Saturday, May 26, 2012

I am NOT Planning on Kidnapping Anyone... Really!

I am sorry.  
I should watch what I say.  I should pay attention to how loudly I say it.  I should remember that the people around me might not understand what I'm getting at, since they are not privy to the imaginary world I often live in from whence the things I say come from.  I need to make allowances for this.  
The people that know me understand that my mind is something like a junk jar people keep in their kitchens.  Whenever some stray bolt, or odd "do-hickey" is found that they don't know what to do with but don't want to throw away, they'll drop it in one of those jars.  That's how my brain works.  All the things I hear, see, read and experience are tossed inside my brain where they rattle around, bang up against each other and connect in weird ways that I find appealing.  Give it a good shake, and there is no telling what might pop out of my mouth.  
I am formally admitting, here and now, that there are times, perhaps even most of the time, I should keep a lid on that jar.  Particularly last night.  
In my defense, I was in a particularly odd mood, even for me.  This week at work has been very stressful, with all manner of problems being thrown at me causing me to become short-tempered, lose sleep, and generally come to believe that the rest of humanity has been set upon this planet specifically to plague me.  Friday night, the first night this week I was able to leave the office on time, I had a feeling that a person wrongly accused of a crime might recognize when they are finally exonerated and released.  I got in my car, cranked up my iPod playing through my stereo, and played songs that alternatively sang of liberation or anarchistic destruction.  I was out of "their" world and back into mine.  
This mood was the main ingredient to what happened.  The broth into which the other ingredients were thrown.  After getting a quick bite to eat at home, I drove to a nearby Starbucks in Pasadena to meet other members of my Japanese Culture and Language Exchange.  These were "my" people, if you will.  This was something I wanted to do.  
When I arrived I found Ted and Mitsumi already there.  (I am changing their names, like in the old Dragnet TV show, to protect their innocence).  I joined them and we started to talk.  Mitsumi told us that she was going to be leaving to pick up a new friend of hers.  Another Japanese woman that had come to America to replace a colleague that had gone to work in another state.  She described this person as the "replacement" for her colleague, using the Japanese word, "atogama."  
I fell in love with the word.  Say it out loud with me.  "Ah-to-ga-ma."  It rattled around in my junk-jar brain, bumped into all the Japanese giant monster movies I saw as a kid, and came out as the name of some fearsome robot from outer space, seventy feet tall, smashing its way through Tokyo.  
皆!逃げて!アトガマが来たよ! "Everyone!  Run away!  Atogama is Here!"  I began writing dialogue for the fearful citizens, the erstwhile reporters and the stern scientists come to stop the robot from space.  I went on like that until I learned another new word: "kuchidake."  "Kuchidake" is literally "mouth only" and refers to someone who is all talk and no action.  But in my brain, it rubbed up against Atogama and became a giant mouth, forty feet wide, that devoured planets one bite at a time.  I started writing the sequel to my Japanese monster flick, where Atogama, now the "good guy," defends the Earth against the giant, disembodied mouth-monster, Kuchidake.  Atogama versus Kuchidake.  
It was about this time that Mitsumi left the Starbucks we were at.  She said it was to get her new acquaintance, though I kinda had my doubts.  
But she did return, bringing her colleague's "atogama," Shizuka (another alias) with her.  Other members of our group had joined us by this point.  A couple of tables cleared up inside and we were able to put them together and move back inside out of the cold.  
Another thing you should be aware of is this: I talk loudly.  My voice carries.  I don't usually notice it so I do very little to restrain it.  Maybe it comes from the years I trained and sought a career as an actor, but when I speak I usually project my voice to the far corners of whatever room I happen to be in.  It may surprise some that know me that I think of myself as being something of an introvert.  I don't often talk to strangers or join in conversations spontaneously.  But when I'm with people I know, and I want to talk, I make sure that I'm heard.  
Once inside, the conversation carried on.  Per our standard practice we spoke about various things, occasionally delving into our dictionaries to find the word we wanted to use, or to answer a question from someone learning our native language, and jotting down in our notebooks our answers.  
