I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

June 30, 2006

We played charades with the weather; humidity chose poison gas, and everyone guessed on the first try. I don't think I've ever lived anywhere that wasn't humid in the summer, but for whatever reason, Hiroshima-style has me reeling.

Let's get back on track with some exhilirating product reviews:

Grilled Cheese Pringles


I have never met one, but I suspect that Japanese flavor scientists are a bunch of cocky bastards. They routinely set ridiculous tasks for themselves, and they have no sense of their own limits. I remember being faintly astonished to find a bag of Ozack baked-potato flavored chips during my first trip to a convenience store in Japan. I mean, here were potatoes that had been flavored to taste like...other potatoes. And it worked. There are failures, too, of course. Calbee makes these pizza-flavored chips that have the pizza flavoring caked into the ridges of the chips; they are disgusting. You'll have to get someone else to tell you how the shrimp and crab chips taste.

This, though, has to be the apotheosis of flavor science. Everyone makes cheese-flavored chips. But using only the medium of powder dusted on Pringles, can these guys communicate the difference between cheese and grilled cheese? This is no small matter of variation. They are trying to express changing states of matter through taste. It's absurd. It can't be done. Can it?

Well, no, actually. I sat in the park, up in the hills, eating my can of Grilled Cheese Pringles in the shade on a sunny day. Every can comes with a free giveaway make-up compact mirror. You flip the lid, look at yourself and think, well, I don't look any fatter, so why not polish off this can? Alternately, if you are me, you slip the mirror into your messenger bag, finish reading your book and feed the rest of the chips to the feral cats who frequent the park. Imagine that a Hollywood executive wanted to make a really classy Oscar-winning picture, "Cheese", but he has no idea how to do it. He gets in touch with this fellow named Uwe Boll, who, within an hour of the meeting, has a script and a budget ready. The executive is thrilled to have met such a go-getter, and "Cheese" goes into production. One day, however, just before shooting was scheduled to begin, Uwe Boll disappears. Nobody knows where he went. After much hand-wringing, the executive goes with a new director, Alfred Hitchcock. A few line changes are made here and there, but they're on a tight schedule, so Hitchcock has to direct "Cheese" from the budget Uwe Boll negotiated, as well as the basic story Boll came up with. The resulting film, bearing little resemblance to the snazzy Oscar-winner originally envisioned, is re-titled "Grilled Cheese" and marketed as a genre flick to avoid competition with Ron Howard's forthcoming somewhat more faithful production of the original idea.

(See, these seductively witty celebrity metaphors: they massage your sense of cleverness without passing on any message to your senses. Fuck 'em, right? It was fun to write, though. Did your great-grandmother ever set out a platter of old Sociables and similar crackers with thick cheese paste in the middle? Did you ever open one up and eat it like an Oreo? That's sort of how these taste, but more faintly, of course. Not awful, but I don't think I'll buy them again.)

Grapefruit-flavored air


You can buy iPod Nanos and Shuffles at 7-11 next to cans of air that cost about $5.50. Yeah, it's Japan. I always expected it would be this way, but it wasn't until recently.

They don't give you anywhere near enough air for it to be worth the price, but it is kind of fun. There are flavor strips that you fit into a slot in the oxygen mask. I chose grapefruit. (I forget what the other option was.) Just a little assembly required; then you sit back, relax and huff oxygen. It's not immediately apparent whether it's working or not, but then all of a sudden you realize you're getting weirdly emotional about this episode of "Doctor Who", and, hey, you're high on oxygen. Thanks, Japan!

I think we all know that canned air is the future.

June 23, 2006

Today, I began the delicate process of negotiating with the Canadians to get them to loan me their passports so I can go to North Korea and call Kim Jong Il a little bitch to his face. Although we are from the land of the free, United States citizens are not allowed to travel to North Korea or Cuba. (I'm not sure if we can still go to Iran. I'm not really up for that, anyway.) I am totally aggravated that all of the other foreigners here are allowed to go to North Korea, and I'm not. (My friend Adam, who is an English citizen but has a US green card, can't go either - the terms of his green card prohibit it. I already asked him.)

