognized Ukyo. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since she's a secondary character from an older show. And I'm the wrong gender. A few people knew me after I dropped the name.
One person asked me if I was trying to be John Belushi as the samurai delicatessen clerk from Saturday Night Live. What huh?
Oh man am I sick of explaining what okonomiyaki is, over and over. It's not a well-known thing like sushi or tempura, it has no Western equivalent for comparison, and I don't even know of a concise way to describe it. I wish okonomiyaki would catch on and become popular in America just so I wouldn't have to keep explaining it all the time!
One girl was so happy about the gift of free okonomiyaki that she glomped me. Normal social rules of behavior are suspended at anime conventions, apparently, because people think it's OK to just go up and hug random strangers.
"Glomping" is named for the sound effect "GLOMP" used in some translated manga to represent the action of hugging someone by surprise. It happens all the time at anime cons. Some people wear shirts that say "GLOMP ME" even. (One could probably write an essay connecting the glomping phenomenon to anime themes of gender confusion and sexual repression and the kind of romantically confused individuals that the fandom attracts.) Glomping is generally harmless (it is meant to be friendly, not sexual) but I would just like to remind congoers that not everybody is comfortable with having their personal space violated, especially as the fandom expands into the mainstream. I understand now how women feel when strange guys come up and start hitting on them.
It would probably behoove the fandom to create an "opt-out", some easily-recognized symbol that means "no glomping". Something like the handkerchief codes the gay community used to have. Let's implement this before somebody gets sued for sexual harrassment. That would make me a sad panda. Hey, has anybody done a sexual harrassment panda cosplay yet? Dress up as a panda and go around telling ppeople at the con why they shouldn't glomp people without permission?
Tsushimamire and Corny Music
Tsushimamire is an obscure Japanese indie punk-rock band, three women, who played
a concert at ACEN. I didn't get to go to it because I was being Ukyo and
distributing okonomiyaki at the time. But later I met them and got their CD
and they signed it and everything.
I'm listening to Tsushimamire now, and maaaaan, I wish I had gone to
that conert. They are kind of like Shonen Knife but with way more
musical skillz. They are on Benten records, a Japanese indie label
specializing in girlie punk rock and named after the goddess of music.
Come to think of it, I actually downloaded one of their MP3s a couple
years ago when I was browsing Benten's
website and I wanted to buy the album but back then they didn't
take paypal so you have to write them an international money order
which is all inconvenient and stuff. Uhh, that was kind of a tangent
but anyway Tsushimamire is good and you should listen to them.
Tsushimamire is not corny. But I realized, on the way to the con, when listening to Kyu Sakamoto, that there is a common thread uniting the majority of my eclectic musical preferences, and that thread is corniness. I like really corny music. ABBA, Rush, Kansas, Yes, Styx, Queen, Frank Sinatra, Genesis, Kyu Sakamoto, Renaissance, swanky old jazz crooner tunes, lounge-lizard singing, showtunes, japanese enka, prog-rock, psychedelic rock, jazz-rock fusion, '80s synth-pop, Motown, anime theme songs from the 70s, Bollywood scores, funk, disco, the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, Simon and Garfunkel, and so on and so forth. They are all corny and I love them and I'm not going to apologize for it.
I am not one of the cool kids, with their "cool" genres of music, like rap, punk, metal, grunge, alternative, emo, and goth. These are all the genres I don't like. The cool kids are probably cringing with horror after reading the list of corny music in the preceeding paragraph. That's, like, stuff that their parents used to listen to, ewww. It seems to me that the entire driving force behind certain musical genres is "don't sound like your parent's music". Driven by rebellion above all, the cool genres avoid corniness like it's anathema.
(Do you know where the word "anathema" comes from? It's originally greek meaning an offering to the gods; in Greek translations of the Old Testament it was used to translate the Hebrew word "haram" which means something sacrificed to god which is therefore off-limits to the community; "haram" was also used to mean the extermination of idolotrous nations, i.e. anybody the Hebrews didn't like, because they were making those nations a sacrifice to their god. By association with the Hebrew, "anathema" gradually took on this meaning of "off-limits" or "extermination", quite different from its original meaning. In the fourth and fifth centuries "anathema" became the name of a ceremony the Catholic Church used to do, even more severe than excommunication, to banish heretics from the church. There's your trivia fact for the day.)
So many people from anime club have dated other people from anime club that there is a running joke about "animecest" (by analogy with "house-cest", referring to people dating people from the same "house" in the U of C dormitory system). If you actually dug up everybody's personal histories and drew a chart, you might find that nearly everybody in anime club is connected to everybody else via a chain of prior relationships.
I am no exception. At one point, during the convention, I looked around and realized that every person I've ever kissed or snuggled with was all in the same room (except Isaac, he wasn't there, but he doesn't count because the snuggling wasn't exactly consensual on his part). I am happy to say that I am still good friends with all these people. The breakups were all amicable. It could be a lot worse.
