Thursday, February 24, 2011

Friday February 25, 9:52 a.m.

My professional day today is just 1 hour and 15 minutes long, and that will take place much later in the evening at the juku. I'll just have the boss and The Restauranteur for their lessons. Since Swank's frantic re-scheduling call yesterday, I've got virtually the entire day free. So I am here at the I-Cafe for the next few hours. Then, I'll be stopping off at Maruzen to see if I can pick up a textbook for the newest student at the juku before heading into Akiba to pick up cologne. Yep, you heard me...there is a duty-free shop on the main drag that sells cheapo...and most likely fake...scented water. The Iconoclast, my old friend from years back and one of The Anime King's court, is heading over here sometime next month and has asked me if I could pick up a couple of prepaid phones with charged cards. I'm not quite sure if I can pick up two since the authorities are pretty antsy about who gets the phones. I have to provide a picture ID and a Japanese address which I can do...for one phone. Apparently, in the past, the prepaid phones have been used for illicit activities here.

Speaking about that latest student at the juku, she's this young lady whose hobbies include juggling. That would be a first for me. Also, I heard from the boss that one of her motivations for studying English is that the lass had had a rather traumatic experience at US Immigration at one of the airports there...I would say that she is far from alone in that respect. But I think she needs to get her groove back for speaking English. I intend to help her in my mission. It almost sounds like the plot from "The King's Speech". Mrs. Travel from The Beehive went to see the preview screening on Tuesday so it won't be long before the probable Oscar winner will get full release here. It's definitely on my must-see list.

Speaking of students, I subbed for Speedy and taught The Magician for the first time in several months on Wednesday afternoon. She requested some help for her English introduction for a show that she was to have performed yesterday at an onsen in Kurashiki. So I gave her my finest showtime intro. I also gave her some help in her banter while she performed her trick of Rings. At one point, she was to say that she needed some hana no abura to help out in multiplying the number of rings in her hands. Basically, she was referring to the oil or sweat on her nose...which I could only gather was a Japanese thing in magicians' circles. Basically, I could only translate it as "nose oil"....not exactly a very desirable expression to say to a foreign audience (apparently, The Magician said that her audience in the hot spring would be two-thirds non-Japanese), but it was certainly better than the alternative, "nose powder". I didn't want her to give the shocking impression that cocaine was involved, although it has been used for some other "magical" experiences.

I also spoke with La Fille as we made our way to the subway last night after the school closed up for the night. She confided that she would be leaving Speedy's in June; her departure had been known for some time but not the exact when. I then told her that I would be leaving the school in the same month. She also pointed out that she would definitely not miss the fireworks between Miss Efficiency and the bossman....something that finally drove Ray out to Germany. We did get some photos from Ray, by the way...looks like the smiles have come back to her. More beer and less stress will do that to one.
Friday February 25, 9:35 a.m.

Lovely day here....going up to a bloody balmy 19 C! Of course, as with all things in life, there are consequences. Over here, that means the cedar pollen will be billowing everywhere in the Kanto because of the newfound warmth. Indeed, Hay Fever Season has come. When I was putting out the laundry on the line, I immediately got that little tickle in my nose which signified that some of those grains had infiltrated my nasal cavities like so much Al Qaeda in Libya...that is, if Colonel Qaddafi can be believed. It's almost surreal how the Middle East and North Africa have been changing in the last few weeks. If anyone had told me around Christmas that governments in Egypt and Libya would be falling, I would have probably accused them of working for "The National Enquirer". Instead, Muammar is looking more and more like a dissipated despot grabbing for the few marbles that he has left.

It has indeed been a very busy week for world media. Not only has The Middle East situation been keeping CNN and BBC up at night, but then there is the Christchurch Earthquake. The media coverage on an internationally comparative level has been interesting, to say the least. The two world news services have started the inevitable transition in language by reporting that the rescue mission is sliding into a recovery one. CNN was especially quite stark by stating Christchurch police reports that they are "100% certain" that noone is now alive in the rubble that used to be the CTV Building. That building also housed a language school with a good number of Japanese students. Obviously, the Japanese media here has swarmed into New Zealand to cover the story, including my own Journo. I saw his report on TV this morning. What has been interesting is that I have yet to hear any Japanese journalist state as baldly as CNN has that there are no survivors; I don't think they have even mentioned that things are looking bleak now that 72 hours have passed. Perhaps that this may be a cultural trait in that the Japanese favor harmony above all else, including truth. But as has been the case in past major earthquakes in the world, miracles have happened. Someone was found in a mass of concrete shards in the last big quake in China a few years ago, about a full week after it had occurred. At this point, miracles will need to happen.