Initial results were promising:

"Give me your passport," I said to the first Canadian.
"Why do you want my passport?" he asked.
"I need to go to North Korea, and I can't go with mine," I said.
"No," he said.
"Come on," I said. "It's important."
"Why?" he asked.
"I need to call Kim Jong Il a little bitch," I said.
"You just did," he said.
"That didn't count," I said. "It has to be in North Korea."
"I'm not giving you my passport," he said.
"It's for freedom," I said. "Doesn't freedom mean anything to you?"
"No," he said.
"Goddam Canadian," I muttered.

The second Canadian walked into the room, searching for a textbook.

"Give me your passport," I said.
"Why?" he asked.
"He wants to go to North Korea," said the first Canadian.
"Why the hell do you want to go to North Korea?" asked the second Canadian.
"It's an insane, repressive dictatorship," I said.
"Yeah," he said.
"Exactly," I said.
"No," he said.
"This is important," I said.
"No," he said.

So the groundwork was laid. Later, one of the Canadians had the school radio tuned to some 70's and 80's rock hits station, and Rush came on. In a brilliant strategic manuever, I complimented Neil Peart's drumming. I reckon I'm wearing them down. It'll be New Year's in Pyongyang for me! Here's a suggestion about a hundred times better than the Juche idea: wear a bucket around your neck, Kim, you little bitch, because I am going to make you cry.

Elect this man

We got paid today. I managed to spend my entire paycheck last month; I had to pay double rent for the apartment, and the rest went to video games, ice cream, bowling, massages and a new suit. It's a hell of a life I'm leading over here. I'm going to be more responsible this month. (Kim Jong Il is reading this, and he's going, "Typical decadent American capitalist." Yeah, well, I produced like twice as much agriculture as you last month, and that was just from the week I didn't wash the dishes and something funky was going on at the bottom of the sink. Sorry, Kim, you little bitch. I'm always going to win.)

Wait, what the hell was I talking about? The students want to go bowling again this weekend, so that's what we'll be doing on Sunday. The school encourages us to go out with students. I am leery of this practice, because every minute I spend with students outside of work is a minute in which I am not calling Kim Jong Il a little bitch, but it's bowling, right? The first school outing to the bowling alley was about a month ago. At that point, it had been literally two years since last I bowled. I love the fair pastime of bowling, and I don't think I've been obscure about that, but it had been awhile. All I really want out of life is some peace of mind and a bowling team. I used to want more - to be president, to be an astronaut, to be a famous artist - but now I'd be totally content with peace of mind and a bowling team. Well, things weren't going that well for me, and I wasn't bowling. Alternately, I wasn't bowling, and things weren't going that well for me.

Bowling ad

My form was abysmal during the first game. I couldn't place the ball where I wanted it, and even threw a couple of gutterballs. I grew sullen and refused to talk to anyone, bewildering the students; fortunately, the Canadians picked up the slack. I improved slightly for the second game, rolling a 115, but I still got into an argument with an old lady who told it was a good score.

"[[It's not good]]," I told her.
"[[It's good]]," she said.
"[[No]]," I said, sternly. "[[It's bad]]."

For the third game, I dropped a 168 and had bowlers from several lanes over gathered around to watch my last three frames. Shit was working in that third game; I couldn't throw a strike, for some reason, but I was picking up some remarkable spares, earning peals of applause from the crowd. One of the students had brought prizes for the best performances. First place got a nice leather wallet, but I was the real winner, because I was third, and that warranted a huge box of delicious maple cream cookies.

June 22, 2006

Well, I gave it two days, and I haven't heard shit from Lewis Cass. Frankly, at this point, Andrew Jackson's entire cabinet is dead to me.