This got me thinking. Over the past few months I have given this "relationship" thing a few tries and I have decided that it's not for me. I mean, I used to say that before, but I was speaking from ignorance then. Now I am speaking from experience when I say that I have no interest in dating, sex, romance, etc. I think I just don't relate to people that way. If I like somebody I'd rather just have a good platonic friendship. A relationship is a lot of work, and it's not clear to me what the goals or the benefits are supposed to be. (Yeah, pretty cold of me, I know.) I don't want marriage or kids, and as I have recently discovered after some experimentation, I don't enjoy sex much either. Like, not at all. Also I hate sharing a bed with somebody. I can never sleep like that. It's hot and cramped and sticky and my whole body basically goes WTF THERE IS SOMEBDODY IN MY BED YO and I can't relax.
I do enjoy snuggling. Snuggling is nice, and I will miss it, but snuggling alone is not worth the aggrivation of trying to maintain a relationship.
I'm not looking for sympathy or pity and I don't want to hear anybody telling me "don't worry you'll find the right girl for you someday". No, I really don't think I will. I think romance is just one of those things that I have little or no use for in my life -- like religion, team sports, movies, parties, and TV. (And, as I said above, I am at the point of adding anime and video games to this list.)
This may sound sad, but I feel it's a positive development. The things that I really want to do are too much to squeeze into one lifetime anyway, so if I can cross another major category off of the list, it gives more space for the things that are truly important to me: aikido and electronics and physics and programming and drawing comics and traveling the world and hanging out with friends and family. And RPGs. And making award-winning ACEN skits.
Sweeping the Masquerade
So, the UCJAS (University of Chicago Japanese Animation Society) skit tradition is in its sixth year now. There were three years before I started going to this school when their skits won some prizes. The first year I came here, 2004, UCJAS proper did the infamous Sailor Gendo skit, and because we had too many people to all fit in one skit, we created a spin-off group Pretend Robot Pants, containing me, which did the Pocky-boxes-dancing-Yatta skit (judge's choice award). 2005 UCJAS did Towel Duel for World Revolution and Pretend Robot Pants did Lupin III: the Katamari Caper (first place!). This year UCJAS did Mario and Luigi: What Is Love? Pretend Robot Pants did a skit which has come to be known as Kenshin Matrix.
Our idea, partly inspired by the Matrix Ping-Pong video, was to do a really cool skit, with no dialogue, on the basis of having an extremely well-executed fight scene and a few cool stunts rather than the outrageous humor or musical numbers that most skits tend to go for. We planned it as just a fight between two samurai, and it was only later on that we chose Kenshin ( from Rurouni Kenshin ) and Jin ( from Samurai Champloo, which I haven't seen... man, what kind of dumb made-up word is "Champloo" anyway? ). There are some ninja who lurk in the background and help the samurai to do cool stunts, kind of like in kabuki theater. I was originally going to be one of the samurai, but since I am 1. heavy and 2. decently strong I decided I should be one of the ninjas instead, and have Marcel who is very light be Jin, and have me pick him up.
Every skit has to be presented to the masquerade staff at a special meeting Saturday morning, so the MCs can make sure the skits are following the rules and nobody's going to get naked or get hurt.
I was very worried that the MCs would not approve our skit, because it seemd kind of dangerous what with all the
rapid swordplay and jumping and tumbling and stuff. But we are very professional because we practiced it like a hundred times! So even though we knocked one of the ceiling tiles out during our demonstration, we were still approved. Those MCs are so cool. One more reason I want to volunteer for the staff.
There are certain things that are becoming part of ACEN lore. Like the "Dance" chant, and Stripper Vash. And those guys who dress up as dead presidents with hubcaps around their necks. I don't know what the heck is up with those guys. And the skits put on by UCJAS are becoming part of the lore too. Other skits are actually starting to reference and take influences from us. And I hear tell that this year when the UCJAS skit presented their skit to the masquerade MCs for approval, the MCs were like "Oh my god it's YOU! Nobody else would do something this weird!"
Mwa ha ha ha ha.
While we were waiting for our turn, we watched the stage on the closed-circuit TV in the Green Room.
I forgot how it got started, but between the skits the two MCs started
teasing each other about liking yaoi and the crowd was just eating it
up. "Who wants to write the first slash fiction about these two?"
All sorts of hands shot up in front of the camera. The comedic timing
was perfect. There was also a running joke that we must be on the South
Side since every skit involved stabbing or carjacking or drive-by shooting.
My sister's friend Kristin Stromquist did a very good belly dance (she has been studying it all hard-core lately and developed mad skillz.)
And then there was the skit with the transforming transformer. Sadly, it wasn't very good. There were characters from Saiyuki doing a Backstreet Boys dance, and One-Pound Gospel rendered as a Queen musical, and the Legend of Zelda rendered as interpretive dance, and a really quite well choreographed fistfight between the bald Shinra guy from FF7 and some character I didn't recognize, who obviously had some martial arts training. And the guy who did "Stripper Vash" got together a group and did a very high-quality comedy sketch based on mutliple mistaken identity based on video game character lookalikes. Most attempts to do dialogue-based comedy for Acen skits just flop miserably on stage, but the audience loved these guys and it was all because they had good delivery. There have been so many skits with great ideas which failed because the delivery wasn't good. The Stripper Vash group is one to watch for.