Another word came to me during this time: 縛り付ける。"Shibaritsukeru."  It's pronounced, "shi-bah-ri-tsu-ke-ru."  It means to tie someone up.  I took a liking to this word right away, too.  
With shibaritsukeru rattling in my head, searching for something to connect to, Mitsumi said, "there are other Japanese people."  
I looked up at her.  "You mean like, in Japan?"  
She gave me an expression that said, "please..." in any language.  "No.  I mean here.  This Starbucks.  Over there."  
I turned to my left and leaned back to look past Ted talking with Shizuka.  I could see an Asian couple, presumably Japanese, sitting at a table close to the bar.  
My new word, shibaritsukeru, clanked into the thought of these two Japanese people I didn't know.  I turned back toward Mitsumi and, "縛り付けた方が良い?” came out of my mouth.  
"Ehhh...?"  Mitsumi's eyes were as wide as saucers at me asking her if she thought we should tie them up.   "Why?" she asked.  
"Well...  You'll be going back to Japan soon, right?"  Her contract is expiring and she'll be returning home.  "We'll need a replacement for you," I got to use my other new word, "atogama" in its intended usage.  "We can tie them up, put them in a safe place, and bring them out to talk with them after you leave."  
Mitsumi snickered.  No, she said.  That wouldn't be a good idea.  
I shrugged.  I could feel shibaritsukeru clanking about in my thoughts, looking for something else to tie itself to, when I noticed the two people we had just been talking about walking across the room.  They were heading toward the door, with the guy in the lead.  
Just as he reached the entrance, the guy pulled open the door and gave me a look that was not very friendly.  
I could feel myself trying to hunker down.  I looked around, but no one else at my group's tables seemed to notice.  During a break in the conversation, I got Mitsumi's attention.
"Those two people left."  
She gave me a thin, snickering little smile.  "I know.  I saw."
"The guy...  He kinda glared at me as he walked out."  
She chuckled.  She wasn't surprised.  She returned to the conversation Mark (another alias) about how to pronounce certain Japanese words.  
So...  Please be assured that is not my habit to tie people up and hold them captive for my own purposes.  
And for those two people that overheard me, if they ever happen to read this: For reminding you of how dangerous, rude and uncivil reality can be (basically doing unto you what it felt like the universe had been doing unto to me) I can only say...
申し訳ございません。I offer my humble apologies.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Welcome to My World: The City of Senovese

Welcome, Good Persons, welcome.  Ah, ah...  Watch your step, now!  The quay is wet and crowded.  You may slip or get jostled and pushed into the water.  This way, this way...  Yes, yes.  After your long journey on such a fine sailing ship, it would be sad to drown just when you reached shore, eh?  In Perfect Truth, it would.  
If I may be so bold, I am called Draco.  And you look like people on important business.  I can assist you, I can, in finding...
Eh?  Say again?  Where are you?  Oh, my!  You're in Senovese!  Both the city AND the republic.  You have been at sea far too long to ask such a question.  
Here, here, look at my hand.  Say it were the Nao Peninsula.  Right here, where it plunges like a dagger into the back of the Middle Ocean, right where the blood would trickle across the width of the blade protruding from the victim's back, that would be the Andamaria river.  And here, on the blade's edge, would be the Republic of Senovese, and the city that gives our realm her name.  
Small?  Small you say?  How can you...?  Oh, oh, oh...  No, no, no, My Lady.  THIS is not Senovese.  This walled fishing village is the Port D'Ocle.  It is the mouth of the city, if you will.  It is where Senovese speaks of fine wine and dyed fabric to the world and were we breathe in the silk and cotton and wool that we turn into clothing to cover the nakedness shaped by the Demi Urge.  
If you look that way, follow the line of the walled causeway, and you can see it sitting on the flanks of Mount Sisesstrus.  The New Wall marks its outer edge.  THAT is the city of Senovese.  Allow me to show you, gentle souls.  You obviously need someone like me.  I, Draco, know all there is to know about the city.  Come, come...  This way.  