Obviously, I had to cover this:

(news) SHANGHAI, China - Scientists using DNA samples have doubled their estimates of the wild panda population in a nature sanctuary in China, in a finding they say bodes well for the survival of one of the world's endangered species.

The researchers believe that as few as 66 and as many as 72 pandas may be living in the Wanglang Nature Reserve - more than twice the previous estimate of 32, Wei Fumin, a zoologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a member of the research team, said Wednesday.

It used to be that you had to be good at science in order to be a scientist. Not any more, apparently. How long did it take these guys to realize that, when they yelled "Hey pandas, bring us your poop", more than half of the pandas probably shrugged and decided, look, all things being equal, I'm just going to sit here for a while longer, thanks. The article describes the efforts of one grad student to traverse treacherous mountain terrain in order to seek out panda poop himself, which begs the question: since when do pandas climb mountains? Am I the only man on earth who understands the psychology of the panda? You know how you feel about death? That's how pandas feel about getting up from a comfortable spot. This all seems very obvious to me.

The authors said they don't expect the findings to dampen China's enthusiasm for assisted breeding, which has proven effective in boosting numbers of captive pandas.

No, I don't think anything is going to dampen China's enthusiasm for hounding pandas to fuck.

I realize I'm not running at full speed yet. I'll get my legs back under me. I would like to tackle complex themes of love, betrayal and loss. But I still have a lot to say about pandas first.

(January 9, 2006) Taiwan's prime minister has said the island is unlikely to accept two giant pandas offered by China, because the gift could undermine its sovereignty.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that should be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Beijing says the pandas, which were promised to Taiwan following the visit of a prominent Taiwanese opposition politician, are now ready for delivery.

But the island's government sees the offer as something more sinister.

China offered the two giant pandas in May last year. One is a male, who is known as Little Darling, the other a female called Little Girl.

Journalists come in for a lot of criticism, particularly by the political blogs, so I think it's important to give credit when someone tells a story as perfectly and succinctly as Chris Hogg did there. The Chinese government honestly believes that they can bring the world to heel through the judicious application of pandas. If nuclear weapons were cute and wanted to go back to sleep more than anything else in the world, this would basically be the same thing that's going on between the U.S. and North Korea.

U.S. Lemon Lime Soda

USA! USA! DPRK Soda comes straight from Kim Jong Il's crotch. Everyone has to pretend they enjoy it. I know you read this, Kim, you little bitch. Nobody enjoys your crotch-soda.

And, of course, the story has an ending:

(April 1, 2006) Taiwan rejected the offer of two pandas from China. The pandas, first offered last spring, have been widely regarded in Taiwan as Chinese propaganda weapons.

Xinhua News tells it a little differently:

(April 1, 2006) aiwan on Friday declined to accept a goodwill gift of two giant pandas from the mainland, a decision that has met with criticism from across the Taiwan Straits.

One mainland expert on Taiwan described the decision as "an unwise and short-sighted move" that will only increase Taiwan people's dissatisfaction with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The pandas were picked from 11 animals at the Wolong Giant Panda Research Centre in Southwest China's Sichuan Province. They were named Tuantuan and Yuanyuan, from the Chinese word tuanyuan which means "reunion."

Although the mainland gesture was well received by more than 70 per cent of Taiwan people, the "independence"-minded Chen and his DPP administration have repeatedly denounced the offer as a propaganda ploy.

Li Jiaquan, a senior researcher with the Institute of Taiwan Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Taipei's decision was politically motivated.

"The sole reason is that Chen and his DPP administration fear closer cross-Straits exchanges will foil their secessionist attempts," he told China Daily.

I think everyone can agree that naming two pandas "reunion" and offering to send them to a country which you regard as a secessionist colony is a totally innocent gesture of friendship, whereas turning down those pandas is purely election-year politics. The funniest part, to my mind, is that China had the transfer paperwork all ready to submit to the international association for care of endangered animals, but they chose to fill out the "domestic transfer" form instead of the "international transfer" one. Taiwan accepts the pandas and suddenly it has acknowledged it is part of Chinese territory! Crafty! The Chinese government has a bureau of strategy. (Unlike the Jackson administration. I cannot stress enough how dead every member of that administration is to me.)