It turns out the masquerade staff is even cooler than I thought. I found out after the fact that roller blades, as used by the UCJAS skit, are so totally against all the hotel rules for insurance reasons that in previous years, people who wanted to rollerskate in their skits had been forced to just glide their feet along and pretend like they were skating and it was totally lame. But this one staff guy, who I think is named Jazz, called all the way up to the guy who owns the CHAIN of Hyatt hotels in order to get special permission just for us to do the roller blades just this once! Because he wanted to see the UCJAS skit in its full roller-blading glory! Wow!
Here is the video of the Pretend Robot Pants skit. (Man, I'm looking at that now, and I totally forgot to put my ninja mask up! How embarrassing.) There are also still pictures starting here. The crowd went wild over this. I've never heard them scream so loud and so long. We got a standing ovation. I was afraid for a second that the stage was going to be attacked by crazed Kenshin fangirls because we dared to have Kenshin lose.
The UCJAS skit was right after us. The gist of it is that Mario and Luigi get dressed up snazzy and go to a bar to hit on chicks, but it turns out to be a lesbian bar. There's a lot more to it than that though. Here is the video of the UCJAS skit. The still pictures start here. They executed it perfectly! All the timing was exactly right, the sound effects happened on cue, the audience laughed in all the right places... it was great! What did I say about the importance of delivery? They got a standing ovation too!
And we both won! We didn't just win, we swept. Pretend Robot Pants got first place and UCJAS got second. U of C dominated ACEN! It will go down in anime club history. When we went out to accept our prizes, Kenshin and Jin did a stage kiss (i.e. no actual lip contact) for the yaoi fans, and we got yet another standing ovation.
Let me tell you about the bar. For the Mario/What is Love skit, we needed some kind of stage setting to indicate that Mario and Luigi were at a bar. Geoff, a first-year in the anime club and a consummate Boy Scout (like, I think he's an Eagle Scout, he's really into it hard-core) volunteered to make us a bar. The thing is he want way overboard and made us this massive, solid, life-sized bar out of wood. It wasn't a prop, it was a real bar that we could have installed in somebody's basement and used to serve drinks for real. He made it with hinges so it could fold up for transport but it was still huge. We had a horrible time getting it up and down between the first floor and the tenth floor where our hotel room was. We had to commandeer the service elevator a few times, something the hotel staffers were not very happy about. That's the main thing I worry about: when we have huge props like that, we're not only inconvenicencing ourselves, we're inconveniencing everybody around us.
The worst part was when we were trying to get The Bar back upstairs after the masquerade was over. This meant we were fighting the post-masquerade crowds to get an elevator. Finally an elevator with space opened up and we bar-carriers yelled out our claim to it. Near the elevator was a girl in a Chii costume, in a wheelchair. I (holding the back end of the bar) yelled out "Let Wheelchair Chii go first!" but Jeremy (holding the front end of the bar) yelled out "No, we have to go now! Move move move!". I should have stood my ground but I gave in to peer pressure and we brought the bar on board the escalator. There was still room for a wheelchair so we thought we could still let her on, but then the doors started closing and we couldn't get to the Door Open button in time and...
OH NO WE STOLE A HANDICAPPED GIRL'S ELEVATOR!
Oh man I feel so bad about this! If I believed in hell I would be worried about going there. They would probably have some suitably ironic punishment, Simpsons-hell-style, where I would be tormented with wheelchairs and elevators for all eternity.
Jeremy said "sometimes when there's extenuating circumstances, you have to be a jerk". OK, maybe, but I don't agree that there were extenuating circumstances. We could have waited another ten mintues for another elevator and nothing bad would have happened.
I wish I had met Wheelchair Chii again so I could have groveled and begged for forgiveness. Anyway, if you should happen to be out there on the internet somewhere reading this page, Wheelchair Chii, please accept my apologies.
Went to Mitsuwa for lunch on the way back on Sunday. Mitsuwa was, as I expected, swarmed with ACEN people who had the same idea as we did.
Aleksa's birthday party was the Sunday of ACEN. I talked Jeremy, Cat, and Sushu into stopping by my parents' house on the way back so we could all say hi -- and because I thought the kids would love seeing Cat in the Maromi costume. I got us a bit lost trying to find my parents' house because I was unaware that La Grange Road is not called La Grange Road north of Roosevelt -- it's called "Manheim Road", so if you're on the Eisenhower Expressway, Manheim is the exit to look for. How confusing. Gradually I am learning my way around Chicagoland, but I am much more familiar with the mass transit than with the highways, for obvious reasons.
Anyway, we got to my parents' house after the party ended, and there were only three kids left, but they did indeed love the Maromi. Cat was pretty tired by that point, so I'm sorry for putting her through the little-kid attack zone. I'm grateful she agreed to it, cuz that's something Aleksa and her friends are going to remember for a long time. I also gave Aleksa a Hamutaro DVD that I picked up at the con.
If you haven't read enough yet, here are links to my friends' LJs where they talk about their ACEN experiences.
Also see this video that Sushu posted a link to: a special on Japanese TV about "Otaku from USA". It's so embarrassing because it's so true.