Sunday, December 30, 2007

Monday December 31, 9:57 a.m.

And thus we reach another end of the year. It's definitely quiet in my neighbourhood. As I was walking towards here about an hour ago, normally where there would be some besuited folks running toward the subway, there was noone...absolutely noone. I was about a hundred metres away from the Tozai Line but as the train was passing by, even with my myopia, I could see sky through the speeding impossibility on a Monday. However, the stores and supermarkets were getting ready for their huge blitz before they close down for 1~2 days. I guess that experiment of staying open for New Year's Day in previous years either didn't get as much business or the unions raised a mighty hue and cry...methinks the latter. And so I now have to strategize about what and how much to buy to tide me over today and the first day of the year. The nearby Daiei will open up on January 2, so I have that to save me.

The past week has been one of just two lessons and a number of meetings with old friends.

I met Paddy and his de facto wife on Boxing Day in Shinjuku. We ended up going to some chicken-based restaurant on the 14th floor of Takashimaya Times Square. They invited me to Paddy's place up in Ibaraki Prefecture on the 3rd. Then, on Thursday, I had that karaoke party with the juku bunch at the Urayasu Shidax. Apparently, The Milds (Mr. Mrs and Jr.) took my half-baked threat of singing in English for the first hour very much to heart...they had come to the box earlier in the week and practiced their tunes for an hour. Mrs Mild really got into it...she sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" twice. Jolly couldn't make it out due to work but Seven showed up although she resolutely refused to sing anything. It was the first time in almost half a year since I'd seen her last time. She gave both the boss and myself gifts of jelly much to our surprise....could be an implicit way of saying goodbye and thank you.
The Shidax chain...even in the boonies of Urayasu...continues to live up to its reputation as the deluxe karaoke franchise. Service (by folks in their teens or 20s) was unsurprisingly sullen but the food was pretty darn good.
It would seem though after I come home from a party, there seems to be a crisis playing out on TV. After the swanky party at The Lady's on the 14th, I found out about the Sasebo shooting spree at that sports gym. After the karaoke party, I turn on CNN to find out that Benazir Bhutto gets assassinated.

On Friday, I just had the final lesson of the year via The Ace, who had also come out to the karaoke party. He may be a fine tennis player but let's say as a karaoke singer....he's a fine tennis player. Then, on Saturday, I met up with Tully & The Coffeemaker for a thank-you lunch of sorts again in Takashimaya Times Square...this time at the Taiwan-based Din Dai Fung, the restaurant that specializes in sho ron po (soup dumplings). Yup, the dumplings certainly lived up to their reputation but the side dish that came with it was a bit disappointing.

Yesterday, the main event was meeting up with The Bohemian for dinner at En in Shibuya. I'd been reluctant to meet up with him since he isn't exactly the most ept in social graces. I had been hoping that the fact that he's gainfully employed again may have improved him somewhat. And for the first half hour, there was hope. He was speaking a mile a minute about his accounting job and seemed a bit more with it.
But then, his stupid side returned with a vengeance. I tell ya...I've never met a guy like him who could be so cheerfully and cluelessly sexist, racist and so eager to put both feet in his mouth. What made things even tenser was that we were speaking in English while surrounded by a lot of English-speaking guests (the Japanese had probably already made the exodus to their hometowns). I finally had to tell him to shut the hell up at one point since he was flying way over the line at one point and doing it rather loudly. He looked rather clueless. I also mistakenly told him about the fact that my friend and boss, Speedy, had his own business. The Bohemian was interested in starting something on the side and he kept badgering me about getting in contact with him although I tried to patiently tell him twice that Speedy was already up to his ears with his own concerns. In any case, there is no way that I could recommend The Bohemian to Speedy....or anyone else for that matter. That rather awkward meeting between The Bohemian and MB & The Satyr made that clear almost a year ago.
Finally, after 30 minutes of good conversation and 2.5 hours of endurance and verbal landmine-avoidance, I did what I've only done once (that one time also with The Bohemian at the same place) and what I would never do with a lone friend....I decided to leave him be at the table and told him that I needed to head over to Tower Records. He was initially surprised but the shock was a mild one due to the large amounts of beer tempering his reaction. Not sure when I'll see him again.

As for today, well, not only is it the final rush to get those readymade o-sechi kits or to get the ingredients (for those who still can make good o-sechi) for New Year's cuisine, but Japanese TV is now in full holiday mode with all of their umpteen specials. I've been taping a number of them for the parentals. The Kohaku Utagassen (The Red & White Song Festival) is on deck tonight on NHK as it has been for well over half a century. I won't be taping that since my parents do get NHK International back in T.O. and they end up griping about 90% of the acts anyways. However, there is a 4.5 hour enka show on TV Tokyo that'll be running concurrently. Speaking of music...there was a retrospective on TBS last night about a "Battle of the Bands"-type show known as Ika-ten that had a brief but legendary impact on Japanese society for a couple of years in the late 80s. It was interesting to find out that successful acts such as Tama, The Flying Kids, Blankey Jet City and Jitterin' Jinn were all recipients of fame. Like the popular "American Idol" in the States, there was a panel of expert judges including the Japanese version of Simon Cowell. Watching the flashbacks also re-acquainted me with the quaint fashions and musical tastes at that time....glam rock, early experiments with ska, spiky-haired boys and sauvage-haired girls. Not a rappin hip-hopper in the bunch.

Well, to all a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Tuesday December 25, 11:43 a.m.

In my ramblings about my few days, I had forgotten about a couple of news items: one sad and wistful but thankful, the other one downright sordid.

Let's get the latter one out of the way. Apparently, some guy was arrested in an Osaka suburb for revealing his fetish for wearing girls' panties and/or wrapping them around his front gates. Then, police find out that he may have been responsible for the unsolved robbery/murder of an office lady 14 years ago. Not sure if the perv will get anything from that since I think the Statute of Limitations has run out. The man seemed to be a classic psycho...nice and quiet, and didn't even attempt to hide his face in shame...just a blank straight-ahead look.

The other story is one that I'd heard just a few hours ago about Oscar Peterson's passing. Jazz piano virtuoso, teacher, university chancellor, Canadian cultural ambassador, and so far...the only musician to get his own face on a Canadian stamp.
Tuesday December 25, 10:39 a.m.

Merry Xmas! Or as they would say over here, "Merry Tuesday December 25th!" Yep, just a regular day. Everyone's going back to work after a 3-day long weekend due to the fact that The Emperor's Birthday happened to fall on a Sunday this year...lucky merchants...Xmas Eve was therefore a statutory holiday which meant a ton of young folk heading for the restaurants and hotels. I'm sure that a lot of the newbie English teachers or other 1st-year ex-pats may be experiencing a form of depression since they will experience a working Xmas Day for the first time. As for me, tenure has its advantages in that I simply asked the juku boss for the night off.

It's been a while since the last entry so let us catch up...

After my final lesson at Speedy's on Saturday, the bossman suggested dinner together before we all took off for the Holidays. So we ended up at the nearby oden restaurant. Oden, for all those Japanese cuisine neophytes, is the usual winter stew of various boiled fish cakes, meat balls and eggs. A lot of times one can get the stuff at some sort of portable cart in the downtown area or at your local 7-11. However, there are also proper restaurants. The one near the school is this rather tiny affair with only counter seating for 10...pretty intimate, as you could guess. Basically, it ended up to be an unintentional Speedy party there since when the four of us got there, The Dentist (a regular there on a part with Norm of "Cheers") had already been partaking for an hour. And then, some of the Dentist's cadre, including her husband and son, joined the group.
Oden would never be my first choice for dinner, but the stuff there is good and was perfectly fitting for a night like that one which was cold and rainy. However, it set me back a good 4,000 yen...which reminded me that going out with Speedy usually ends up costing quite a bit.

The next day was even more expensive. I actually joined Movie Buddy and The Satyr in Shinjuku on Sunday to watch "Beowulf"....again, like the oden, not my first draft pick. The experience was intriguing, not so much for the fact that it was in both CG and 3-D, but because it was the first time that MB and The Satyr were so diametrically opposed in their opinions on the movie. It was like watching Siskel and Ebert on a really disagreeable night.
The Satyr (thumbs-down to the ground) castigated "Beowulf" as a pointless exercise in movie technology and cellphone-called-in performances. MB (thumbs-up to the stratosphere) lauded it on the other hand as a blow-me-away spectacle of surprising depth, sex and violence. I was securely in the middle, although I was kinda pulling towards The Satyr. On the one hand, I could see The Satyr's argument about CG-ing perfectly live actors (Angelina Jolie, Anthonly Hopkins, John Malkovich...and even the security chief from "Enterprise") in their own images...why bother spending all that time and money when the actual performers can do that? On the other hand, tubby Ray Winstone couldn't be least, the young version anyways...and even if the actor had wanted to, he couldn't have done all of those crazy stunts such as slaying Grendel and dragons.
My own beefs against the movie are two. As spectacular as the movie was and as scarifyingly close to real people as the images were, I couldn't help but feel that there was still an element of "Shrek" to it. I was half-expecting Shrek, Donkey and Puss n' Boots to pop out any moment in a Pythonesque moment of levity. And as for 3-D, it's dead. No matter how improved it gets, it'll always seem to me as an excuse to have arrows and other objects to be thrown at the audience. Nothing less than the world's first holodeck will convince me that 3-D is a useless gimmick. That gimmick was costly, too. It cost me an extra 700 yen to put on some glasses.