The causeway, you can see, is a busy place.  It is like a long, narrow city, almost.  One the width of a well travelled road.  There are many warehouses here, filled with the goods Senovese gives to the world, and those that she takes in.  In between there are shops and businesses that cater to sailors and ship masters that bring their vessels into ports.  Ale houses, and inns.  Money lenders and shipping cartels.  Places to stay the night, either alone or with some purchased company, where the floor doesn't sway and fall along with the tide.  If you're a Dolphin, many of the shops here will give you a discount...
No, Good Sir, Kind Lady.  I meant not that you were an animal, I...  Oh.  You must be a strange to Nao itself.  A "Dolphin," gentle soul, are one of the factions.  Twelve in all.  The same number as the Realms.  They vie with each other for power in the counsel chambers and assemblies in each of the Realms.  More so here in the Republic of Senovese were the prince is chosen by Selection...
You look confused.  It is all very convoluted.  Here, this way.  I know a cartsman we can pay to drive us into the city.  If you would but give me some coins, a silver merchant at the most, I will make the arrangements. Two merchants might be better, just in case...
We've arrived.  This is the Porta Verde, the main gate in the New Wall.  Here the walls of the causeway open up to entangle, like a pair of noodles, with the road that runs north into the farmlands of Senovese and south toward the vineyards and cattle pastures, and the Principality of Naoli beyond.  It is also here that the causeway road turns into the Via Verde.  
You are gawking, My Lord.  The New Wall IS impressive.  Built by startled victors when the Mad King, Duilio Boravella, was cast out.  Built to keep out his powerful nephew, Duke Otto "The Great" Boravella of Media.  And it has worked, too.  Thus far.  Thus far.
Come, come.  There is more inside to see.  Through the gate way we go.
THIS is Via Verde.  This is a city built on commerce and it flows along the Via Verde the way blood flows through your veins.  Look about you.  See you any tenements or hovels?  No.  You see shops and store fronts.  You see businesses of all kinds.  A dizzying array.  So many you may have a hard time finding what you want.  Just tell Draco what you want and I will take you to where you can find it.  
This place, where the Via Verde opens up to our right?  It is the Palazzo.  If the Via Verde is the main artery of the city, then the Palazzo is its heart.  But up ahead we go.  Forward, forward.  We will return to the Palazzo.  No matter which way you go in Senovese, you end up in the Palazzo.  
Just past the Palazzo, we come to the Falcon's Nest.  It is Senovese's banking district.  See...  That is a bank.  That is a chapter house for a merchant cartel.  That is a building that sells assurances...  Assurances?  Forgive Draco's ignorance, but it is a new type of business.  But I know many of the ship masters and traders go in there before they send their vessels and good across the ocean.  Maybe they are some sort of fortune teller, or sorcerers that cast spells of protection.  Draco doesn't know.  But I can go in and ask for you.  I may need a coin or three to grease the palm of them that guard the door...
The name?  Ah, yes!  Of course, it is the Factions again.  The rich and powerful men that own these business are all members of the Falcon Faction.  It is said that trying to find a poor Falcon is like trying to find a flying pig.  Look at the buildings!  Don't they look like a row of wealthy merchants, standing shoulder to shoulder, their windows staring down at us like disapproving eyes?  Let us move on, gentle souls.  Hurry on, now.  
Beyond the Falcon's Nest we find an intersection called the Three-Fingered hand.  
This way heading left, it is the Via Fontebranda.  It leads through to the Porta Fontebranda, the city's north gate.  No, no, no...  Kind people, please, come back, come back...  The Fontebranda is far too rough a place for such good people as yourself.  Rough entertainments can be found there.  Bear pits, whorehouses, theaters and the like.  The orphans' hospital is in the Fontebranda, too.  Strange, that.  Or maybe not so strange, when you think of the number of orphans that are created in the Fontebranda each night.  
Head true on the Via Verde and you reach the Citadel.  It was the old keep of the Mad King, but now is where the Assembly meets to pass our laws.  It is also where you can find the Prado, the great green park that gives the Via Verde its name.  It used to be where the Mad King's soldiers trained.  The Senovese Guard can still be found there.  And close by the Citadel is Manor Boravella, the home of the Boravella family in Senovese.  
