Saturday, January 15, 2005

Sunday January 16, 1:13 a.m.

Cold, wet and generally miserable out there. But the snow never arrived in central Tokyo although the outlying areas got some of the wet flakes. Still, it wasn't a good day to be outside yesterday.

Did my duty and went out to the kids a good 90 minutes ahead of schedule only to find out that the elder girl pulled off another shirk and had to leave the house with only a half-hour worth of lesson. But the mother was kind enough to pull in her hubby for that half-hour of dead air.

I caught "The Incredibles" again at Roppongi Hills, the only movie in the past year that I've seen twice. This second time I was able to focus more on the animation. It was truly a marvel how Brad Bird was able to mesh the voices with the characters so perfectly. As I said, Craig T. Nelson IS Bob Parr. Bird was even able to get Holly Hunter's way of talking out of the side of her mouth incorporated into Helen's face. I think this movie should get Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, though I also enjoyed "Shrek 2". All those hoping that "The Incredibles" can actually cop a Best Picture nom can forget it. When the Best Animated Feature was made up by the Academy, that put the final nail in the coffin for any chance of a cartoon to get a Best Picture. It was a political decision; the Academy probably didn't want to have to deal with the potential firestorm surrounding live vs. cartoon.

Spent over an hour at the Wendy's (thereby nixing my attempts to stay away from fast food...but I got the simplest burger possible, if that's any consolation) just to while away the time before I headed out to Speedy's launch party. For a thankfully brief while, a bunch of US prepubescent punks sat beside me talking trash. It was either them or that Shibuya girl with that annoying teen patois sitting behind me.

Had a devil of a time finding the venue for the launch party in the storm outside. However, after 15 minutes of searching, I finally found it. Only knew Speedy, his wife and Party Hearty but PH was sitting all the way in the front while I was stuffed in the back. But I was able to make some new friends with my seated neighbours. The first one I spoke with struck me as being a real character while the two women sitting on my left were more of the usual passive Japanese types.

The food, which was Chinese, was marvelous but for some reason we couldn't polish it all off. In fact, there was still a hefty amount left on the plate when the wait staff took it away. When one of the guests asked whether we could get doggy bags, the owner politely replied that it would be impossible since, and I paraphrase, the staff couldn't handle the responsibility. The responsibility for what? Getting poisoned? Everything's cooked! Regardless, all that food may have gone to waste. Doggy bags aren't a very common custom in this country.

The storm was still raging when the party wrapped up a couple of hours later. Still, a number of us ended up going to the new school and spent another chatting before we finally broke up. I was feeling pretty exhausted after 16 hours outside. It'll still be dreary tomorrow but I plan to keep things inside and clean up.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Saturday January 15, 5:47 a.m.

An EARLY Saturday! Ugh...have to remember that the mother has been kind to me. Haven't done one of these since my early days at NOVA. Well, perhaps, this may be a blessing in disguise...we've got a possible batch of heavy snow coming our way today. Don't wanna even think about getting stuck in that during the commute. So far, I don't see anything falling out there so if I can make it across town before the stuff does, I should be OK. But, man, we could be getting as much as 15 cm! That's not too bad for Toronto but here in Tokyo, that's major cause for a panic. People and cars tend to slip and slide balls on a bumper pool table.

However, I have those several hours between the classes and Speedy's launch party so I'll have to stay somewhere in Tokyo. I'm thinking about catching "The Incredibles" at Roppongi Hills. That should kill a few hours. I'll probably keep things on the Oedo Line since both my classes and the movie are on it. It's almost impossible to get into a cafe on Saturdays; that rating will get upgraded today for sure. Well, perhaps I can peruse a bookstore for the rest of my time.
Friday January 14, 8:40 p.m.

Had my Friday lessons. The Teacher and SR were in good shape. The Teacher has become quite the buyer/seller on Internet auctions. She was able to get a barely used Gucci for 1/8 the price. I think she ought to consider writing a book; she politely demurred.

SR lost a bit of weight over the Holidays. She was hitting the gym a lot unlike me who decided to go to the other end of the spectrum.

Watched Shrek 2 on DVD. A good addition to any collection. Some of those gags are just priceless. Some of the behind-the-scenes stuff got on my nerves, though, with all of the gladhanding.