After the movie...and a brief but intense discussion between my two comrades about it...we met up with their significant others, The Sylph and Miss Ivory, in front of The Gap at the southeastern corner of JR Shinjuku. Of course, the ladies had little interest in a blood n' guts epic like "Beowulf", preferring to use their tactical skills on clothes. The expensive part came when we decided to have dinner at Wolfgang Puck upstairs. Cost me 5,500 yen to experience not-so-Buffalo Wings (more Buffalo Calf), a steak that I'd ordered as well-done that actually came in medium-rare and more suited to be sliced up for shabu-shabu (folks, do yourself a favour and go to a proper steakhouse here boasting US or Aussie beef for your steaks...the one I had just had too much marbling in it), and slow & not particularly competent service.

Well, at least I did one good bargain on that Sunday. Thanks to a sale and my filled point card, I could get a couple of classics on DVD at HMV for the grand price of 284 yen. I bought "The Philadephia Story" and "North by Northwest" for my Holiday viewing pleasure. It had slipped my mind that both movie starred Cary Grant...almost 20 years apart.

And so, I started enjoying my 2 days of semi-coccooning by watching a number of Festive DVDs. Last night, I watched my annual viewings of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and the special "SCTV" Xmas show (can't believe it's been over a quarter of a century since that thing first aired); the latter was fun and nostalgic to watch, but I don't think "Neil Simon's 'The Nutcracker Suite'" has dated all that well. I did watch "The Philadelphia Story" in the afternoon. I could see how it continued the tradition of screwball comedy banter from "Bringing Up Baby" and how it influenced various movies and even TV shows like "Moonlighting". As I said, Cary is in both movies, but after seeing this again yesterday, I thought Cary's role was more of a supporting one than an actual starring one. Everything revolved around Kate Hepburn's Tracy Lord (no surprise there) with James Stewart as the romantic foil. Considering that Hepburn had been considered as "box-office poison" at the time and that Stewart was still just coming into Hollywood being, it may have been very generous of Grant to give his two co-stars the spotlight. The DVD came with a special "Biography"-friendly one hour about Hepburn's life and career; of course, the lady herself narrated it and pointedly smashed some myths and answered some of the lingering questions about her quavering voice and head, and about her and Spencer Tracy.
I could imagine folks such as The Coen Brothers trying to remake "The Philadelphia Story" for the 21st century. In fact, it had already been remade once as "High Society" with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Gene Kelly in the 50s. And the original seemed remarkably hep even by today's standards...perhaps due to its overarching timeless theme involving the human condition. Well, if George Clooney and Julia Roberts would like to go once more unto the breach...

Well, no turkey today (although my supermarket is selling pre-roasted turkey for 5,800 yen). Instead, it'll be Sweet N' Sour Chicken and I've still gotta find a pie shell for that cheesecake. I'm continuing my round of taping shows for the parentals since we're into TV Special Season. It's gonna be the semi-annual marathon monomane show on Fuji-TV tonight. Monomane is that fave tactic for a lot of tarento to do impressions of other tarento...something that would be easy for a homogenous society such as the one in Japan.

Ahhhh....caught Michael Douglas' debut as the new announcer for "The NBC Nightly News" on YouTube. He can work a bit more on his cadence.

And to all a good day...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Saturday December 22, 2:47 p.m.

The first day of Winter actually is looking like the first day of Winter. It's overcast, cold and there's an outside chance of snow in the Big Sushi....mind you, over here that usually means a few "blink-and-you'll-miss-them" flakes. It's the final long weekend of the year. Sunday is the current Emperor's birthday, so the 24th will be the compensatory day off. I'm sure a lot of the restaurants are celebrating their good fortune at having Xmas Eve as a semi-official holiday this year. It'll definitely be a party weekend.

Movie Buddy actually wondered yesterday if I would be up for "Beowulf" tonight but the time was cutting a little too close after my lesson with The Manhattanite, and since the last thing I really want to do is have a late dinner in Shinjuku with the good chance of rain and perhaps even some snow hanging over us, I politely declined. Most likely, our next movie outing will be in the New Year. Besides, despite the promise of a nude CG Angelina Jolie, "Beowulf" isn't really my cup of tea.

Just had The Ace for the lone lesson at the juku last night. He's good to go for that karaoke outing on the 27th. Shidax said on its website that it would call me back to confirm after I'd made the Internet reservations; didn't hear from them for 2 days so I called them back. Sure enough, everything is OK. The guy there said that he called me up but noone was home. I internally verbalized, "It's called a message machine. Use it!"

Today, it'll be The Dentist for her final prep lesson before she takes off for Boston to see her daughter there, and then The Manhattanite before heading home before the worst of the weather descends on Tokyo like Rodan.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Friday December 21, 9:25 a.m.

Went through HMV Sukibayashi yesterday to see if there was anything worth getting for free since I got all of my points on the ol' Silver card. Nada. I was actually looking for "D.A.N.C.E." by Justice but didn't luck out so I'll just be holding on a bit. But I did go over to Yamano Music in Ginza. Yamano is a bit more square in that it has a larger enka section but almost nothing for techno or dance music, unless you're into the 70s scene.
I did come across a one-off disc by this piano-playing duo called Futaba. Apparently, they enlisted Chikuzen Sato of J-AOR band Sing Like Talking and club chanteuse Bird to do a couple of covers. Sato filters one of the 80s' most notable songs, "Hatsukoi" (First Love) by the late Kozo Murashita through a Steely Dan-like arrangement. Kozo Murashita was one of those folkie-type singers with a somewhat more ethereal voice which was in vogue during the late 70s and early 80s (Off-Course's Kazumasa Oda is another similar figure), but it was "Hatsukoi", a very 80s pop song heavy on the analog synths that got him immortalized.
Then, Bird does her rendition of "You Can't Hurry Love" by Diana Ross & The Supremes and then covered most famously by Phil Collins. The interesting thing about this one is that Bird sings Japanese lyrics...a nod to the 50s & 60s when the singers of the day used to do the same thing with American hits.

Next, I found another CD which does the opposite...came across a disc in which various American artists, including The Manhattan Transfer's Janis Siegel, pay tribute to Yumi Matsutoya. I've always been a bit leery of these efforts...I actually have similar tribute albums for the aforementioned Kazumasa Oda, Mariya Takeuchi and band Every Little Thing; after one listen, they usually just languish on my shelves. I guess I just have this prejudice about established Western artists trying to take on J-Pop; my usual reaction to these efforts is "How badly did these guys need the money?" However, having said that, Bobby Caldwell's take on Kaz Oda's "Kimi ni Merry Xmas" is pretty good.

Had The Carolinan's final lesson of the year. Her listening was kinda out to lunch although we weren't exactly surrounded by tons of chatting coffee drinkers. It was kinda like the other night's session with 001. The two of us were just tired. However, she did give me some flyers to some sort of champagne event at Roppongi Hills. She also warned me that the cheapest glass of the bubbly will be about $20. Warning well received. However, I did find out that "The Simpsons Movie" is playing at the multiplex there, so who knows?

NHK is still pushing its annual Red & White Song Festival on New Year's Eve, I see. Talking about "Best By" scandals. The interpreter on the English track pointed out that uber-otaku goddess Shoko Nakamura will be debuting and the two female mega groups of Hello Project and AKB 48 will be sharing the stage (would love to see the mother of all catfights backstage...that would have the wide shows chattering for days...once they get through all the New Year's specials in the first week). Leah Dizon, the French/Filipino American who's made it big in Japan, will also be giving us her golden pipes (and I think she'll really "give" it to us). However, the one on the Red team that's gotten my attention is Ataru Nakamura. I'd heard about this singer although I'm not a fan of hers. But I found out last night that she's transgendered....doesn't mean I'm any more of a fan but I thought it was an interesting footnote. As for the Johnny's, I should say White team...apparently actor Akira Terao will be breaking up things by returning to sing his bluesy hit from 1981 "Ruby no yubiwa".

Just have The Ace tonight for 90 minutes so happy to get a bit of relaxation in.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Thursday December 20, 12:31 p.m.

The Yogist is quite an interesting bird. The first 10 minutes of the lesson were spent just calming her down on the fact that she'd gotten accepted into The Tokyo Marathon next February. Entering is through raffle, so apparently she entered on a lark. Well, the lark has come back to roost. I'm not sure what she's so rattled about. This is a lady who's a yoga instructor, a competitor in surfing and swimming races and she's panicking about a little ol' marathon. It's not as if she has my entering that in a 42-km race would be cause for a ten-bell alarm. I told her that if need be, I would refer her to 002, who is a veteran of many marathons including The Honolulu Marathon of last week.

Well, I'm off until 6:30 so gotta be thinking about things like lunch and using that used-up HMV card.
Thursday December 20, 9:33 a.m.

Well, back at the office some 11 hours after I'd left it. I did decide to take the earlier pre-rush train over here. The traffic was accordingly not too full although I still had to stand for the majority of the time on the Tozai Line. Didn't do the McBreakfast this time since I did that yesterday morning and thinking that having two Sausage Egg McMuffins in as many days may lead to gastrointestinal implosion, I went down a dozen metres down the road to do a Jonathan's Breakfast instead.
Jonathan's is one of the major family restaurant (or famiresu, in katakanaese) chains, known for its red-and-white striped awnings. I ended up having a plate of wet scrambled eggs, one strip of fatty bacon, a thin weiner, a hash brown and a small pile of lettuce given the oil-&-vinegar bath; that, plus a plate of typically thick slabs of toast. Not exactly the size of a Denny's Grand Slam in the States, but it did the trick. Also, I enjoyed a lot more space with my own booth than I do with my usual stool in The Golden Arches. The restaurant was generally devoid of people which was also refreshing.

