Monday, January 31, 2011
Also at dim sum, your table is not assigned a waiter. Meaning every employee helps the customer with any need -- none of this "not my job" excuse. Need a dish you haven't seen stroll by, just ask and within minutes, they personally bring you the plate straight out of the kitchen steamer. Speaking of plates, there is a tendency to accumulate empty plates on the table but they also have a solution for that. Several waiters/bus boys roam the aisles back and forth picking up empty plates, thereby making more room for new dishes. I estimate a plate gets picked up within a 2-3 minutes of it being emptied. The less there is to clean up to set up for the new customer, the better for the business. I've seen a table for four cleared, tablecloth changed, plates/teacups/chopsticks/napkins arranged in about 30 seconds.
And for a restaurant with no menu, the food just keeps on coming. The absence of a menu makes it easy for the chefs to prepare the same dishes but most importantly, there are no orders to screw up. And when I've had too much to each (happens every time), I just wave the tab and within seconds, any one of several waiters will arrive, count the stamps, add the bill and hand me back the total. Yes, these waiters can add -- and add quick, given that most of the dishes cost the same amount.
There are still a couple problems with dim sum though. First, the wait can be long and I've learned to avoid that by showing up before 10am on weekends. Also, the bathrooms aren't the cleanest (meaning the kitchen is probably kept at the same standard of cleanliness but I don't want to know for sure). Both of these seem to be a direct result of the volume of business that they do. Nevertheless, American businesses can learn from this business model that had served over a billion people quite well for a very long time.
(Originally posted on Multiply 4/7/07)
Sunday, January 30, 2011
"You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else that you get is a privilege."
From Institution Rules & Regulations, United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz, California
I've lived in California for 30 years and had not visited the island of Alcatraz until last year. It's been closed for 47 years yet I could still feel it's power to break down any spirit that attempts to escape its cold isolation.
Photo Collage: "The South Windows, Dining Hall, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary" (2010)
You can't really accuse music as stale since there are always a new emerging music niche in the underground, say gangster-trip-hop-death-metal that is ready to become the next big thing. However, the emphasis on doing something "new" in music movement is not as explicit as it is in the visual arts -- where only the cutting edge is revered. One really needs to look at the history of music and visual arts to fully realize the contrast between them. To prove my point, name 20 cubist artists other than Picasso and Braque. Having trouble coming up with five? I think this is due to the fact that artists consider cubism as having been done before, so they stay away from it as far away as possible. In contrast, I can think of at least 20 well-established jazz guitarists (with recording contract and sales) where each one contributed to advancing the genre and oh, by the way, in the process, recording a remake or two of a known classic (i.e. Manha de Carnaval). Imagine an painter of today doing a remake of a Dora Maar portrait or even worse, Guernica. Sacrilege is what every art critic would scream. But the question stands, does re-painting an existing work of art add anything different? Maybe or maybe not but at the very least, try.
Another example of how musicians uses previous works to cross-pollinate into another genre is Joaquin Rodrigo's composition Concierto De Aranjuez. Just imagine if musicians we satisfied with the (now) original 68-year old melody and were too afraid to take the essence of Aranjuez to the next level. We would not have have been fortunate enough to experience Miles Davis' entire Sketches of Spain album or Chick Corea's "Spain". Each of these artists took Rodrigo's original melody and put it through their own dissections, improvisations and interpretations. Yet no music critic would dare attach the label "unoriginal" to Miles Davis or Chick Corea. I must qualify though that there is evidence that some well-known painters did interpret works from previous artists but that seems to be in the minority. Picasso did some of this (others would argue that he did a lot) but Warhol took this to the next level -- I think both of them did it out of reverence or creative necessity. Maybe you need to be a Picasso or a Warhol to get away with this -- but in general, I don't see how this is possible in modern art for the average working artist, where only the ones the push the envelope are fully appreciated.
So in closing, before any of us are quick to point out that art does not have any value because “it’s been done before”, just give it a second look to see if the artist had something new to say, albeit subtle, with his or her piece.