Thursday February 24, 9:27 p.m.
Gonna be the "Doctor Who" fan next and say that he will miss the ol' Brig. I just read that Nicholas Courtney who had played Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in the original series, passed away a couple of days ago at the age of 81. The "Five Rounds Rapid" guy was basically an honorary companion of the Doctor's although he never really traveled in the TARDIS but was one of the leading figures in the show, notably during The Third Doctor's time in the early 70s. I'm sure he will be sorely missed by all of the Whovians.
On a happier note, The Tenth Doctor's David Tennant has gotten hitched with Georgia Moffett, daughter of The Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. The intriguing part is not the fact that Georgia will have one parent and one husband who were Doctors Who, but that the future wife of David had played his daughter in the show.
Anyways, I'm done here for tonight. Mrs. Thursday was fine as usual. She'll be away next week since she's celebrating the Hina Festival on the 3rd. I'm just waiting for La Fille to shut things down since she doesn't have the key and the bossman will be several minutes away from coming back home.

Thursday February 24, 7:25 p.m.
I finally got through the entire series of the original "Get Smart" last night. All 5 seasons done. I've connected all the dots amongst the hazy images of scenes I remember from that final season which never got aired beyond its original least, not in Toronto. So I finally got to see the 99 doppelganger, what was up with the Chief and Larrabee taking care of the twins, and the massive hospital brawl while 99 was delivering her kids.
Still, I think it was good that it ended when it did. Final scenes of the final season episodes basically just had Max and/or 99 staring cow-eyed at the camera a bit too much, and it was Larrabee, a character who was virtually mute for half the series, who got the final words of the entire opus.
And still I have yet to finish my entire stash of DVDs from Canada. Mind you, I'll be going through "SCTV" once again. I think there are still "Futurama" and "Robot Chicken" to watch.
I've come back from Shinjuku Starbucks after my lesson with The Carolinan there. I had their Zacher Torte, aka the Chocolate Hockey Puck, along with a tall Caffe Latte. That torte is good but it sits in your stomach like vulcanized rubber.
So, all I have left is Mrs. Thursday. A pretty nice way to end the evening. We haven't spoke on her favorite program, "NCIS" since there haven't been any new episodes and she isn't too keen on the spinoff. But we did have that talk on American TV dinners. I kinda wonder if she did check out National Azabu Supermarket in Hiroo.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thursday February 24, 12:43 p.m.

Had a 90-minute lesson with Grandma FON. There had been some fears that the ol' gal wouldn't be able to hold up but not a problem. She just kept up the steady stream of conversation like a pro. A very pleasant way to earn 5,000 yen.

As Thursdays go, not too bad a schedule. I've got The Shareholder....and since I have him in the proper classroom today, he should be a lot less jittery than last week. And then I've got The Carolinan in Shinjuku at 5 instead of her customary 6:30 (I decided to circumvent any potential problems with Ms. Efficiency by changing places) before wrapping up with Mrs. Thursday.

Actually, I'm gonna end up with a pretty sparse Friday. I was supposed to see Swank for the first time in over a month tomorrow at the usual place in Roppongi Hills but she frantically called up a couple of hours ago to state that she has to head to work tomorrow and so has to re-schedule to next Tuesday. This means that I've got nothing until that lone hour or so with the juku boss and The Restauranteur late tomorrow night.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wednesday February 23, 2:43 p.m.

I just had The Overachiever now. He's always been very amiable and very willing to talk. However, I had a brief scare when he told me that he wanted to just do TOEFL Interview practice instead of the interview practice for his universities. However, the ol' brain kicked in to dredge up some questions.

I'm taking care of The Magician in about 15 minutes since Speedy can't teach her. It should be OK, although I don't think there's all that much chemistry between us. It'll be another early night for me since 001 won't be coming in tonight.

Heard about the Christchurch Quake yesterday afternoon. The Milds had just been there less than a fortnight ago on their latest vacation. They have their professor friend living just a few kilometres away from the downtown area in New Zealand. My students were worried about how their friend is but they're taking things in stride. As usual, the Japanese media are doing a full court press on the story since our country is also on The Ring of Fire.

Wednesday February 23, 12:21 p.m.

Well, I finally went to the Fatgroove, that new restaurant in Minami-Aoyama that serves the famed (or infamous) turducken. I was walking around the neighborhood for half an hour since I got there rather early from Shibuya on foot. Minami-Aoyama was frankly rather quiet which will figure large later in my critique.

At 5:30 p.m. I went into the basement where Fatgroove was located. I was the first one in there...and would be the only one in there for the duration of my 90 minutes inside. The interior was nice....kinda like a mix between a well-appointed Western bar and a trendy restaurant. My waiter, who would also end up being my culinary guide and conversation partner since I was the only customer, told me about the 2,800-yen "Order Biking" deal which I went for, since I couldn't get the turducken if I'd gone a la carte. Now, the wording of "Order Biking" must sound like something to do with La Tour De France. Actually, it was supposed to say on the menu "Order Viking" which will sound to all you readers now like something to do with ancient Norwegians. "Viking" over here refers to a buffet, since decades ago the Imperial Viking restaurant in Tokyo's Imperial Hotel apparently started the first all-you-can-eat deal. During my culinary odyssey, I jotted down something for my host to amend that unfortunate wording...."order-as-much-as-you-want" for 2 hours at 2,800 yen.