Last night, I took a listen to David Bowie's "Let's Dance" album...arguably his most mainstream effort when compared to his days as either Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane. It was easy to identify the hits as I laid in my futon. I was lying/shimmying to the first three tracks of "Modern Love", "China Girl" and the long version of the title track. After that, I ended up getting groggy with the last half...I think I completely slept through "Cat People".
As I looked through the liner notes, I saw the glossy pictures of the man himself in various poses and 80s fashion. I think he could've made a fine Doctor Who...and a terrifying one, at that. But he decided to work with YMO's Ryuichi Sakamoto and then-mere comedian Beat Takeshi in "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence". Never saw that movie, but I could imagine that Sakamoto and Bowie must've been comparing cosmetics notes offscreen in what must've been a proto-metrosexual encounter. The theme song still gets heavy airplay around this time.

The Anime King gave me another heads-up for another package coming in. And sure enough, I got a Delivery Notice from Yamato about it. Well, it'll probably be a while before he gets it with all of the Xmas traffic and all. Speaking of Xmas cards, I did get one from a long, long ago student from the ol' school, Legs. We're kinda like what the locals call "nengatomo" or the New Year's equivalent of pen pals. She even sent a photo of her, her straitlaced hubby and her two growing kids.

Just have The Yogist in an hour and then The Carolinan for her last of the year tonight. Not sure what to do in the several hours in-between. Will probably take advantage of my 2,500-yen discount from HMV and get another disc. I heard that "The Simpsons-The Movie" has made a quiet splashdown on these shores so I'll probably catch that sometime in the next couple of weeks, although I can't really imagine too much laughter ringing in these theatres...the humour is just too topical for Japan. There is a dubbed version playing as well with some pretty big heavy-hitting tarento such as Osaka singer Akiko Wada as Marge and singer/comedian George Tokoro as Homer, but I'm obviously not going for that.

Some more gun stuff in the news. Looks like some police sergeant made his feelings known loud and clear yesterday morning in a very loud place. He offed himself with his gun in the police box near Tokyo Station while his two colleagues were either sleeping or making rounds outside. And then there is the increasing sordidness surrounding that Sasebo shooting spree last Friday night. Apparently, it's looking likely that the dead psycho, Magome, was intentionally aiming for the two dead victims: his old classmate from junior high, and a 26-year-old female swimming instructor at the sports club where he committed his rampage. He only used buckshot for the rest of the shootings but he saved some pretty ugly slugs just for those two...police have found out that Magome had the hots for the instructor.
Wednesday December 19, 8:51 p.m.

Things are slowing to a crawl now here at Speedy's. 001 left here a little over half an hour ago. Our lesson was akin to a couple of punch-drunk boxers in the 12th round. The two of us were pretty exhausted; she because of work, me because of the year. So it was pretty much down to our default position of humourous banter and walking down Memory Lane...for her, that would be the late 80s and early 90s.

Since Mr. TOEIC isn't here tonight, it's just the bossman and myself in the office now. He's basically just waiting for his wife to show up, and then it'll be my cue to get going home. I'll probably have to be departing home the same time I did this morning...6:40. Although my class with The Yogist isn't til 11, the scrum on the Tozai Line will probably not cool down at the desired time of 9, and even after almost a decade and a half here, I'm still not willing to battle the crush that is morning rush hour.

At 002's yesterday, the lass showed me photos of her Honolulu Marathon trip; some of them actually had come from her friend's Mixi homepage. For those outside of Japan, Mixi is the Japanese equivalent of Facebook. Then, I showed her my own little page on the same Facebook. She was amazed at the content...although I have to admit that I've been a bit more...shall we say, otaku-ish about my contribution. I made a quick comparison myself, since I also have a languishing Mixi page that I haven't done anything with in the last several months. I think it's a cultural would seem rather Western that Facebook folks would be more than happy to supply just about all the information outside of favored sexual position whilst the Japanese are relatively more conservative and therefore applications are few and far between on Mixi. As far as I know, I haven't seen anything like an "X Me" app or an "Audiovisual Rack" on the Japanese version. I don't think people here would really want to take the chance of having everyone on the planet knowing that they actually still listen to Morning Musume. And that's fine.
Wednesday December 19, 5:48 p.m.

Gained a few things and lost one in the past few hours. Weight is probably the first of the former. Had lunch at Foo Foo, that ramen place in the Odakyu Shopping Mall right by Shinjuku Station...I needed to get just one more raffle ticket to get 2 turns on the wheel. For collecting 20 tickets, I earned myself two tiny packages of sour candy. Also managed to get myself a new HMV card...a gold card. I've finally reached elite status in something. My purchase of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" album was what did it. After hearing David Craig 's(or is it Craig David?) sampling of the title track, Memory Lane did the rest...some 25 years after it had first been released.
Mind you, I lost my pair of gloves. Basically, it would be useless of me to ever buy expensive gloves or umbrellas since the number of gloves and brolleys I've lost in the past decade would amount to the cost of their premium cousins. All I can say is that the Tokyo Metro can go into a lucrative side business selling all of their items from Lost & Found.

I made those reservations at the Shidax karaoke box nearest the juku for the 27th. It was all done on the Net but I still have to await confirmation by phone. It looks like we may have an octet.

Just waiting for 001 to show up for her final class of the year, then I'm done for the day. But I'll be back again here tomorrow for The Yogist. I really need to loosen those shoulder muscles.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wednesday December 19, 9:47 a.m.

Another early Wednesday to teach The Nurse, but at least it'll be the last one for this year. Not that I don't like her...she's a fine chatty student, but I could do with some more sleep.

Last night at the juku, I started off with that sort-of party with Chip N' Dale. As expected, the fondue segment did take about 30 minutes from melting the chocolate to finishing the last of the banana slices. And then it was Scrabble for the rest of the hour. Obviously with melted chocolate, there was some mess involved but everything was squared away by the time Mild Jr. showed up. The rest of the evening was pretty smooth-going.

After almost 3 weeks, I've finally finished sci-fi writer Dan Simmons' recent mega-opus, "Ilium" and "Olympos". Man, after reading through his books which often touch upon classic literature such as "Canterbury Tales"and "The Tempest" as much as sci-fi concepts as artificial intelligence and black hole manipulation, a budding writer will either be inspired or absolutely discouraged. But to be honest, I don't think Simmons would appeal to every potential reader, either. His stuff can force people to re-read certain segments again.
And Simmons doesn't exactly skimp on the sex and violence. There was one chapter in "Olympos" which made me wonder if I hadn't come (no pun intended) upon an X-rated porn film. I'd read on Wiki that there had been some attempt made to make this latest Simmons epic into a movie or miniseries, but I just don't know how that could be done without withering or whittling away a lot of the meat. However, in answer to my unspoken question, the attempt had been made quite a few years ago but nothing has been heard since. It is truly an epic piece; when I recollect the characters at the beginning and the end of the tale...and then the journey in between, I just had to go "Wow!" Count me a fan.

Well, the Nurse should be here any second...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tuesday December 18, 4:46 p.m.

Well, the march of the final classes of the year continues. Said goodbye last night to Mr. TOEIC and The Full-Timer, and today was The Beehive and 002. Mrs. Alp of the Beehive couldn't make it out for the final since her back gave out, but supposedly the rest of them (including Mrs. Perth and Mrs. Potter) are heading for a French dinner in Tokyo tonight. They were lapping up my report on the party at The Lady's last Friday.

As for 002, it had been about 3 weeks since my last lesson since she had annual trip to Honolulu for the marathon there. She did pretty well...made it to the finish line in 4:41. Beforehand, she had her medical checkup; over here, a checkup is pretty comprehensive. It includes not only an MRI scan but also getting that endoscope. She said that the latter was actually less worse than the former. For one thing, the doctor gave her some local anaesthesia so she only noticed her mouth open but not the artificial snake going down her gullet. In any case, she only registered a bit of an inflamed stomach...nothing major.

Now, I just have to prepare for the little party with Chip N' Dale in about an hour and then the rest of the juku students.
Monday December 17, 5:42 p.m.

Just finished a double with Mr. TOEIC...unusual for him since he is a regular salaryman, so a daytime lesson is pretty rare. Apparently, he will be cooking teriyaki chicken for his girlfriend on Xmas Eve...and Hell won't freeze over, either. He wasn't too bad in the certainly helps not to be exhausted from work.
Also rather rare Monday for me in that I'll be seeing The Full-Timer and then heading straight home from Doutors...maybe if the traffic isn't too crazy. I couldn't get any photos from the party last Friday for her (I just thought it was a bit tacky to take them for the purposes of showing off The Lady's mansion....although we did invade her buffet table like D-Day at Normandy), but I will be giving some of that leftover cake as a memento.

I guess aside from Britain officially ceding Basra Province back to the Iraqis, it must be a slow news day for BBC so they put up the news about David Tennant possibly leaving "Doctor Who" after this season. Well, I mean he put in his three seasons so why not leave while the iron is still hot? Besides, it wasn't even him making the announcement but that comedienne Catherine Tate. And nothing shakes up the UK and the rest of the Commonwealth more than anticipating the new actor to enter the role of Everyone's Favourite Time Lord.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Monday December 17, 2:45 p.m.

I guess this would be the week before Xmas. The media onslaught should be beginning in earnest just about now. I can hardly wait for all those KFC commercials now.