Image: "345/8" (2010) Gel pen on 11"x17"
Are as transparent as the air I breathe
A hello, a kiss or even a goodbye
Few things are more common yet essential to daily living
If and when you get hit with a curve ball
The instincts are raw and defenseless
You watch it fly by, freeze frame, bam!
Run, hide, fight?
The idea is that I would have only one condition upon receiving the free art -- that is, the recipient email me back a picture of the artwork after he or she uses it, preferably before flushing the toilet and I was going to publish all received photos in a website. The project would have provided people who were extremely frustrated with Vice President Dick Cheney some avenue for relieving their frustrations. Well, Change (capital "C") happened in November 2008 and the idea lost its relevancy as the country looked to brighter days ahead.
So where does John Waters fit in all of this? Any other narrator would have worked just fine but John’s steady monotone is the perfect complement to several humorous scenes. To inject humor in the most tragic of conditions somehow distracted me from the reality of this environmental disaster, that our planet can only sustain so much stupidity and money-making opportunities.
Soundtrack is by one of my favorite instrumental bands, Friends of Dean Martinez.
Last week, I saw brand new vinyl copies of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and Birth of the Cool in a box set for a mere $117! So in retrospect, paying $15 each for an almost mint condition John Coltrane double LP and a Buck Clayton classic is probably a bargain. The past has such a grip on my generation that it's not even funny.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
About 4 months ago, my cousin Jimmy passed away after a year and a half bout with lung cancer. What follows in this entry is factual. At his burial that warm November afternoon, when we we were all walking to say our goodbyes, I gave his 3 brothers a hug (all my first cousins) and could not even hold myself. I have not been to a blood relative's funeral since my uncle Leonardo. So this was not easy at all. Anyway, I'm the last one to believe in anything that cannot be explained by physics or the natural order of the physical universe. But as soon as I stepped away from my 3 cousins to compose myself, I looked down on the ground asking why the fuck do people have to die. And as I look down, I found this little plastic toy Lilo, from the Disney movie "Lilo & Stitch". Now, I have seen this movie several times with my 2 kids and the most famous line in the movie, after the human Lilo adopts the alien Stitch is "Ohana means family. And family means nobody get left behind...or forgotten." So maybe it's pure coincidence that I find this Lilo toy as they were about to lower Jimmy's casket into the ground for all of eternity. Maybe some toddler dropped it into the ground that sad day in November. But within a second of seeing this Lilo toy and picking it up, that line from the movie hit me "Ohana means family..." Or maybe it's Jimmy's way of using the lines of communication that's about to close. Anyway, I still keep that toy Lilo in my car and it always reminds me of that day in November 2006. Jimmy is family and he will never be forgotten.
Add'l Thoughts 12/30/10. Jimmy in 2006, then Maura in 2008. I keep telling myself that death is part of life. And in spite of what I read and what people tell me, I don't think it gets any easier -- I think you just get numb to the goddam pain of the loss of a loved one.
He almost made it. 43 days and he would have seen how the world (ok, at least Los Angeles) had come to appreciate his art. Instead, fate with its usual sick sense of humor, decided otherwise. 43 days separated the day Dennis Hopper died (May 29, 2010) and the day (July 11, 2010) Dennis Hopper: Double Standard opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. After spending a couple hours at MOCA going through countless photographs, paintings and sculptures, I realized that he was a bigger loss to the artworld than most would appreciate. We know him from the 60's landmark film "Easy Rider" or as the crazy bomber in the 80's action-packed "Speed" or as the drunk assistant coach in the hoops classic "Hoosiers". I knew very little of Hopper's work outside of acting prior to my exposure to Double Standard and although, it's very impressive, I can only wonder what directions he would have taken his art if he did not have to do acting. At the end of the day, it's also sad to think you can distill a lifetime's worth of work in a warehouse-sized art exhibition but I think he will forever be in our collective consciousness like some cool, crazy uncle we see every once in a while.