Wikipedia has an entire article on panda diplomacy, which is the strongest evidence yet that I am an asshole, because I didn't create it. (That honor goes to Bravo to you, It's all about speaking truth to power. Can I call you .199 for short? We should start a revolution, or a consulting firm.)

This is something I would like to know - I'd have to spend time with the pandas in question to be sure - does the sting of being rejected by an entire nation hurt more than the relief of not having to get up? Or, to use literal weights and measures, would a panda get up from the couch if Kim Jong Il sat down next to it? My guess is that it would, but I'm not going to present this as anything other than guesswork; unlike certain people, I intend to be scientific about my inquiries.

June 20, 2006

I'd appreciate if readers using Internet Explorer would email me about anything that doesn't appear to be working correctly on this site. I designed it using Firefox and tested it with Safari and Lynx, but I don't have access to a copy of IE. In this day and age, shouldn't the browsers agree on what an HTML tag means? Oh, but they don't.

It's too bad about the Carolina team winning the Stanley Cup. The Canadians in my office really had their hopes up. Neither of them are from Edmonton, but it's kind of a national concern for Canadians. (It's like Jesus said about taxes. "Render unto God what is God's. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's." Well, shit, render unto the Canadians the Stanley Cup.) I'm the only one with an internet connection, so I took it upon myself to provide them with updates. They asked if I wanted to split the difference between the Canadian and American versions and have a Thanksgiving dinner in early November. I made reference to my nuts in my reply. I am interested in alternately confirming and confounding stereotypes of imperialistic American behavior.


Written and Directed by Marc Heiden Produced by Marc Heiden Cinematography by Marc Heiden Starring Marc Heiden and a giant crab


I think I am establishing a reputation as an intense and uncompromising filmmaker.


"If you want me to lend legitimacy to your little event, you'll hold it on the proper day," I said. "Canadian Thanksgiving. What are you guys even celebrating?"
"Same thing as you," said the Canadians. "The family gets together and we have a nice meal, lots of food, usually turkey or something."
"They brought us corn and then we gave them smallpox blankets," I said. "Get a vicious historical irony and then I'll take you seriously."
"Fine, then don't come," said the Canadians.
"Fine, then, I won't," I said.
"Oh, come on, it'll be fun," they said.
"See you fuckers in the third week of November," I said.

This is all a bluff, of course. I can't cook and, if they've been paying attention, they know that. I have nothing to bring to this dinner except a general willingness to eat, and possibly bread, if I make it to the bakery before it closes. And smallpox blankets. Who has smallpox? Do I want to spend money on blankets? Will napkins do? I'm going to sleep now, and when I awake, I hope to see advice from Lewis Cass in the comments section for this post.

UPDATE: Thanksgiving is the fourth week of November. Damn it. This isn't the first time I've made that mistake. Did the Canadians interpret it as a willingness to compromise? To be on the safe side, I had better desecrate a maple leaf at work as soon as possible.

June 15, 2006

I've been drifting between "bearded" and "not quite bearded, but clearly can't be arsed to shave" ever since I arrived back in Japan. But I shaved on Wednesday morning for reasons now obscure to me, and the staff at my school pounced upon it like a pack of hyenas on holiday, snapping promotional photos for the school website. This was a pragmatic decision for them: I have sideburns at the moment, and I have made it known around the office that I am headed toward Wolfman Jack, pedal to the metal, not looking back, so I think they had a meeting and decided that this might be the best chance they'll have for months to catch me looking presentable. Before I started working here, I actually had to sign a waiver formally authorizing them to use my image for advertisements and promotional purposes, and apparently they're serious about it. They chose one of my most photogenic students and had us pose together in front of the white board, my arm draped condescendingly around his shoulders, according to their direction. (He is my Buddy. I am Supporting him on his Climb up Mount English. We are Together in This. What, exactly, are the semiotics here?) The results should be pretty weird. In retaliation, I conducted an entire class in an Irish accent. I need to get scruffy fast.