Well, The Bohemian left yet another message on the machine yesterday asking me to call him. I had given him a suggestion about meeting him for dinner yesterday...2 weeks ago. However, he called me yesterday...a bit too short notice. So I sent him back a reply with some advice of my own.

Only had The Matron today at the mansion. The Lady was suddenly occupied with something concerning her daughter. However, I did receive some nice slabs of leftover cake from the party on Friday. As for the Matron, we basically discussed her daughter's snagging of her first real boyfriend. Of course, Daddy doesn't know anything.

I was able to grab some goodies for the little party with Chip N' Dale tomorrow. The usual Santa hats and goodies from Tokyu Hands. It'll probably be chocolate fondue with some other snacks; nothing like the Yuletide to bring us all closer diabetes. The planning shouldn't be difficult since the kids had requested another round of Scrabble...that should take 20 minutes at least. Just really Jolly's class to worry about..

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sunday December 16, 1:50 p.m.

Well, we managed to get through another one of The Lady's annual Xmas parties on Friday night. It was more than the usual Friday night scrum in front of the Hachiko statue in Shibuya. Because of all those year-end parties, the place was even more densely packed. A couple of yahoos were even riding the poor dog like a steed.
Skippy, OA and Speedy showed up. Mrs. Speedy was the neophyte this time around since the other three had shown up some 2 years previously. Not surprisingly, the wife of the boss was feeling pretty doki doki about attending a swanky fete. When we did get inside the gates and the front doors, the house was already getting rather packed with the high n' mighty. The Lady herself was being her usual hostess self by just flying about from guest to guest.
If the experience could be compared to the BBC show "Upstairs, Downstairs", we were definitely the Downstairs cadre of servants infiltrating the organized zoo that was the Upstairs crowd. Of course, we made a beeline straight for the buffet table. It was the always-sumptious spread of Italian fare on the one table while the other had sushi catering highlighted by a huge block of thawed tuna. I gotta admit that the highlight there were the huge tender fillets of steak hiding under mounds of sauteed veggies. The ladies outate Speedy and myself in that department....a fact that didn't seem to pass The Lady's attention unnoticed since she kept passing by with that enigmatic smile and asking, "Full yet?" I almost felt a bit embarrassed since Skippy and OA hung about that table all night like vultures hovering over the dying carcass of an antelope.
As I observed, though, I saw a lot of the same faces at the party. Of course, none of them approached us since they were the high n' mighty and the opposite was true as well. However, I did also notice that the Upstairs crowd also consisted of little cliques that kept to themselves. So, I didn't feel as self-conscious as I had in the past. The Lady's children were there talking it up with their buddies...they'd met me a few times in the past but didn't deign to talk with the hired help. As for celeb sightings, I did catch a Fuji-TV announcer and a retired tennis player.
After about 3.5 hours, we made our way down the slope from the mansion and back into the real-life situation of Shibuya. We saw quite a few raucous types wrestling about in the side streets. Meanwhile, Mrs. Speedy was swooning over her cocktails of fresh strawberries and Dom Perignon. I did have was quite tasty. Everyone gave me their thanks for a glimpse into the well-to-do side of things and half-jokingly said that they were waiting for their invitations for next year. Hmmm...we'll see.

Life did indeed strike me as being very unfair that night. While the five of us Downstairs folk and close to a hundred of the Upstairs swells were noshing on gourmet fare, at about 7:13 that night, there were two relatively young people being shot dead, hundreds of kilometres away in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture. In a crime that eerily resembled the regrettably common mall shooting sprees of the States, some psycho set up an ambush on one of his old junior high school classmates at a Renaissance Gym using a shotgun. He also managed to injure several children in a swimming class as well as kill their instructor.
And just like the massacres at Virginia Tech, Columbine and most recently, that attack in a Nebraska shopping centre, the shooter ended up killing himself several hours later, ironically near a Catholic church. Police have yet to find the true motive behind the shootings. But if this is the last major gun-related incident this year in Japan (hard to believe that guns, crimes and Japan can now be put in the same sentence), it would cap what has become a year of a large increase in such crimes...something for all of us to mull over as we get ready for the New Year.

Well, yesterday was strictly a stay-at-home day in my little rabbit hutch of an apartment (spending a night at the Lady's place can leave that impression on me). Still, I managed to get out to the station mall where I handed in my raffle tickets for a few rolls of the wheel. Earned myself 2 Mandarin Oranges and a bottle of green tea. is complete.

Had what I thought would be my final lesson with Tully and The Coffeemaker today. However, they were gluttons of punishment since The Coffeemaker suggested the 29th for one more session. Today's session wasn't any great shakes...Tully was fine but The Coffeemaker seemed exhausted which exhausted me. So I just said that the 29th will be a thank-you lunch for them at Din Dai Fon, the Chinese soup dumpling place in Takashimaya Times Square. And speaking of other social engagements of the season, I have to go across the bridge to Times Square itself to check out some stuff for the little party I'll be holding for the juku kids, Chip N' Dale, on Tuesday. It's probably gonna be Scrabble, maybe another game and then chocolate fondue.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Friday December 14, 9:44 a.m.

A day off today. Again, a typical December day in the Big Sushi...cold (cool for Canucks) and sunny. Just have that swanky party at The Lady's house tonight, so I've got my dress blues ready to go. I sent off a missive to Skippy yesterday asking if she would rather meet in Bunkamura, closer to the house, rather than in humongously crowded Hachiko-mae. However, never got a reply though I sent it to her cellphone, so I'm assuming that she thinks I doth protest too much since I got her to rush up the meeting time to 6:30.

Along with the usual things surrounding Xmas, it's also raffle and lottery season in Japan. Lines almost as long as those for Krispy Kreme (celebrating its 1st year in operation tomorrow) are snaking everywhere in front of the ticket booths for the huge $3 million prize in the New Year's Jumbo Lottery...teensy winnings compared to the near-ionospheric loads that retirees seem to win Stateside. And a lot of the older malls such as the one under my subway station are holding year-end raffles. Basically, for every 500-yen worth of stuff I buy at any of the stores, I get a raffle ticket. If I get 4 of the tickets, I get one turn on the raffle wheel which is situated somewhere in the middle of the mall. A little ball of some colour comes out; depending on the colour, I could win stuff like a 5-kg. bag of rice (in Japan, this is valuable) or gift certificates. So far I've got enough tickets for 3 turns on the wheel. I've also got enough tickets for a roll on the wheel in the Odakyu Shopping Mall where Foo Foo is located...thanks to the entire gang eating there last Saturday.

Last night after my lesson with The Yogist at Speedy's, I rushed over to Ichigaya to have my biweekly with The Carolinan and BC. The two friends make for an interesting comparison. The Carolinan's ability may not be as proficient or fluent as BC, but BC is more of a worrier than The Carolinan; the Carolinan is quite a bit more self-confident and secure about herself. She's even boasted that she always handles all the reservation arrangements for her overseas travel by herself for her and her sister, The New Yorker. Indeed, quite good for an intermediate student although the only reward I would consider giving her is a lolly and a pat on the head. For BC, it was her last lesson of this year since she's heading off to Vancouver next week for the Holidays.

Finally, took a look on YouTube at that "1,2,3,4" video by Feist. I hadn't realized that she was one of ours. That was certainly a breakout hit for her just because of that iPod Nano commercial that's also reached our shores. She got a lot of catty remarks in the comments section (maybe the folks are veteran "2 Channel" flamers) for her dancing, but I thought it was just a sweet little video. I also took a look at one of her earlier videos "One Evening", an interesting 70s-ish R&B ballad. Again, it was obvious that she likes strutting her a post-modernesque way.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Thursday December 12, 2:25 p.m.

One down, two to go. Just finished with The Yogist. She's a keeper, for sure. Very vivacious and asks questions...couldn't ask for a better student.

Movie Buddy left me a phone message last night out of the blue stating that he was looking at some retrospective about aidorus from the 70s and 80s. Apparently, the program had the former singers on as they are now as guests. He also pointed out tongue-in-cheek (and hopefully, that's where it'll stay) that though the ladies are no longer 18, they still didn't look half-bad.
I'm gonna assume that singers-turned-tarento Yu Hayami, Ikue Sakakibara and Chiemi Horie were among the guests since they're now fixtures on Japanese TV. Yep, for ladies going into that "certain age", they certainly don't have that look of matronliness that their counterparts of a generation earlier had. Just better health hints, the deluge of spas...and maybe even that spackling of makeup (heheheh) have helped their lot. Middle age doesn't have that sad cachet it once had. Heck, I even read on some ad on the subway this morning that actress Ayako Sawada, all of 58 years, is planning to take her clothes off for some pictorial. Usually I would've immediately gone "EWWWWWW...", but these days, one never knows. And to add a sleazier angle, Japanese porn now seems to have a healthy genre in MILFs.
Thursday December 13, 12:30 p.m.

Back at Speedy's for the fourth day in a row. I've got The Yogist in half an hour. And then I've got The Carolinan and BC. It'll be the last one for BC for this year since by this time next week, she'll be in rainy Vancouver. Speaking of which, I think we got a simulation of their weather today. Pretty cold and wet out there. Actually, last night we got out of here at about 10:30 p.m. For the bossman, it was the equivalent of getting out in the early afternoon since he almost never gets out before midnight most nights.

I've finally sent the last of the Xmas presents out. So, hopefully, I won't be darkening the post office for at least a month.