When I visited, most of the visitors at MOCA Geffen Contemporary had this somber look, not very different from when you attend a funeral wake. I suppose almost everyone there knew of his death just 43 days prior to the show's opening. At the same time, a lot of people also had very surprised looks of amazement. Like going to the house of that crazy uncle for the first time and realizing that he had very special talents. Dennis Hopper, I hope you're as stoned as always, where ever you are. You're one of a kind.
(Originally posted on Facebook 1/9/11)
Woman: "You know I have this secret power?"
Man: "Yeah, what is it?"
Woman: "At work, I can just tell when certain people are coming around the corner or to my cubicle. For some reason, I can tell who the person is just by their smell. You know, I can tell different people by their unique smell. Yeah, for some reason, I can just tell."
Man: "Did you see Blake Griffin block that guy's shot?"
Woman: "No. But anyway, someone around here smells like my friend at work."
I overheard this conversation very clearly in the Staples Center filled with thousands of people because she is sitting in the seat behind me. Section 117, Row 13, Seat 19. I'm on Row 12 just in front of her. Two things. First, I showered and shampoo'd last nite so if it was me, it was probably not too bad an odor - I hope. Second, I've known this about women and their powerful sense of smell. I read that this higher sense of smell (compared to males) has an evolutionary basis where females needed it in order to protect themselves and fetus when pregnant - from things that may cause harm, near or long term. I'm also aware that some male body scents trigger hormone release in certain women that results in sexual arousal.
So given what I have read, I disagree that she has special powers. In fact, I would argue she is in the middle of the distribution curve for women in child-bearing age. Nonetheless, I was very curious if I sat next to a cat in heat.
(Originally posted on Facebook 1/15/11)
I think I have the general concept for this game. This is a two player strategy game consisting of 81 unique shapes that are designed to be interlocking. The game starts by picking a seed shape placed on the game board. Each player then picks 40 shapes each from the pile. Selection may be done via alternating selection of 2 each until all 80 shapes are distributed equally. Each shape placed on the game board earns points by counting the number of edges and corners that is shared with the played shapes. A play of a multi-corner and multi-edge shape placed inside surrounding shapes can get the most points, as well as a bonus. The least amount of points is 1, where a shape played shares a single side with the already played shapes. Of course, I just blogged a while back that an elegant concept is really not sufficient. I need to find a way to manufacture the prototype, get my copyright and find a market. (Ok, I'll settle for someone willing to play a couple rounds just to see how the rules may be improved.)
Above: Two possible outcomes when all 81 game pieces have been played.
I thought I was being visited by a ghost. I asked my 12-year old to write a draft of some essay for his school and all of a sudden it hit me. I cannot believe what I was staring at.
Maura had all these note pads, scribbles and lists all over the place -- phone numbers, grocery lists, call back notes, etc. I compiled a book full of them and although I'm used to seeing her handwriting over the years, pasting every single one of those notes on this blank book made me realize how unique her penmanship was -- part print, part cursive, beautiful. Only a spouse or a parent would appreciate the way she wrote. So it took a little over a month to gather all these notes and I just realized how I already miss her little post-it notes and scribbles and how I am going to miss her handwriting. Until I reviewed my son's draft that night.
I don't know if it was one of those postcards from beyond but here's the rest of this anecdote. My eldest is not as good as speller as his younger sibling so I found a couple misspelled words. I asked him to please fix the spelling errors. I told him to write down the correct spelling on a separate sheet. And as he was writing, that's when I just froze staring at the paper like I saw a ghost. The way he formed his letters is every bit just like his mother. Not only was his penmanship identical but his penstrokes like the tail of an "a" are every bit handed down maternally as I've observed countless times over the years.
So, I really don't know if there is a biological explanation but I definitely am very interested if there is any research on handwriting as an inherited trait. I suppose traits passed on to offsprings is just nature's way of ensuring continuity of the genes.