Look! It's YouTube. Click on them, and they play for you, right here, without leaving this page. Jesus, the web, it's still fairly shit, isn't it? I mean, you used to be able to log on to a BBS and the ANSI would play for you right away without you clicking some button. I set the bar at "telekinetic mind control rays" and I urge you all to do the same. (But let's be ready to compromise on "jetpacks". Trust me, I am fucking good with strategy.)

So, that was during Golden Week, which is a string of national holidays at the end of April, comprising about a week's worth of vacation, depending on how much humanity resides at your corporate level. The weather was beautiful for most of the week, so we said, "Let's go to a baseball game," and it finally rained. Well, that's how it goes. You can buy bowls of ramen or udon at the game, along with the usual snacking and drinking options, so it's not hard to keep warm. (And, if you are a foreigner, everyone is always giving you weird Japanese snack food.) At that point, the Hiroshima Carp were down 4-0, had played terribly all game, and it had just started raining. They finally, barely pushed through a run. How do the fans react?

(At the end, I had to put the camera down because a random guy wanted to hug me.)

And that's the seventh inning stretch, complete with jet balloons. We were privileged to be sitting in the (intensely packed) bleachers next to the Carp oendan, music / chant-leaders. They reminded me a lot of the yakuza in Kyoto, and I mean that in the best possible way: masters of their universe, unapproachable to those who live under their direction, inexplicably down with foreigners. I have some good photos that I'll post another time.

I think we all know that "Carp" is the best nickname in any major professional sports league.

June 13, 2006

Yes, there are occasional reminders that, although I've lived here before, I am not at home. Tonight, after work, I went running by the river. I usually run at night, away from the crowds. Hiroshima is run-down and tropical along the banks of the rivers that don't flow downtown; it makes for a pleasant course, if not quite as nice as the Kamogawa in Kyoto. After I'd run about half my usual route, I thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I couldn't tell if it had fallen or been kicked up by my cross-trainers. It was dark, though, and I wasn't carrying anything that I would care about dropping; anyway, my attention was immediately occupied by a curiously large, cool bead of sweat I could feel making its way down my right leg. I puzzled over it for a while and assumed that exhaustion was playing tricks on me. Finally, turning away from the river, I came to an intersection and had to stop for a moment to let cars pass. That's when I noticed that there was a thin, slimy snake on my leg.

I kept my cool and dealt with it. Look, though, this isn't Kyoto - surrounded by a ring of mountains, well away from the sea, complete with ancient cultural treasures to attest to the fact that nobody has gone stomping through there recently. This is Hiroshima. Flying reptiles are a serious concern here - this is where it all began. If Godzilla's parents were a celebrity superstar couple, they would have named him "Hiroshima".

It's wise to keep wary.

And there were lizards


When Godzilla talks about something that happened back in the day, this is where it probably happened. When Godzilla surveys the young monsters and wonders when all these scenesters showed up, muses about how much better it was when it was D.I.Y., this is where they did it. When Godzilla needs to salve his coke-scarred sense of self-worth by claiming some exclusive awareness of where they lead a simple, honest life, far away from the cynical star-fuckers on the coasts, this is where he's talking about. The first time Godzilla lifted a shop, this is where he lifted it from; when Godzilla gets released from the volcano and the judge says he has to live under house arrest at his mom's house, this is where Ghidorah shows up at all hours and this is where the backyard gets fucking destroyed but nobody is all that bothered because they're just happy to see him doing well again, and they hope he'll stay clean this time.

I could keep going.

Street monks

Following on from yesterday:


1. Death From Above 1979, Romantic Rights
2. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Is This Home On Ice
4. Sid Vicious, My Way
3. The Rapture, Olio and I Need Your Love (but not House of Jealous Lovers...!)