Yes, we still have Boravella.  A section of the family returned and gave up their nobility to become one of the "Distinguished Families" of Senovese.  No nobles in Senovese, no.  Their manor is the only one in the Citadel area.  It used to be connected to the Citadel itself, but that causeway was broken up.  They are close together, though, the Citadel and the Boravella manor.  Like two old conspirators leaning their heads together to whisper, they look.  
On the right hand we have the fairer way.  The Via Terzo.  This way we shall go...
See, gentle persons?  Like we're in the countryside, no?  This is the Terzo Cittá.  It is here that the Distinguished Families that replaced our nobles make their homes.  The street becomes more like a gravel covered road, see?  And their manor houses look like tiny villages, separated one from the other like tree covered alleys.  If you look ahead, you can see them climbing higher and higher up the side of old Mount Sisesstrus, which huffs and puffs from his crown as if annoyed by their proud weight on his back.  If you have the means, and the power, to make your home in the Terzo Cittá, then you will live well.  But you had better belong here if you come, especially at night.  They say that the powerful make their own laws, if you take my meaning.  
Let's hurry on then.  This way, good people, this way...
And here we are, back at the Palazzo.  Didn't I tell you all the streets of Senovese lead here?  You can mark it too, from wherever you are in the city.  Just look for the spires of the Cathedral, rising high above all the other buildings.  Like fingers of stone, reaching to the sky to peal back the Veil, and reach beyond the encircling darkness created by the Demi Urge to imprison us, to grasp the hem of the True God's garment of Pure Light.     
Head down that way, the Via Peruzzi, into the southern half of the city, you will find the muscle and sinew of Senovese.  It is there you'll find factories that turn wool into cloth and silk into robes for Distinguished Dons and Sons.  You'll find the thread-makers that bind these cloths together, and the carpenters that build the boxes they are shipped in all across the world. 
Close at hand, though, along the south side of the Palazzo, are the Charter Houses of the factions.  See?  Those buildings draped with colorful banners?  The gray and white of the steady, plodding Ox faction.  The burning red and gold of the proud Lions.  The blue and silver of the Dolphins.  The purple and red of the scheming Wyverns.  Eleven of the twelve can be found there.  The Falcons have their Charter House in the Falcon's nest.  The building we passed with the red and green banners in front, remember it?  
Hmm...  Why is the Palazzo so crowded?  In Perfect Truth, Gentle Person, it is not that crowded.  Senovese is a busy place.  Though tonight...  Ah, then you will see it pressed to the edges with people.  Tonight is Selection Night, you see.  When a new Prince in Senovese will be chosen.
Look there!  On the steps of the Cathedral, see?  Follow my arm past the fountain...  To the right of the fountain, the cauldron there...  Yes.  There.  At noon that cauldron will be filled with oil and wine and the lots collected by the factions from their supporters and set to boiling.  Thirteen hours later, at an hour past midnight, the sorcerer charged to oversee the process will reach into that boiling, burning cauldron and pluck forth one lot.  On its surface will be embossed the sigil of one of the factions.  And its candidate will become our next prince.  
An exciting time?  Yes, yes, it is, it is...  Normally.  Hmm.  Oh, nothing, nothing.  It's just, these days...   Things are...  Different.  
Forgive me, Good Persons, forgive my foolishness.  But you must be tired from your sojourn today.  And hungry, too.  
There.  On the south side of the Palazzo.  The building that resembles the old town house it used to be.  It is the Two Doves inn.  Famous for its fine wine, delicious food and good cheer.  Let us stop there for a time, yes?  I can tell you more about the city as you break your fast.  Maybe even we can wait for the Selection there.  
Don't worry about old Draco, Kind Ones.  I will be fine.  Whatever you feel Draco is worth for his service to you today, will be more than enough for me.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Ongoing Reactions that occur when Certain Ingredients are Combined.

I enjoy cooking.  I find the act of making the food I'm going to eat inherently pleasurable.  
And there is something even more pleasurable about making a meal for someone you care about.  I do not think it is a coincidence that a lot expressions used for someone you love are food related.  "Honey," "Sweetheart," and the act of kissing, where we bring our mouth in contact with another, emphasize the association we mammals have with love and nourishment.  The very first meal we took as children very likely came from our mother's breast.  