The bakery/cafe near Speedy's, La Vie De France, got a facelift of sorts. The interior has gone from a wooden hominess to a slightly more whiter, hi-tech look. Same good if pricey fare.

Just heard that Jessica Alba is pregnant thanks to her boyfriend (doesn't anyone get married first anymore?). I'm sure there are a lot of worldwide boys crying in their pillows right now.

Man, are my shoulders stiffer than a guy on Viagra right now. Maybe it's the cold (both disease and temperature). Could use with a rubdown but I don't think that'll be happening anytime soon. The flu is apparently flying around Tokyo as I type, but so far, I've been lucky...just been popping some of the medicine so my nose is currently nice and dry.
Wednesday December 12, 10:08 p.m.

Pretty painless day. 001 was fun as usual (found out that both our mothers have the same birthda). In fact, Speedy found out that it was The Admin's b-day today. The Admin was profusely begging us not to make a huge of course, we did. As for The Manhattanite, well, she actually got perfect on the first three of her four pages of the test. Then, there was a bit of a crash n' burn due to a misread question. However, she managed to get 78% so nothing to worry about now.

Found out from 001 that she has to go through a major health exam on Xmas Day of all things. Over here, a major health exam means a bout with the dreaded endoscope...the endoscope being that huge snake-like camera which winds about in your gastrointestinal tract. And the Americans are debating waterboarding as a form of torture. The endoscope can go from either end, although I would've thought with the name of endoscope, it would've been obvious which end was up. Well, I know that I'll never submit to one of those probes, especially since it would entail having to fast for 12 hours before the thing goes up or down. And I certainly wouldn't do it on Xmas Day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Wednesday December 12, 4:13 p.m.

Wasn't quite sure whether to strangle or hug Chip N' Dale last night at the juku. Dale had said last week that two of her buddies would be interested in joining the class from yesterday. So I had to prepare for a model lesson involving two more boys along with my two current kids. I basically went down to town, preparing all sorts of games and realia such as buying prop food from Tokyu Hands and expanding the lesson to an hour. I was taking deep breaths when Chip N' Dale came in, only to say that the parents' of the boys had decided to hold things off til the New Year. Well, at least Chip N' Dale got quite a realia-laden lesson and they enjoyed seeing the model donuts and other food.

This aborted model lesson had been the one major stress point yesterday. When that turned out to be a false alarm, I could sigh some relief although I had a few more hours to go last night. I was worried about Mr. Mild's health though. He'd been suffering from a heavy cold for the past month, and remembering the fact that older people tend to bounce back from illness a lot slower, he still looked pretty haggard. In fact, he admitted that he'd lost 3 kg. Plus, he also stated that because some of the strong medicine, he had some issues with his liver. I'm hoping that he'll pull through OK. Jolly was about a half-hour late but I kept him for another 90 minutes only to be told that my student didn't need to make up the lesson so I could've just let him go at 10 p.m. Well, at least I survived the night. It was a pretty hectic day with having to do the crosstown commute between The Beehive in Tsudanuma and The Nurse's atypical Tuesday afternoon class before coming back for the juku.

In comparison, tonight will be pretty quiet. I've only got 001 and The Manhattanite. 001 had taken a powder last Wednesday since she had the day off, and I've gotta take a look at The Manhattanite's take-home test tonight. Me and Speedy aren't quite sure how she did.

Looks like everything is all set for the Friday night party at The Lady's. Got final confirmation that Skippy and OA are ready to meet Speedy & his wife and myself at Hachiko before trudging off to the mansion. I kinda wish that they had chosen a less crowded place like Bunkamura for the meeting place. The Hachiko Plaza on a Friday night is a pure maelstrom...especially during bonenkai season.

The latest change to the station mall has opened up. At this time last year, one section of it under the tracks consisted of a longtime bookstore and the shuttered former site of the failed kaiten sushi restaurant. Well, several months ago, the branch of the hairstyling chain, Orange Pop, opened up where the bookstore had been. And today, the old sushi place is now some wafu eatery called Yayoiken. It specializes in what would probably be bento fare if it hadn't been served right at your table. I went into the place in the afternoon and got greeted by some fresh-faced waitresses with the new training and plastic smiles. Yayoiken is one of those places where one has to plug his/her yen into a machine which spits out tickets for the waitresses to process in the kitchen...just like a lot of ramen places.
The interior had that current trendy look of smooth wood and soft lighting with jazz playing on the yusen. I ended up ordering an assorted set of two wafu-style hamburg steaks, two sausages, two fried potato chunks and one karaage (fried chicken) with a bowl of rice, salad and miso soup. For 880 yen, not a bad deal at all...and something to add onto the go-to list after the usual DVD nights with MB and The Satyr.

Well, kinda fighting a slight cold right now. May have to go to the salarymen's remedy of swigging down two Yunker Vitamin drinks and wrapping up in multiple blankets to sweat it out.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday December 10, 8:56 p.m.

It was a pretty good weekend, all told. Met up with Movie Buddy, The Satyr and their respective significant others. Also, The Sylph's former co-worker tagged along with her German boyfriend who looked quite a lot like actor Adrian Brody. Fairly quiet lad, though. We all went to Foo Foo for the first pai ko tan tan men of the season. MB was quite happy to be devouring it down.

Afterwards, it was off to see Matt Damon in the supposedly final part of the trilogy for which he'll always be remembered for....nope, it ain't the Ocean's series either. "The Bourne Ultimatum" did come off as being a most entertaining movie, and certainly the best of the threepeats that seemed to have littered the cinematic landscape this year. After the depressing "Spiderman 3" and the blah "Pirates of the Caribbean 3" (never even bothered with "Ocean's 13" or even "Shrek 3" after their bad reviews...even on DVD), it was good to have seen a 3rd part which was indeed good. However, I don't think I would go far as that reviewer for Tokyo Metropolis and say that "The Bourne Ultimatum" was the best action movie ever. There was a tad too much repetition in the stunts for it to top the original "Die Hard". However, I could see that the director was using the old technique of copying certain scenes from the "The Bourne Identity" for comparative this case, between Franke Potente's "Marie" and Julia Stiles' "Nicky". There was actually some good suspense and an especially delicious "Gotcha" moment when Jason managed to infiltrate CIA HQ. Definitely a must-buy DVD.

Sunday was a quiet day at home. Just did the "I-Go Day in Japan" via NHK-3, and that was all she wrote. Today ended up to be rather painless as well. I head over to The Lady's mansion and find out that not only did The Matron cancel out but The Lady had to do some emergency shopping. Missed out on the usual handsome pay but still made half for doing absolutely nothing but sip coffee by the living room bar. Her big annual ball is this Friday so I finally made the arrangements amongst Skippy, Speedy, Mrs. Speedy and OA to meet.
So I ended up having quite a few hours before meeting SIL. Continued to do some Xmas shopping before heading up to Ueno. Instead of the usual Wendy's or KFC, I actually went into an eatery in the middle of Ameyoko that specialized in don...various kinds of meat on hot rice. I had the minced negi toro and slabs of maguro on my rice...a little more expensive than the usual hamburger set but it made for a nice culinary diversion at 780 yen. Will definitely have to take guests like The Lens there next time they're in town.

As for SIL, it was my last time with her for this year. She won't be coming to The Lady's party this Friday on account that she has always found it very boring. To be honest, I kinda think the same way but I'm sure the people that I'm bringing along will find it thrilling. And The Full-Timer showed up tonight....aside from a nagging cough, she has recovered from her cold although I can't say that being in smoky Doutor's helped her throat any. And then, I come back here to find out that Mr. TOEIC had to dotakyan because of work. In fact, my schedule has changed quite a bit. The Nurse will be coming in tomorrow afternoon which means that I'll have to eschew my usual lunch with The Beehive to rush back from Tsudanuma. The Manhattanite will be coming into Mr. TOEIC's Wednesday night slot after 001. Plus, this Saturday will be a total scratch since The Dentist had to cancel so I'll be seeing her on the 22nd instead. And then Mr. TOEIC will come in for a double next Monday afternoon which works out since SIL is out for the remainder of December.

However, the big lesson for me will be tomorrow at the juku. I may be having a couple of extra waifs to add onto Chip N' Dale from now on. Just what I need...more pre-teens...and they're both boys. Well, at least, it's just the model lesson tomorrow and then the special Xmas lesson next Tuesday and I won't have to worry about them for about a couple of weeks.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Friday December 7, 11:18 a.m.

I say this in the snarkiest of voices here: How do you make 10,000 yen (about $100 US) disappear in 2 hours? Simple...just pay postage for sending Xmas presents via Air Mail and then get your hair cut. least, I was able to bleed off some of the tension via the scalp massage.

Yep, I was able to get most of the Xmas shopping done. The family is all taken care of. I got a couple of 007 DVDs for my brother (I guess MB and I aren't the only Bond fanatics), an uplifting book for my sister-in-law and an enka DVD for the parentals. Considering how many times I've been to the neighbourhood post office this week, the staff and I should be on a first-name basis by now. And I still have got to send off the rest of the calendars to The Dancer, Shard and The Entrepreneur on Monday.

MB had left a message for me inviting me to some sushi thing on Sunday but I politely declined since my wallet is now a whole lot lighter. Besides I'm seeing him and The Satyr tomorrow for Foo Foo and Jason Bourne. Basically starting from today, I've got a 3-day weekend. Boy, could I use it.

I just heard that Kiefer Sutherland has gotten himself into a situation that even Jack Bauer wouldn't be able to escape. Got caught for DUI for a second he's going into the hoosegow for 48 days. I wonder if the judge was being a bit hilarious by sentencing him to a multiple of 24.