Now that I've gotten through all of the SCTV discs, I think I can give a good analysis. My first memories of Candy and the rest of the crew were from their old show on Global TV back in Toronto 30 years ago (I can barely believe it's been that long). The aptly named John Candy was merely chubby back then when the Second City folks got together to put on their half-hour of satire on a very modest budget. Back then, it was just Candy, Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy and Dave Thomas (as the Beaver). The show was taped on some pretty yellowy video but it was there that the immortal characters of Johnny LaRue, Edith Prickly and Earl Camembert were born. I can remember when the show aired on Monday nights at 9, pretty much the hour of death whenever football season was on.

Then, a few years later, the cast and crew all moved out to Edmonton thanks to a wealthy patron. There was a year of transition when John Candy left temporarily to get into movies (The Blues Brothers, for one). Harold Ramis left after the first year but Rick Moranis, Tony Rosato and Robin Duke joined the cast. It was a strange year since it was between the Global days and the NBC heyday when SCTV went Stateside. Candy returned, Rosato & Duke left (only to head out to Saturday Night Live) and the team hit the big time. The budget grew, the sketches got more ambitious, sharper and most importantly, funnier. The Edmonton days were clearly the peak for the gang, especially since it was there that the McKenzie Brothers and the Great White North got onto the pop cultural landscape. A couple of years later, the gang moved back to Toronto to Magder Studios in Scarborough, a stone's throw away from my home. SCTV's parody of "The Towering Inferno" was filmed at the Golden Mile Plaza, a neighbourhood mall.

By that time, Martin Short had joined the cast. His addition was an interesting one since he was the only one of the crew to have had previous primetime exposure through a guest appearance on "Taxi" and a failed sitcom. He also gave the show one of my favourite characters, the overly verbose interviewer, Brock Linehan. But with the start of SCTV's stab at soap opera, "The Days of the Week", things started waning for me. SCTV lasted another couple of seasons with a severely decreased troupe of just Flaherty, Martin, Levy and Short and now just on a pay-TV channel. So, those are the shows that I've yet to catch.

For me, the real star of the show was Eugene Levy, although the cast as a whole was amazing to begin with. However, it was Levy who came up with the most memorably hilarious renditions of existing celebs (Perry Como, Gene Shalit) and original characters. So, I feel happy for Levy's current success as the go-to guy for comic support in movies. On the DVD specials, Levy comes across as fairly introverted, though, a fact which was confirmed by Joe Flaherty in one of the specials. So, he's all the more amazing when you consider some of his outsized characters such as Bobby Bittman. But from time to time, you can still see some of the other guys show up. Catherine O'Hara has been a steady appearance for the past several years, most notably as Macauley Culkin's mom in the "Home Alone" movies. I'm sure if John Candy had survived to this date, he would've had the status accorded Levy.

The one other notable thing after having watched the discs is that the surviving cast doesn't look all that much older. Dave Thomas may look more jowly and Flaherty may resemble more like a larger cuke than his old svelte stringbean but for the most part, the old gang have kept their youth. It's hard to believe that Levy is a bit older than my own father. Just goes to show that good humour can keep a person young without having to pay for all of those Botox treatments.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Friday January 14, 8:07 a.m.

Had my first normal Thursday classes in a while. I recall that my last set before my vacation was horribly hampered with the onset of a cold. Jazz Buddy and I went to the same Tully's in Shinjuku. Good cafe fare but it was painfully obvious that the era of non-smoking had not even approached the room where we were sitting and noshing. By the time we finished the session, the air was hazy with secondhand smoke. Plus, the stereo system kept repeating the same Norah Jones song over and over. If it hadn't been for our talk and the background chatter, I would have been left comatose by the Jones mantra. JB and I decided that an alternate location would be suitable for next week.

Had a long intermission of 6 hours between JB and The Carolinan, so I basically traipsed around Shinjuku for most of that. I bought SCRABBLE as a useful diversion for the kids and probably for me as well. The streets were bustling as usual. I even thought about catching "The Incredibles" for a second time at the nearby theater but the next show wouldn't be starting until it cut a bit too close to meeting time with the Carolinan so I had to nix that.

It was good to return to the Tea Room. It was well over a month since my last lesson there, and the staff welcomed me back with open arms. Nice to have a place where everyone knows my name. So I just enjoyed reading and having some dinner there for the two hours before my next student showed up. The Carolinan was a bit rusty initially because of the long break between sessions but she was back to form by the end.