My mom is an excellent cook.  I was a very finicky eater as a kid and did not appreciate this very much back then.  My dad often told me that I didn't realize just how good the food was she was putting on our plates when I fussed about something I "Had" to eat.  I do know, though.  
My mom didn't teach me how to cook, but you could say she inspired me to do so.  It happened when I was about 13 years old.  
It was shortly after the birth of my youngest sister.  My mom took a couple months off from her job as a nurses' assistant to have my sister and take care of her.  During that time she also trained me, my brother and other sister in how to help her take care of the baby.  She then started to go back to work on a part-time basis and doing relief stints for the other employees.  
One day, as I came walking down the stairs, I saw mom gathering her stuff in the living room.  She was dressed in her nurse whites.  She spotted me as she was putting things in her purse.  
"Someone called in sick.  I'm going to take the last half of her shift."  She was using that rapid fire mode of talking she used when issuing instructions.  Both my parents believed in saying things once and once only.  Us siblings learned to listen and remember.  "I'll be back around seven.  Kathleen's sleeping in her crib in the family room.  It's Phil's turn to clean the dishes.  You need to take out the trash.  Virginia can help watch the baby when she gets home from her friends.  Make sure you guys don't fight.  Love you.  Bye."  Mom was slinging her purse over her shoulder and was reaching for the door knob.
"But..."  I was shaking my head as I put the timing of her absence together with my own desires.  "Who's gonna make my dinner?"  
My mom was half way out the door when she stopped.  She leaned back and looked at me around the edge of the door.  My mom had this look she would give us when said the wrong thing.  I was getting that look at that very moment.  "Oops" echoed inside my brain.  
Mom closed the door.  She set her purse on the back of the couch in the living room.  She gave me another look, one that confirmed that I should have kept my mouth shut.  "Come here," she said as she headed back into the house.  
Having no choice, I followed.  I found my mom standing in the family room, which bordered on the kitchen.  She gestured for me to stand beside her when I came around the corner.  She put her hand around my shoulder as if I were her most precious, special child.  That told me the punishment was going to be pretty bad.  
"You know what this place is?"  She nodded her head toward the kitchen.  
"Uh...  Yeah."  I was cautious.  Though the answer seemed obvious, I had already made the mistake of saying the wrong thing.  I didn't want to do it again.  "It's the kitchen, right?"  
"That's right."  She gave my shoulder an encouraging rub.  "And you know how to read, right?"  
I looked up at her.  I was nearly her height by this time in my life, but it still felt as if she were ten feet taller than me.  Still thinking it was a trick question, I nodded and replied, "yeah..."  
"And you know where I keep my cookbooks?"  
"Yeah."  I nodded toward the cupboards over the refrigerator and stove.  My mom had a library of cookbooks stuffed in them.  
"And you know where we keep all the food?  As well as the where the utensils are kept?  You know what a 'spatula' is, for instance?"
"Yes..."  I was getting a bit exasperated now.  "I know."  
"Well, then..."  She gave my shoulder another rub.  I braced myself for what was coming next.  "If you know how to read a cookbook and follow directions, and you know where all the ingredients and utensils are, then you know how to cook."  She gave me a pat on the back then turned to go.  
When I turned around to watch her leave, I found her standing in the hallway watching me.  
"And..."  She gave me another one of her looks.  This one told me to pay attention to what she was going to say next.  "While making your dinner tonight, I would greatly appreciate it if, while I'm out earning some of the money that goes to buy your food, you would make a little extra for me for when I get home."  She gave me one last nod before walking away.  I was still standing there, staring at the empty space she had occupied when I heard the front door open and close.  
I fumed for a little bit, though not for very long.  Like I said, I knew my mom well enough to know she wasn't kidding.  If I was going to eat that night I was going to have to make it myself.  
I pulled down almost her entire library of cookbooks.  I started reading them.  My brother, Phil, came home and into the kitchen/family room area.  
"Whacha doin'?"  He gave the pile of cookbooks a nod.  
"I'm cooking dinner."  I lifted my eyes from the page I was reading, wondering if we had a pan the size described to make lasagna.  "Go watch Kathleen."  