The turducken came out first. In the METROPOLIS review for this restaurant, the reviewer posed the question, "Is Tokyo ready for Turducken?" Well, up above is the photo of what Fatgroove's image of turducken is: a thin slice of the layered turkey, duck and chicken with a drizzling of au jus and some sauteed vegetables on the side. The average American would take a look at this and either accidentally inhale it or just look at it with some shock. I'd been expecting something a little more bigger....something that would match the presentation of the stuff back in a state like Alabama. As it was, it just struck me as being the ryotei version. So, my answer to the reviewer is "Yep, no doubts....even Tokyo women would be more than ready for this version of turducken".

During the course of my time there, I ended up stuffing down 9 or 10 plates including the turducken, and yep I was stuffed. I think my waiter was worried that I was the Japanese equivalent of Homer Simpson. But I finally did cry "Uncle" after gulping down my plate of chocolate cake. There was the Margarita Pizza, the Caesar Salad, the Spring Rolls, etc. Now, before you remain stuck on that image of Homer, I would like to say that the portions were not quite that big....which brings up the first potential weakness of this ambitious restaurant. I think the name FATGROOVE and the logo of a humongous fellow would probably put off any potential (female) clientele from walking down those stairs, when in actual fact, these were dishes that anyone could share and scarf down.

The other big problem is the drink pricing. Drinks are not included in the Order Viking. And even for a Coke or a coffee, it'll be 650 yen...$7 US! Man, even over here, that would seem like a ripoff even when the first drink is free. Definitely, go for that cocktail but then there are those who eschew the alky. That Order Viking deal may not sound all that great anymore.

Then, there is the location. In the METROPOLIS article, it was mentioned that there had been two other restaurants in that same spot that hadn't lasted too long. Yup, Fatgroove is located on a pretty quiet side street. I did mention that even the main street in Minami-Aoyama looked rather dead. Now, it was a Sunday so people would usually stay at home for dinner on that day, but I'm just worried about how it may be like on the weeknights. I don't think even the gimmick of turducken (especially when the turducken comes out as it is in this place) will bring in the crowds to such a place....definitely not walk-ins.

Having said that, the service was good and the food itself was pretty nice. If it weren't for that drink price....

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday February 21, 5:40 p.m.
One of the wonderful things about my newfound (if income-less) freedom on Saturdays is that I can sleep in and just chill out. And so it was that I was also able to come across "The Apartment" on cable at last. One of my Mixi buddies, who actually goes by the moniker C.C. Baxter, highly recommended this movie. Never actually found it at the Sale DVD store in Akihabara or even back in Toronto for that matter, so it was with some good luck that I just happened on the channel in the middle of the opening credits.
Having come off his most successful picture in "Some Like It Hot" with Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder batted another home run with the same Lemmon in "The Apartment" in 1960. Shot in black & white (the last movie of its sort to win the Best Picture Oscar despite the existence of color films for several years). Unlike his role in "Some Like It Hot" (which I have yet to see), Lemmon plays a somewhat more low-key nebbishy cog, C.C. Baxter, in the machine who is forced to run a proto-love hotel of sorts to get up in the ranks. And then he gets that well-needed kick in the pants when he falls for no-nonsense-but-vulnerable Fran Kubelik, the elevator girl, who's in a destructive relationship with sociopathic boss Mr. Sheldrake.
I've certainly known about actors like Shirley McClaine, Jack Lemmon and Fred MacMurray for decades. Jack Lemmon has always been the original Felix Unger on cinema, but my memories of McClaine have recently been more on the fact that she's a scary interviewee and a spirit channeler. And Fred MacMurray has always been the benevolent father on TV's "My Three Sons", so it's been quite the revelation that he'd had a movie career as a bland slimeball on flicks such as this one and "Mutiny on the Caine".
Just like the two leads, the film struck me as being charming and wholly sympathetic, despite being engaged in activity that would've turned heads back in 1960. When I came across the film on Saturday, I was ready to get some laundry done along with some other household errands; it would be a couple of hours before I picked up so much as a finger.
Strangely enough, a Japanese director whose name always escapes me has been a huge Wilder fan, and his films have often reflected his idol's style. And over a decade ago, he actually came up with a 12-episode comedy-drama series that was an homage to "The Apartment" right down to the casting type and its placement in New York City. Takaaki Ishibashi, the actor who had played the wacko Japanese baseball player in the last two of the "Major League" series, was the Sheldrake equivalent. I found it pretty good although it got killed in the ratings since even back in the late 90s, J-dramas had already decided they could only get big from the teen audience.