Found out from the Net that Diana Krall is finally returning to Japan for a few concert dates in Osaka and Tokyo. I've sent the heads-up to JB although I'm not sure if she'd be interested in seeing the concert with me specifically.

Damon, Pitt and Clooney had their requisite press conferences for "Ocean's 12". Of course, the question of Brad's divorce was lingering like a ghost so the former Mr. Aniston ducked the interview session leaving Matt and George to monkey around.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Thursday January 13, 8:05 a.m.

It's been about a week since I got back so things are starting to get back into the ol' rhythm again. Technically, it's still warmer here than in Toronto but without the concept of central heating in Japan, it can be pretty darn frigid in the house.

Brad and George arrived last night to plug Ocean's Twelve. This is just on the heel of the announcement of Brad's divorce from Friend Jennifer Aniston so he may be cringing at the thought of being pelted with some rather uncomfortable questions. Matt Damon was actually here a week earlier to promote The Bourne Supremacy.

Well, had that rather heavy start to my day with a breakfast of pork kimchi...I don't feel any worse for wear but I think I'll be a REGULAR guy in the next half-hour, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday January 12, 9:13 p.m.

Went over to the bank to pay my revised (i.e. increased) premiums for the National Health Insurance. I'd already paid the original premium for December before the trip home so I thought I could just pay the remaining balance. Looks like the government has found another way to annoy me; the teller patiently told me that I still had to pay the whole amount and have the extra amount reimbursed. Once again, I held myself in check but the teller was slightly tentative.

My first workout of the year was a good one but I know my upper body will be sore tomorrow. Sure enough, I did gain a couple of kilos from my trip down Culinary Lane in Toronto. Well, at least I did shed half a kilo from my exertions.

Took my first step towards avoiding fast food joints by eating at a family restaurant a couple of floors below the gym. I restaurant fare isn't exactly much of an improvement over McDs but at least the hamburger and deep-fried oysters I ate today were more lovingly crafted than your normal Big Mac.

I kinda raced it over to the Hawaiian's neck of the woods since I was a bit worried that the Hawaiian's aunt still wanted lessons from me. Odds were that I'd seen the last of her when she took that trip to New Zealand since the lessons just centered around travel vocab, but I wasn't really willing to take the chance that she was waiting at the restaurant. Sure enough, when I got to the Saizeriya there was noone there so I ended up having an extra hour to sip coffee before the Hawaiian herself came. She was her usual effusive self as ideal student. I could give her anything and she'd tackle it with gusto.

After the Hawaiian's class, I took a detour to Ginza to the HMV to do a bit of splurging. I bought the Spidey 2 and Shrek 2 DVDs and a couple of magazines before I made it over to the Starbucks. The manager recognized me with the "The usual, sir?" look. An hour later, the OL showed up. She was also in fine fettle since she passed her bookkeeping exam. OL has passed a lot since our first meeting 18 months ago and we're approaching the end of the textbook. Just like the Hawaiian, I can throw anything at her and she'll gladly respond.

Not really hungry but I did pick up a Ten-Musu for a tiny dinner and had a couple of Mandarin oranges. However, I will be whipping pork kimchi for breakfast tomorrow. Ought to be interesting to see (and feel) how my digestion will fare in the morning.

Got word from the mother of the kids. She wants me to come over to the house on Saturday at the relatively rarefied hour of 9:30 a.m. since the elder girl has volleyball practice from the late morning. This could hurt but the mother has been good to me for the 2 years I've been teaching her daughters so I didn't let her down. The thing is, though, I'll have a good 8 hours before Speedy's launch party for his new school, and that will be held just a few stations away. So, even with the long break, I think it'd be a waste to go back home. Maybe I'll catch a movie in the interim.

Currently, I'm listening to the Best of Eurythmics album that Shard gave me back home. Some great songs although I think "1984" hasn't dated too well. It is interesting to hear how Annie has made a musical voyage from early techno sounds to a more soul-based one.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Wednesday January 12, 7:16 a.m.

Well, the 2nd anniversary of this blog has just passed. I guess I'll be continuing my series of banal, unrevealing commentaries on life here in Japan...or so I'm paraphrasing from one of the reporters for the Toronto Star when he gave his Top 10 list of things to be gotten rid of in 2005. Not sure if he really meant it since he admitted that the list was just something to fill up space in the entertainment section but I have to admit that his comments stung me a bit (why did I have to have a Woody Allen-like constitution?). Mind you, he might be one of those elitist journosnobs who believe in only "trained" writers publishing anything in public over free speech for the masses.