Nicholas Cage and his "National Treasure" crew were here to launch the Japan premiere of the sequel in Roppongi Hills last night. Looks like Helen "The Queen" Mirren is joining Jon "President Roosevelt (via "Pearl Harbour")" Voigt for this voyage. I can only hope that the sequel is a bit bouncier than that flatter-than-urine-in-a-petri-dish first movie.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Thursday December 6, 2:19 p.m.

The Yogist's very first lesson went off without a hitch. She seems somewhat similar with The Chipmunk in demeanor and delivery. Could almost be seen as a younger and taller sister. She's quite willing to speak and has a good working knowledge of English but I was surprised to find out that she didn't know the words "above" and "below". Well, I fixed that in a jiffy. Anyways, she's already reserved for the next two lessons so I guess that's a good sign.

I forgot to mention that I finished Dan Simmons' "Ilium" last night and just started the sequel, "Olympios". I had borrowed them from MB during that trip to Goro's Burger a week ago last Sunday. So, it took me about 10 days to finish off the rather thick novel over subway commutes. Gotta admit that he's quite the genius when it comes to writing sci-fi epics, especially when he juggles such disparate plot points such as The Trojan War, quantum physics and "The Tempest". In any case, he's got my respect.

The Bohemian sent me an e-mail asking me if I'd like to join him in a Xmas party somewhere in Roppongi Hills. He forwarded the invitation from his friend, but as soon as I saw the 10,000-yen cost, I balked. Besides, the party is in the middle of the week of the 16th. I've got lessons to teach and money to make.

Well, gotta go shopping again.
Thursday December 6th, 11:52 a.m.

The Xmas shopping yesterday wasn't all that successful...was only able to get the latest tome of "The Complete Peanuts" for myself...1965-1966, the one where Snoopy as The Red Baron finally appears. Not all that easy to find something on spirituality for my sister-in-law or an anime DVD with English subtitles for my brother. However, I was able to use most of those gift certificates that I'd received as a parting gift from the mother of The Elder and The Younger to get a Doraemon for my niece. I got it at Odakyu Department Store over Shinjuku Station.
MB, The Satyr and I will be meeting for dinner and a movie on Saturday. It'll be the first Foo Foo trip for the winter least when it comes to us as a group. I actually went there yesterday for lunch and had the usual pai ko tan tan men. It may have heaps of salt and cholesterol but the ramen certainly comes in handy during those cooler months. Speaking of which, I must be getting older when I consider the temperature of 11 C as being a bit chilly.

Once again, I went through the Takashimaya Times Square complex, obviously passing by the now-inevitable hour-long lineup for Krispy Kreme 1. Next week should be an auspicious one for KK since it'll be celebrating one year in business in Japan. I'm betting that there will be an anniversary donut of sorts. Went through Kinokuniya, HMV and Tower Records but nothing that I could really find. So, after my first lesson with The Yogist today, I'll be heading over to Ginza to try my luck there. May even have to consider Akiba.

Last night, during my rare Wednesday night at home, I happened to come along the "FNS Ongaku-sai" (Fuji-TV's Annual Music Festival). Y'know that the end of the year is nigh when this huge year-end party for the big musical acts comes on TV. So, there was the usual SMAP appearance along with Ayumi Hamasaki, Kumi Koda and Morning Musume. But the interesting thing was that there wasn't this huge dominant star on the stage this year. Hamasaki and Koda were the obvious main events in previous years but they didn't really take over, and certainly in the former's case, there was a feeling of passe. And Morning Musume, into their 10th year and despite their youth, just seemed irrelevant. For a group that still pops up with songs, MM had that "Whatever happened to...?" vibe. Dinner theatre, next.
Basically, the only guys who got my attention were Keisuke Kuwata of Southern All Stars (who's pretty much critic-proof these days) and that tenor named Akigawa who wowed everyone at last year's Kohaku Utagassen with his rendition of "Sen no kaze". He has been able to extend his 15 minutes in the spotlight for almost a year just on that song.
Well, I'm sure that the J-Pop forums will be analyzing this in great detail.

Ah, I was speaking about the various J-Pop Xmas songs yesterday. I forgot to mention that I did buy Tony Bennett's Xmas album. It's a remaster from his 1968 LP. He still sings the definitive jazz take on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" but I kinda found some of the other entries kinda if Mitch Miller or Norman Luboff got their hands on the score.

In any case...back to work.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Wednesday December 5, 11:24 a.m.

The Nurse was fine. But the Manhattanite's cancelled her lesson for tomorrow night..which saves me from having to hang around the office for 7.5 hours after the Yogist's first lesson. I kinda wonder if she's trying to duck out from having me check her test. any case, I can go home early tomorrow. Let's see...the rest of today's off, tomorrow night's off and then the whole of Friday is off as well. I guess it really is feeling a lot more like Xmas.

And speaking of that, let us return back to my list of J-Pop Xmas ditties. I believe I only got to "Christmas Eve" last entry.

2) "Kimi ni Merry Xmas" (A Merry Xmas to You) Kazumasa Oda (1989) This can be considered to be the anti-"Christmas Eve" in theme. It, too, is a ballad delivered by a crooner. However, where Tatsuro Yamashita's classic has this very wistfully hopeful feel to it, Oda's bluesy song talks of some poor schlep after having a major row with the girlfriend over the Holidays and feeling totally alone. It comes complete with a bittersweet sax solo in the middle. A few years ago, AOR king Bobby Caldwell did an English cover of it.

3) "Christmas Carol no koro ni wa" (Around the Time of the Christmas Carols) Jun'ichi Inagaki (1992) Speaking of Adult Oriented Radio, Inagaki is the regional king of the genre here. Since his debut in 1982, he has been nasally delivering radio-friendly tunes so middle-of-the-road that you can just hear the Evian bubbling away in the background. However, it seems that this Xmas song is the one that will mark his 15 minutes. This song was the theme for a Japanese TV drama "Homework" (I assume it was one of those high school-based shows), but its urgent tempo kinda makes me think it should've been matched with a suspense movie set around the Yuletide. In any case, it's one of the few songs that has gone beyond its TV trappings.

4) "Lodge de matsu Christmas" (Christmas Waiting at the Lodge) Yumi Matsutoya (1978) Back on Sunday, I was watching Channel 795, Music Graffiti, a channel which often devotes air time to the golden oldies of J-Pop. One of the shows showcased J-Pop Xmas songs and as some trivia scrolled out on the screen, I found out that this song was perhaps the first bona fide Japanese Xmas song ever written. Before that, all tunes Christmas-y were all the imports from America translated into Japanese.
And who better to have this honour than the Queen of J-Pop herself, Yuming? The song comes from the album, "Ryusenkei '80" and sounds like something The Carpenters would write (ballad with flute and harpsichord accompaniment). The title just screams "Carpenters".

5) "Koibito ga Santa Claus" (My Lover is Santa Claus) Yumi Matsutoya (1980) And then Yuming does it again a couple of years later with this one off her "Surf and Snow" LP. But this time, it has this "Rockin' Around the Xmas Tree" vibe as an electric guitar wails away. You could just imagine Kris heading to Hokkaido in leather jacket and Ray-Bans.

6) "Winter Song" Dreams Come True (early 90s) I was never a huge DCT fan although I carry their compilation of hits over the nearly 20 years they've been playing as a band. However, if there were ever an ultimate makeout J-Pop Xmas song, this would be it. The million-watt voice of Miwa Yoshida is at her best as she pines away for her beau.

7) "All I Want for Christmas is You" Mariah Carey (1994) Yeah, yeah, I know...this ain't J-Pop, but considering how beloved this song has become in the Japanese pantheon of commercialized Christmas traditions, I think there might be a case for adoption here. It may just be a minor Spectorized pleasant tune in Carey's discography back Stateside, but over here it debuted as the theme song for one of the more popular TV dramas here in the early 90s, and the rest is history.

8) "Last Christmas" WHAM! (1986) Another adoptee. George Michael may now be better known as a lurker in public washrooms but back in the 80s, he and Andrew Ridgely were at the top of their game. And this song is probably their most famous hit here.

And thus, for any neophyte who has come here during this season, just keep your ears tuned. You'll inevitably hear at least some of these tunes anywhere out on the streets of Tokyo or in Japan countrywide.
Wednesday December 5, 9:38 a.m.

I was carousing through the little CD nook in that bookstore near Ichigaya Station before The New Yorker showed up for her lesson last week. I took a listen to yet another Xmas song by one of the current J-R&B crop, Crystal Kay. It's called "Shining", and although the melody sounded rather derivative, it was still catchy...not catchy enough for me to buy it right then and there, though.

Yup, it's that time of year when J-Pop and Xmas music collide...I can imagine all of the music aesthetes running away screaming while holding their ears in an emulation of Munch's masterpiece at the thought of these two genres together. Yes, Virginia, there is indeed J-Pop Xmas music...despite the fact that the holiday really has no relevance here except for Santa Claus and the excuse to enjoy mediocre Beaujolais Nouveau.