Obviously, my rendition of My Way was note-fucking-perfect. Damn! I have raised Nancy Spungen from the dead and now I have no idea what to do with her.

June 12, 2006

There was an earthquake this morning. I was asleep, although not soundly: I'd only been out for an hour, and in the creeping humidity of the Hiroshima summer, and in the unsettled stomach of a man who'd eaten things he couldn't identify at some horrifically expensive Japanese restaurant the night before, sleep had taken the form of flight, with one of those small, bounce-several-times-until-you-get-some-air-under-you prop planes and a cracked jungle runway as the means of take-off. It wasn't coming easily. I was wracked with guilt as well. Earlier that day, I'd sworn that I'd go find some wild monkeys on Monday (there might be some on an island near Shikoku, reachable within two and a half hours), and it was now clear that I wasn't going to get enough sleep to do it. I was also consumed with thoughs of revenge upon a drunken co-worker who babbled non-stop through what everyone else agreed was an achingly gorgeous (my adjectives, but the point remains) rendition of "No Surprises" at karaoke.

Fuck! Everything shook. Naturally, it took me a while to understand that I wasn't asleep. I tried to remember what I'd been taught to do when everything started shaking. We had fire drills and tornado drills at my grade school, but I couldn't remember if there had been any drills for this sort of thing. I thought about safety drills and how unlikely it seemed that the building could stand much longer, given how much it was shaking, and whether, when it fell, it would fold evenly and without a cloud of dust, like a deck of cards - I had decided that it would, when the earthquake finally stopped. I heard a television go on in the apartment below me, and someone in another apartment swore in English. I stumbled to my computer to confer with the internet. I figured the news wouldn't have anything yet, but it seemed totally irresponsible of the weather not to mention the earthquake. I made it out to the balcony to clear my head; I could hear the television, and a telephone conversation next door. The first few cars after that sounded like furtive escape attempts.

Announcements began on previously-unseen loudspeakers outside. I remember a jingle before the voice began, because there usually is a jingle, and then a firm voice said, "Hiroshima," and a few more sentences after that. I had to marvel at the fact that I couldn't understand a single word, other than "Hiroshima". My Japanese isn't terrible, but I couldn't even pick a preposition out of there. The announcement was repeated three times. I studied the tone of the voice carefully. It was saying that nothing had been broken, I decided. It listed some places that hadn't been damaged, and described several respects in which there wasn't any trouble. I went back to sleep and slept pretty soundly.

When I woke up, I discovered that a bottle of olive oil had fallen from a shelf in my kitchen and broken on the floor. Also, a few dishes that had been drying on the rack above the sink had fallen back into the sink; they'd have to be washed again. I muttered angrily, pulled on a pair of jeans and went for a massage instead of dealing with it.

(news) A strong earthquake rattled southern Japan early Monday followed by a milder temblor in the north, but there was no danger of a tsunami from either, the nation's meteorological agency said.

At least five people were injured from the magnitude-6.2 quake in the south, but no one died, Kyodo News agency reported. No injuries or damage were reported from the second quake, Kyodo said.

The first quake occurred at around 5 a.m. 87 miles underground in Oita Prefecture (state) on the southern island of Kyushu. It struck wide areas of southern and western Japan, Kyodo said.

As it turns out, my neighbor swore because he realized that his fish tank - and his two turtles - were perched directly above his computers (and his video game systems, and his external drives, and his router, et cetera), and the entire thing was shaking pretty hard. He lunged for the fish tank and held it tightly, wondering if he should try to lift it from the shelf and away to safety, or if that was too risky. In the end, the turtles were fine. Nobody saved my goddam olive oil, though. Jesus, I still need to clean that.

Street sign

(news) A woman in her 60s was hospitalized in stable condition after hitting her head on a pole in the city of Matsuyama on southwestern Shikoku island, the fire department said.

In the city of Hiroshima, a junior high school student was injured by a falling object, a 56-year-old man hurt his arm and a man in his 40s was scratched on his face by his frightened cat, officials said.