I had my first misunderstanding with the juku boss last night. I kept my cool when she told me that she'd actually found a replacement teacher for me during the Holidays. The problem was that she never told me this and I relayed to the students that there would be no classes. It caused a bit of tumult to the schedule. I let her know my side of the story. A few years back, I would've been a bit ogre-like in my reaction but nowadays, I couldn't care less anymore. Anyways, it helped that the boss still kept a genuine smile (you could run her over with a truck,she'd be grinning like a Cheshire cat), and the students didn't mind. In fact, one of them was a bit worried that the boss had raked me over the coals.

Jazz Buddy just sent me an e-mail. She's not one to respond very quickly if at all but I did wonder if she'd given up the goat on my lessons. However, all's still in place for tomorrow. Good thing, too, since I've got her souvenirs.

Chip Guy and GC have been giving me advice on digital cameras. Chip feels that the 4 Megapixel would be ideal for me because of the resolution, but GC is more conservative for the 3.2 since it would be easier to upload. Nice to have experts in one's circle of friends.

Thus I have reported another banality for the day...

Monday, January 10, 2005

Tuesday January 11, 7:50 a.m.

Well, my first day back at work. I have yet to plan anything but I figure being the first day after the Holidays, I think the students at the Beehive will just be content talking about what they did for the past month. I've got my package of chocolates for them as well.

As for the juku folks, I think a good portion of their lessons will be based on the Holiday chat as well, so I'm not worrying too much at this point. However, being the weathered and weatherbeaten teacher, I'll get something set up.

Yesterday's b-day party for Frodo went swimmingly. MB and I met at Naka-Meguro and then we went to a cafe where the other two guests were smoking, drinking and chatting as all Tokyo girls would. As usual, I couldn't remember their names but they could peg me out immediately. After getting some extra stuff for the party, we made our long walk over to Frodo's place. His wife had sent him out on some errand so we were all able to get some prep work done. I was "assigned" to pick out an appropriate piece of b-day music to play when hubby came back home to his surprise. Unfortunately, amongst all of the CDs there was nothing that was blatantly birthday-oriented so I ended up choosing Chicago's "You're The Inspiration"...more wedding day than birthday, but what else could I pick?

Some really good fixins at the party including some chunky chicken minestrone and Vietnamese spring rolls. We ended up staying there for several hours. As would be expected of someone my age, I got pretty drowsy by the end. However, walking back to the station got me perked up again with the atypically chilly weather in Tokyo (otherwise known as downright balmy back in Toronto).

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Monday January 10, 10:47 a.m.

Once again, Adulthood Day is here. As time passes, this holiday has become increasingly cynically ironic. The day's news reports usually tell of some potential Yakuza recruits who stormed the stage and made trouble as the mayor or some other probably corrupt politician hypocritically droned about the responsibilities and ethics of being an adult. A few years ago perhaps, the guilty party would show some remorse; nowadays, they show absolutely none. Mind you, the ladies look nice in their kimonos.

Still very much on the SCTV bandwagon. I've barely seen anything else on the TV...not the satellite or the regular channels. Caught the classic episode lampooning Russian TV with my most favourite sketch out of the entire series: the Perry Como concert ad. It's also been a hoot watching some of the musical acts who appeared on the show. Al Jarreau was on the Russian TV ep, and the following show had Wendy O. Williams and the about your stretch across the musical spectrum: AOR vs. nihilistic punk. The commentary by Catherine O'Hara and Andrea Martin was illuminating in the fact that they mentioned that Williams was the sweetest thing off-camera despite the destruction she wreaked on Gill Fisher's set, but they didn't mention that Williams had to colour her bare breasts black to be allowed to sing on-camera. Even in late night, the censors are everywhere. It was also rather poignant watching John Candy as Gill, and Williams cuddling together knowing that neither of them is around.

Well, gotta head on out in an hour. Frodo has a surprise birthday party coming his way and I'm meeting MB at Naka-Meguro with a couple of other guests in the early afternoon. Today is the last real day of my month-long vacation. I'm back at it from tomorrow morning with the Beehive. Still feels a bit surreal to be back in Japan for some reason.