Phil gave me a look like I had told him I was building a rocket to fly to the moon, but he went into the family room and peeked into Kathleen's crib.  I flipped to another page after deciding lasagna might be too hard, and that I wasn't certain we had lasagna noodles in the house. 
Eventually I decided on a soup.  It was an Italian style tomato & potato soup.  The only thing I didn't like about the soup was that it was supposed to be a chunky soup.  Back then, and to this day, I like creamy soups.  There was another soup, a cream of broccoli recipe, on the next page.  I decided to combine the steps for making that soup creamy with the soup I wanted to make.  
I made sure we had all the parts for it.  I had watched mom make stuff enough times to know you were supposed to do that.  I also got out the blender, to puree the chunkiness out of it.  I read the directions once all the way through before starting, again from watching mom.  Once I got the soup simmering on the stove, I pulled out stuff to make a salad.  I followed the instructions in the creamy soup to lower the heat and keep stirring to keep it from curdling.  
I made some sandwiches to go with it.  Ham and cheese sandwiches.  Creamy soup always seems to go with sandwiches in my mind.  It's a natural fitting, like steak and potatoes or turkey with dressing.   
It must have taken me a while to read through the cookbooks and get started, because my mom got home just about the time everything was finished.  She went into the family room to check on Phil watching the baby, dropped her purse on the end table there, then walked into the kitchen.  
She was smiling when I looked up at her.  She also seemed every so slightly surprised.  "What's for supper?"
"Soup."  I set a bowl in front of her.  I could see the steam curling from its surface.  It had a rich, tomatoey smell that was making me hungry.  "And salad.  And sandwiches, too."  
"What type of soup is this?"  She was examining it as she stirred it with her spoon.  I told her and she looked up at me.  
"But that soup is supposed to be...  Chunky."  
I shrugged.  "I made it creamy."  
"But I like it chunky."  
I then remembered something I had heard from mom a number of times when I complained about the way she had made something.
"Well, then...  You can make it yourself next time."  
Her eyes went wide.  For a moment I thought that maybe I had sad the wrong thing again.  But then she smiled and nodded.  
"Fair enough."  She sat down on the stood before the 'breakfast counter.'  Taking the spoon, she lifted up a mouthful, blew it off and took a bite.  "Good."  She nodded.  "Really good.  It would have been better chunky, but...  Really good."  
I started cooking a lot after that.  I learned to make pancakes and waffles next.  I made a lasagna, too.  My mom sat at the breakfast counter and watched me.  She didn't help except to tell me where all the ingredients were.  We talked about stuff, school and things like that, while she watched.  I learned to make homemade pizza, too.  And I mean real homemade pizza, where I made the dough from scratch, allowed it to rise, flattened it out and then poured the sauce I made by hand over the top before covering it with cheese and pepperoni.  
The next school term I took the home economics class at school.  I was the only boy in the class that term.  My friends kidded me about it.  I shrugged it off.  By the end of that term I had my own cookbook of recipes we'd learned to make, including one for crêpes with strawberry filling.  Some friends joined me for the second cooking class that year, to the point where we were one-third of the class.  By the last cooking class there was only one girl in a classroom filled with boys.  She dropped out by the end of the first week. 
Today my favorite things to make are Japanese style chicken curry and lasagna.  I like to watch cooking shows.  My mom and I do this a lot when I go to visit my folks.  She records hours of cooking shows on her TV and we'll sit in the kitchen where they have a TV set up and watch them together.  
We've never actually cooked anything together, my Mom and I.  When she's cooking I'll sit by the table and watch her.  We'll talk about stuff.  When I use her kitchen, she'll do the same.  She'll help me pull out all the pans and utensils I need and will tell me where she keeps her ingredients, but will then sit down and watch me cook.  We'll talk about stuff.  
And then, we'll serve the other what we've made.  We'll take a bit and say, "This is good.  Really good.  Though...  It would have been better if you had made it this way..."
To which the other will reply, "If you want it that way, you can make it yourself."  
"Fair enough."  
Love you, Mom.  Happy Mother's Day!