In Hatsukaichi city of Hiroshima prefecture, an 82-year-old woman fell and broke her right leg after her dog was surprised by the quake and dragged her on the ground, a fire department official said.

In another case, a man staying at a campsite in southwestern Miyazaki prefecture "hit his elbow hard against a wall when rushing to turn off the heat, but the injury was very mild," a prefectural official said.

The junior high school student was still up from the night before, studying. I'm fairly certain about that. I'd be curious to know how the cat developed an association between that guy's face and earthquakes, though. "I can stop this," the cat thought. "That's the face. It's all on my shoulders now. I've been waiting for this. By God, this is what I was put here to do. And now, I'm going to stop the world from shaking. I'm going after that face."

After the World Cup match that night, we compared notes. A few people had caught different pieces of the announcement. Evidently, it had been quite detailed (and not pre-recorded), with notes on the epicentre, the force of the quake, and the fact that no tsunamis had been created. We talked about what had fallen in our apartments, how disorienting it had been to wake up during an earthquake, and how this never happens back home.

June 9, 2006

Some readers expressed concerns that I went silent because I was beating myself up over the Caroline thing. I wasn't, honestly; I was just going through an uncommunicative phase. (Too bad she got fired, of course, but in retrospect, my boss made the right decision on that one.) Moving to Texas became a disaster with remarkable speed and uncanny precision, and it wasn't until early the next year that I managed to turn the whole experience around into a good one. It took me ages to find any kind of work at all, and expensive things kept breaking or getting stolen; the three-legged cat never came back, and all I ever wanted was to be alone. By October, I was so fed up that I grew a beard, got fat and spent entire days indiscernible from late-period Jim Morrison. I felt uneasy and paranoid outside of my apartment and low-rent Mexican restaurants. (Not the good ones, mind you. I got the fear in those.) So I was fairly uncommunicative for a while, unless you were a heavily made-up waitress asking if I wanted more salsa. (Why, yes! ??Si!)

In October, I received an email from a man claiming to be Howard Hong. Last summer, after he spent $26,000 on artwork by Congo, a famous painter monkey, suggestions were made on this site that Howard Hong was a visionary genius and a shining light for humankind. I was going through an uncommunicative phase when the email arrived, unfortunately - this site was on hiatus, but even if it hadn't been, I'm not sure I would have even known what to say to a man I held in such high esteem. I mean, do you think any of these people knew what to say to their visitor? It gets overwhelming sometimes.

Howie (as he referred to himself) said that my "blogs" about my "obsessions" with his paintings were interesting, and he wanted to know what my obsession with monkeys is. Look, if I could articulate that, this would have wrapped up back in 1998. Sometimes art is like that. A great composer lives by the sea and tries for years to express in music the feeling in his soul from the perfection of the water; nobody, upon hearing and enjoying his work, understands that he is utterly failing to express it.

(news) Gypsy (L), a 50-year-old orangutan, draws a picture with crayons as her grandson Poppy watches during a Sunday afternoon drawing session at Tama Zoo Park in suburban Tokyo January 29, 2006. Three female orangutans at the zoo have taken up drawing with crayons since last December and Gypsy has completed about fifteen drawings using a combination of different colours, especially with her favourites blue and yellow, zoo officials said.

So that's your legacy, Howie. Pretty good, I'd say.

Near the end of the summer, I exchanged emails with the woman who bought the Emil Bach House, subject of an entry earlier last year. She told me about her plans to restore the house (a monumental task) and perhaps run a selective mini-bed & breakfast there; she invited me over for a tour, but I was already in Texas by then. She did say that the local urinating crackheads were apparently urinating somewhere else, because she hadn't seen them, so that's good. If I've ever implied that urinating crackheads do not appreciate classic architecture, let me take this opportunity to apologize. (According to my server stats, urinating crackheads account for about 14% of my traffic. Hey, I'm not shy about playing to my audience.)