I have here some of the many examples of Japanese Yuletide jingles that actually do sound decent and not in any specific order:

1) "Christmas Eve" - Tatsuro Yamashita (1982) The "White Christmas" of J-Pop. Kinda eerie in that while the song celebrates its 25th anniversary of existence, Der Bingle's classic is celebrating its 65th anniversary since its premiere in "Holiday Inn". Anyways, it's ironic that Yamashita, known for his summery West Coast sounds, will probably be pegged for this Xmas tune. It starts with a slow guitar before it gives way to the familiar jingling bells and chimes. It even has a tribute to Pachelbel's "Canon" in the middle. It's basically a romantic ballad which fits the theme of Xmas here in Japan as a couples' celebration.
Strangely enough, "Christmas Eve" didn't really catch fire for about 5 years. Then, its usage in a series of JR commercials in the late 80s featuring a starlet waiting for her boyfriend on the snowy train platform or in the station sealed its immortality as a Holiday favourite. And it now gets used in a myriad of different commercials annually. A couple of years ago, it was even sampled by a rap group. Basically, everyone knows the opening bars and on hearing them in this country, everyone knows that Xmas is a-coming.

More later....but The Nurse should be here any minute.
Wednesday December 5, 9:28 a.m.

Managed to survive the juku night last night. Jolly actually did show up; in fact, he showed up for 2 hours since he had to make up a lesson. But compared to last week's slogfest, I managed to invest a lot of my stand-up routine into a simpler homemade text on Persuasive Presentations, and like the perennial spoonful of sugar, that helped the medicine go down nicely. My anecdote on that Maid Cafe trip with Automan helped a lot (actually, Jolly had been to the Cafes three times previously).
Mild Jr. was as intensely focused as last week on his conversations. I was surprised to see Mr. Mild show up with his was his son. He looked somewhat like Death warmed over since he was still battling the rages of a cold, and it wasn't exactly warm outside last night. Still, he gave it the ol' college try. As for the kids, although they weren't aiming any of it at me, I could tell from their banter with each other that they're approaching that cruel mouthy stage of teenage. Plus, I got the news that they'll be bringing a couple of friends next week, so my kiddie class could become a quartet.

Today, I've just got The Nurse..and that'll be all she wrote. 001 won't be showing up since she has a day off work today...and by her own admission that she's just too plain lazy to make the effort to come to class. And Mr. TOEIC is too busy at work this week. So, I'll just be doing some Xmas shopping in Shinjuku before heading back for a rare Hump Night off.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Tuesday December 4, 2:14 p.m.

Since I don't have 002 today, I have a rather large hole in my schedule, so I'm doing this. I did have The Beehive this morning at Beckers. It was the usual kaffeeklatsch of Mrs. Travel, Mrs. Alp and Mrs Tee. Considering the age of the students involved, talk revolved around their aging parents and the inevitable departure from the mortal coil. Mrs. Tee had another slight crying jag.

Just have the juku ahead of me. I've got my gauntlet of Chip N' Dale, Mild Jr. and Jolly. Since Jolly (and I, by association) was felled by the rather difficult handouts on Persuasive Presentations, I made up something a bit more digestible for him. But I've got a feeling that he'll dotakyan tonight. The Milds are always easy to teach and The Siberian is always the chat.

Well, they officially released the ryukougo~sho (Buzzwords of the Year Awards) for 2007, and no surprise...sonanno kankei ne (What does that have to do with anything?) was up there. For those who view YouTube religiously, it was uttered by Yoshio Kojima, the somewhat unhinged Okinawan tarento in the tiny bikini pants, who managed to become the No. 5 most watched video worldwide. Also up there was Dondake? (How much?) by 45-year-old mincing transvestite, Ikko. And even the food fighter, Gyaru Sone, was up on the stage for O-Gui (Big Eater). Just wonder if any of them will still be on TV this time next year.
Monday December 3, 5:27 p.m.

Well, the annual Xmas party for the school is now history. Went to Fungo's...that Italian restaurant across from Shinjuku Park. We had about 30 people in all. As I had expected, I sat myself at the table with all of the grandmas...although The Dentist and a few more younger folks were there. To be honest, it kinda felt like working at a retirement home. I enjoyed the dishes but one or two of them felt that their constitutions couldn't really take the spice so I got the benefit of proximity and polished off their portions.
Overall, the party had the feel of the typical office Xmas party...initial chaos at the beginning, party games that were off and on, and the one bad drunk...which happened to be Speedy himself. He was looking pretty tipsy at the end...I come in today, and I found out from both The Admin and the bossman himself that he became the human Technicolour fountain...on tour throughout the Shinjuku area. In fact, he's still plenty hungover now and his wife isn't too happy with him since he managed to "paint" the futon...time to hit Ikea again. I gave him a couple of Bufferin in sympathy.

In any case, we'll be closing up shop a little early tonight since the boss wants to get home to recover. Apparently, his class cancelled, and Mr. TOEIC isn't showing up tonight. And The Full-Timer begged off again with a fever. Still, it's not a wasted trip since I have to prep for tomorrow's clases here.

However, it was a wasted trip yesterday. I was supposed to have had dinner with The Bohemian in Shibuya...unfortunately, The Bohemian didn't realize that. I was in front of Hachiko at 4 in the usual scrum of teens and other scuzz...I waited 20 minutes. To be honest, I had a feeling that he wouldn't show so when I called his home and his mother called for him...I wasn't too put out by the stand-up. He asked what my schedule was like next Sunday....I said I'd call him...but I probably won't. After all, I'm a snake person...I'm pretty vindictive when I want to be.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Saturday December 1, 3:20 p.m.

Currently in a holding pattern at Speedy's. Finished up with The Manhattanite an hour ago, and had lunch consisting of two rice balls and a cake donut via Speedy's wife; looks like Tokyo has gotten itself another donut shop. Plus, the bossman told me that Krispy Kreme #3 is ready to go in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture...basically out in the boonies. Well, once KK3 opens up, it'll be one of the busiest little villages in the country. At least, KK has finally opened up outside of Tokyo. Just fiddling time on the Net before it's time to head out to the annual Xmas party, the first of three that I'll be having for the Yuletide. So, I'm in my dress blues...which usually just means wearing a jacket with my tie and shirt. Not sweating, though, despite the fact that it's actually quite Spring-like outside at 16 C.

I had Tully & The Coffeemaker this morning at the usual location. The Coffeemaker looked quite exhausted but she's been putting in several hours a day, 6 days a week for the last little while. As for The Manhattanite, I can only hope that she does well on the take-home test. Man, she was stumbling during the review. Well, I'll find out on Thursday night when she has her next lesson. I'll be having The Yoga Instructor for her first lesson that afternoon, and then I'll have to wait several hours before The Manhattanite shows up. I'm not complaining too much since it looks like I may have my first Wednesday and Friday nights off in a little while

Last night seemed to be the night of apologetic press conferences. First, disgraced sumo yokozuna Asashoryu came back into Japan yesterday after a few months in his native Mongolia. Just about every station, including NHK, covered the supposed homecoming of the guy who had openly and stupidly kicked around a soccer ball in his home country with Japanese soccer hero, Hidetoshi Nakata...despite having begged off a domestic goodwill tour due to a back problem. After that, came a period of dealing with depression over being suspended by the Japan Sumo Federation for the malfeasance. Well, he came back to a full court press where he duly apologized. The reviews were mixed...some welcomed and encouraged him, while others felt that he didn't seem humble enough. We'll have to see what the next several weeks will bring, especially when the first tournament of the year starts in January.
Then there was Daiki Kameda, the cocky boxer involved in that mauling of his opponent back in October. He did his own press conference to apologize for his bizarre behaviour. He seemed somewhat more sincere although the typical Kameda cockiness was still on full display. Again, wait and see.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Friday November 30, 9:26 a.m.

We're definitely going into the winter months. I actually put on the gloves for the first time. Just rain but the sky has that look of Toronto snow.

Yesterday had that "road trip" type of feel to it. I had the entire day off from classes but I still had a full slate. First off, I headed off to Tsudanuma JUSCO...JUSCO being that huge supermarket chain. That was the closest place to my apartment where I could get some of those special DIY candies that my sister-in-law had requested. No problems in tracking them down.

Then I hopped on the Sobu Line from Tsudanuma and headed over to the traditional Asakusa area. A half-hour later, I got off at Asakusabashi....thinking that Asakusabashi and Asakusa were hand-in-glove in terms of location. Apparently, a lot of commuters have thought that, too, since the station staff put up a sign saying that, in fact, the two places were separated by half an hour's worth of walking and that commuters heading over to Asakusa should hop on the subway 200 m away.
Well, I was in a walking mood so I decided to beat feet on the street and made my way through Asakusabashi and Kuramae to get to Asakusa. It was the first time that I'd actually gotten off in Asakusabashi. The neighbourhood had that typical inner-city, shitamachi feel to it. Along the crowded sidewalks were various small mom & pop shops and chic cafes and old-style restaurants.
The hike did take 30 minutes but I managed to get to the landmark of Kaminarimon intact. For a Thursday afternoon, the place was bustling with tourist groups, domestic and otherwise, as rickshaw drivers were shilling for willing customers. I also got there some 45 minutes before I was to meet The Lens, so I walked through Shin-Nakamise Dori, one of the famous old-fashioned covered shopping streets of Tokyo. Having worked in Asakusa a decade ago, there was that feel of nostalgia...especially with the cloud and chill in the air. Like the open-air Asakusabashi, Shin-Nakamise was lined with old-style shops with faded awnings. There were a lot of yukata and kimono stores nestled next to toy stores and wafu restaurants. I trekked down the street all the way to Asakusa ROX, one of the original shopping complexes before this current boom of megamalls that has taken Tokyo by storm in the last few years. It was nice to see that the same ol' bookstore and CD shop were still there, and there was still that top-floor eatery which had that corporate cafeteria interior design.