A couple months later, the granddaughter of Emil Bach himself sent me a nice email to say she'd enjoyed the follow-up post about Frank Lloyd Wright and my old shoes. I was on the web back when it was a few people shouting into a large, cavernous, uninhabited space. Other than the occasional email, there was no way to tell who was reading the site - where they were from, or more importantly, how they were responding to it. Then server stats became easy, and you knew the numbers and you could even do some back-and-forth with other sites, but the non-corporate internet was still off in space, still inescapably separate from the world off-line. Now, if you conjure the right spirits and conjure them well, you might find yourself talking directly into the historical record. Perhaps I'm irrevocably old school, but I think that's splendid.

(Unfortunately, by the time she emailed, I was in the aforementioned uncommunicative phase, so I never replied. But thanks, Robin.)

In the winter, I received a legal threat from a lawyer who was angry about something I'd written several months before, and claimed that he could prosecute me under new anonymous internet harassment laws. The correspondence was strange: it was like trying to reason with a man who was angry that you were standing on his lawn while he was trying to mow it, even though you were actually sitting on the beach and his riding mower was a rusty pole with a cardboard box trailing behind on a string. Dude knew a lot about lawn mowers, but that didn't change the sand between our toes. I was kind of surprised and asked around for some advice before deciding to ignore it. The site was already on hiatus by then; even though I'd posted as recently as the end of December, it had effectively been out of service since the end of July. (I had to do the December updates because I was so amused about the hand-modeling thing, but I probably should have left it blank; as any English teacher will tell you, it's confusing to use the present tense to talk about something from the past.) So it was weird to get threatened over something that felt so distant by then; it was like someone calling you to account over an English paper you wrote in high school. What's the point? What are you doing, guy? ??Donde esta tu pantalones?

More about all of that some other time. Now I am back in shape and bowling well, so things are all right.

June 5, 2006

Certain features that should work do not, and several emails have yet to be returned. But! The site emerges from its slumber.

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


January 2012, December 2011, January 2011, September 2010, August 2010, June 2010, March 2010, October 2009, February 2009, January 2009, September 2008, August 2008, March 2008, February 2008, October 2007, July 2007, June 2007, January 2007, September 2006, July 2006, June 2006, January 2006, December 2005, September 2005, August 2005, July 2005, June 2005, May 2005, March 2005, February 2005, January 2005, December 2004, October 2004, July 2004, June 2004, May 2004, April 2004, February 2004, January 2004, December 2003, November 2003, October 2003, September 2003, August 2003, July 2003, June 2003, May 2003, April 2003, March 2003, February 2003, January 2003, December 2002, November 2002, October 2002, September 2002, August 2002, July 2002, June 2002, May 2002, April 2002, March 2002, February 2002, January 2002, December 2001, November 2001, October 2001, September 2001, August 2001, July 2001, December 1999, November 1999, October 1999, May 1999, February 1999, January 1999, December 1998, November 1998, October 1998, June 1998, May 1998, April 1998, March 1998, February 1998, December 1997, November 1997, October 1997, September 1997, and the uncategorised wilderness of the Beelzetron era: 010622 - 010619, 010615 - 010611, 010608 - 010604, 010601 - 010529, 010525 - 010521, 010518 - 010514, 010511 - 010507, 010504 - 010430, 010427 - 010423, 010420 - 010416, 010413 - 010409, 010406 - 010402, 010330 - 010326, 010323 - 010319, 010316 - 010312, 010309 - 010307, 019223 - 010219, 010216 - 010212, 010209 - 010205, 010202 - 010109, 010126 - 010122, 010119 - 010115, 010112 - 010108, 010105 - 010102, 001229 - 001224, 001222 - 001218, 001215 - 001211, 001208 - 001204, 001201 - 001124, 001124 - 001120, 001117 - 001113, 001110 - 001106, 001103 - 001030, 001027 - 001023, 001020 - 001016, 001013 - 001010, 001006 - 000927.

Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.