I got back to Kaminarimon and The Lens did show up on time. We ended up having lunch in one of the local ramen restaurants. It was definitely a family-run operation. The father/owner/cook was busy admonishing his little daughter for bothering him while he was cooking up the noodles. The Lens remarked at how unlike the interior was for a ramen restaurant...he was still used to the grungy shops. This place was kinda like what some of the 21st-century versions were....smooth wood paneling with other earth tones while Western ballads were playing over the speakers. Would love to take him to Foo Foo in Shinjuku someday. I guess the place was really new...when I paid for the both of us, I noticed that there was no cash register but just a tupperware container for the yen.

For the next hour, The Lens and I walked through the original Nakamise Dori which is perpendicular to Shin-Nakamise and spans from Kaminarimon Gate to Sensoji, the huge local temple. We basically emulated Brad Pitt's character from "Ocean's 11" and just kept buying manju from the vendors to nosh on. One vendor used that tried n' true marketing technique of showing how manju is made to get his customers to buy. It certainly worked on The Lens. One of the bean-filled pastries was age manju (deep-fried manju)...something that would seemingly appeal to Homer Simpson but the batter was pretty crisp and not heavy. We made it to Sensoji where the temple was doing volume business according to the folks coming up to it taking pictures and flipping coins into the wooden collection stations.
The Lens' mission in Asakusa was to get a yukata for a friend of his, so we found quite a few stalls to peruse. Now, this was the purely touristy yukata...not the ones with ridiculous kanji printed on it, mind you...the ones that didn't cost an arm, a leg and several internal organs. The Lens decided on one place. It was obvious that the vendors were accustomed to the foreign crowd...the two young ladies selling the wares under the eyes of their boss were very fluent in English. My old friend ended up getting a blue-and-white yukata with a bamboo pattern.
The noshing continued but in a more liquid sense. I picked up a couple of cups of amazake (sweet sake) for 100 yen each. Amazake isn't anything like the stuff that could knock you over. As the translation says, it's a very sweet drink created as a by-product from the brewing process. It is cloudy with remnants of rice and is served hot. I always had the impression that amazake was a love-hate affair with people. Some people adore it, some people despise it. However, The Lens was fortunately in the former category. And on a cold November day, amazake does hit the spot.

After walking through the old quarter for an hour or so, we hopped on the Ginza Line and went down to the fancier area of Ginza itself. I nodded off....something that I do with alarming regularity now. Apparently, The Lens had to pick up a new suitcase at Ginza Matsuya. One of the higher-ups there is a kendo acquaintance. The man had that air of sophistication which is natural in a Ginza department store but he is also a veteran kendo-ka who just barely missed getting promoted to 7-dan.

Then, it was a quick walk over to Printemps, another department store closer to Yurakucho, where The Lens bought a small necklace as a surprise Xmas gift for his wife. The lady there could also speak in English, although not as well as the Asakusa yukata vendors. She was a nice young woman although her makeup bespoke a bit of Shibuya gyaru influences.

Finally, it was another hop on the subway...this time on the Marunouchi get over to The Lens' hotel, the Tokyo Dome Hotel. We got off at Korakuen. It was obvious that the entire amusement area, which includes Tokyo Dome and the L'Aqua spa complex, was all geared up for Xmas...a lot of Yuletide illumination and music was filling up the area.
We went straight for The Coffee Machine, a Starbucks-like cafe and cooled our heels for about 90 minutes while we gabbed about old times. The Attorney finally did get back to the suite so we made our way there as well. Looks like she's been enjoying her relatively new position as a chief legal representative for her company, although she wonders how her minders have been reacting to her status as the first non-Japanese person in her position.
As usual, I got my Reese's products (peanut butter cups, pieces) which seem to be the default tribute omiyage whenever my friends come to town. Then, the three of us went down to the lobby to meet Automan's sister, Autolady, a good friend of theirs. I actually had first met Autolady in university some years before meeting her brother for the first time, but hadn't seen her in many years since she's now one of those jetsetting hard-working execs.

After several minutes of discussion about where to eat...and that included some talk with the concierge (man, it did feel like old times), we just ended up hitting the streets again. We thought we would have to brave the cold and walk all the way to Iidabashi, but as soon as we crossed the street, we came across this Korean BBQ place. Well, the cold outside and the welcoming warmth inside helped make up our minds pretty quickly.
It was initially a tight fit but we did OK at our table. As usual for such an eatery, we had our fill of garlicky yakiniku and chijimi. Autolady's husband, The Romantic (another friend from the old days), was also on his way. It was interesting...last week, I met up with folks like Automan and Shrek, people whom I associated with in the early 90s; yesterday it was with folks from even earlier in my U of T days...and in The Lens' case, back to Japanese Language School and childhood. When The Romantic finally arrived, he remarked it was the first time that he, The Attorney and I had been together in the same place in 20 years. The hair on the back of my neck stood up...and probably grayed.

Later into dinner...Autolady, who is a good deal verbally sharper than her little brother, started grilling me a bit about why I never carried such things like a cellphone, a SUICA commuting card or even bothered looking into investing in an apartment. I've been getting hammered with this question for years, so I rolled my eyes in spirit and gave the usual token jesting response that I was a Luddite. The fact is that though I don't consider myself an extremist technophobe like the Unabomber, I just don't consider buying a cellphone worthy of my money and effort. As for actually buying an apartment...well, I am an English high salary, no bonuses, no help financially...I almost laughed when I heard that question. Basically, one would have to be part of Japan Inc or married to someone who is to have a chance of buying real estate in this country. Basically, my answers to her were in a joking way since the truth would've cooled the temperature in the room considerably. The Autolady and I live in different worlds.

My long day finally came to an end when we saw off The Lens and his wife, and Autolady & her hubby drove me to Iidabashi Station. The two couples will be off to Thailand for their Xmas vacation. As I said, we live in different worlds now.

My day ended up not being totally work-free. When I hit home past eleven, I found a thick envelope in my mailbox. It turned out to be another shipment from The Chef to have me proofread her newest menus. So, I took an hour to red-ink any grammatical errors before bedtime since she needed them back by December 3rd. She actually sent e-mail to me about seeing me for a real lesson sometime next month.

To further emphasize the fact that I run in far different circles than folks like Autolady, The Lens and even Automan himself, I recently watched that special scene of the new "Doctor Who" on YouTube where David Tennant's Doctor meets Peter Davison's Doctor in the TARDIS. When I'd first heard that the meeting of Time Lords would be restricted to just a one-scene, 7-minute ep called "Time Crash", I kinda groaned at the lost opportunity. But after seeing it, I've come to the conclusion that it was probably the best example out of all of the special Doctor-meeting-Doctor eps. For one thing, it was short and sweet. My remembrances of eps like "The Three Doctors" were that the shows had pretty flimsy stories complicated and overwhelmed by all these different ego-aspects of The Doctor bickering with each other/himself. The 7 minutes of Davison and Tennant kept things quick and pretty happy by the end.

Well, I just have The Ace tonight for a lesson. But tomorrow will be another one of those "road trips", albeit a more familiar one. I've got Tully & The Coffeemaker, then The Manhattanite before Speedy's party at the end. Ah, BTW, Skippy informed me that she got the job at Phillip Morris without making any reference to the possible position at Speedy's. Now, there's one cat who has always landed on her feet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wednesday November 28, 5:21 p.m.

Back at the office after heading out to teach The New Yorker in Ichigaya. Had lunch at Sozaiya, the healthy bento place near the station. It is tasty fare...I'll need convincing, though, that the fried chicken I had was actually healthy. I also had the bowl of spicy tan tan noodles and one rice ball with salmon flakes.

The New Yorker still remains as one of my lower students but at least I can take off the adverb "hopelessly". I'm starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. She's conversing a bit more confidently now although the pauses are still there. She had a good time in Okinawa a couple of weeks ago and I got a box of chinsuko biscuits as a souvenir.

Stopped off in Shinjuku to head over to Tokyu Hands. I was able to pick up a box of Arm & Hammer rug deodorizer although it is the tatami that I plan to use it on. Ever since I washed out the filter in my vacuum, it's been giving off a horrible moldy smell. I'm hoping the miraculous powers of baking soda does wonders to the inside of my ancient machine.
I passed by Krispy Kreme #1 on the way to the station. I was almost gobsmacked when I saw that there was no line coming down the bridge overpass between Takashimaya Times Square and the Southern Tower. However, there was still a snake curling in front of the store itself. The sign said just an hour's wait...which is saying something.

Back on Sunday, during the burger stop in Gaienmae, MB lent me another Dan Simmons opus. Simmons is that sci-fi author responsible for the Hyperion-Endymion series that I'd read a couple of years ago. This time, the two tomes (they're way too thick to be called merely novels) are "Ilium" and "Olympios". As with the previous series, these two books also pay tribute to a literary classic, Homer's "Iliad". And like the other books, Simmons also plays around with the concepts of reincarnation, religion, horny humans and profane artificial intelligences. At first, I wasn't too impressed with "Ilium" but it's starting to grow on me now. I figure that I should be finished with the two books perhaps by the end of the year.

I haven't heard anything from Skippy about my suggestion to her to try out for the soon-to-be-vacated day manager's job at Speedy's. And at this point, I don't think she'll respond; it's her usual way...if she doesn't seem interested in something that is not related to any event, she'll just skirt around the issue. Silence speaks volumes. Speedy didn't really have much hope anyways, especially since he can't pay anything near what she was getting at IBM.