Excerpt: Kung Fu Snow White

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When I was teaching drama in Tokyo, I could never find the *perfect* script that I wanted, and had to just rely on “good enough” scripts. I’d happy to report that, regardless of the script choice, we always had a ton of fun and made every performance something worthwhile. Now, I’m not saying that I could ever write an original, “perfect” script by any means, but I’m reasonably confident I could manage an original “good enough” one. And thus was born the idea of “Kung Fu Snow White and the Seven Ninjas.”  Cut to three years later, and I never finished things beyond Act One. Maybe it’s about time I brushed that off and see if I could complete it?  Here’s a sample, when the villains, “Number One Student,” her underlings (Newt and Toad), and a Tournament Planner, wonder what to do about Snow White and the upcoming kung fu tournament…

 

TOURNAMENT PLANNER
You know, speaking of make-up stylists, I have a great resource I can make available to you for just a small surcharge to the “fairy tale set” package. Are you ready for this? A magic mirror.

(TOAD and NEWT react appreciatively)

NUMBER ONE
What kind of magic mirror?

PLANNER
You know, it reveals things. Magically.

TOAD
The future?

PLANNER
Well, no.

NEWT
The past.

PLANNER
Not really.

NUMBER ONE
What good is a revelation if it’s not about the past or future?

PLANNER
It reveals . . . the Truth.

NUMBER ONE
Oh! The ultimate Truth?

PLANNER
Is there any other kind?

NUMBER ONE
Ooh! Well, then by all means, by all means. Let’s bring it in here.
(to TOAD and NEWT, as the PLANNER exits)
I didn’t realize guests like that charming Smile-guy would be coming already. Distract them! Yes, distract them until we get everything … properly ready.

(TOAD and NEWT salute, bow and kowtow, exiting opposite. Enter the MAGIC MIRROR. It can be as elaborate as wheeled prop, as simple as a frame for the actor’s head, or as funny/unexpected as a TV displaying a live feed. The actor can poke his/her head through a curtain when summoned, according to the prop.)

Ah! Truly it is a Magic Mirror, my lucky looking-glass! So far I fail to see my glorious reflection, but maybe it just needs the magic words?
(beat)
“OK, Glass.” Answer me this question…

MAGIC MIRROR
(after revealing its face)
Home screen, start up tone:
“Hello, User! Please sign in.”
Username, password

NUMBER ONE
(sighs, then as fast as possible)
numberone4ever underscore 38 at shifu temple dot CO dot CN password beiberfever 1234 baby baby oh

MAGIC MIRROR
Welcome screen home page
“How can I help you today?”
Search field, cursor blinks.

NUMBER ONE
Answer me this question. Who is the best, most brilliant, skilled, sexy, and, most humble, most deserving, and all around ultimate student of the land?

MAGIC MIRROR
Unfortunate beep.
Question is not recognized.
How can I help you?

NUMBER ONE
Don’t tell me.
(checks behind the mirror)
Of course. “Made in Japan,” so it’s set on Haiku mode or something. All right, let’s see–
Student falls, pleading.
Who is the most ultimate?
The mirror reveals!

MAGIC MIRROR
That’s better. Ahem.

Winter fields of snow;
Stepping prayer-like through her forms,
Lowly woman bows.

NUMBER ONE
That doesn’t sound like me at all.

MAGIC MIRROR
It’s Snow, Okay? Snow.
(Pause, then counts the syllables with his/her fingers)
Snow-Snow, Snow-Snow, Snow-Snow-Snow.
Just so you know– Snow.

NUMBER ONE
Okay, Glass… Take a hike!
(recites)
One swift uppercut.
Thousand shards of glass falling.
SMASHED like all my hopes!

MAGIC MIRROR
Gulp! Screen saver, on!

EXIT MAGIC MIRROR

 

A Coffee For Your Thoughts

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coffeeforyourthoughts

“Oof!” the lady couldn’t help but exhale as her body fell into the booth.

It was one of those long booths that ran the length of the wall of the coffee shop. The man was half-way down, but that only meant he was maybe two seats away from her, on the same side. His once-piping hot Americano still occupied a quarter of the paper cup in front of him. It had tasted good, of course, or as good as could be expected for overroasted, overpressed espresso and tap water. It was his habit, you see, to not to finish it. That quarter cup was the only thing allowing him to stay seated for a couple of hours.

There was once another fellow occupant of this line of booth, on the far side from where the lady just sat. The only artifacts of this lost occupant were an empty cup, a dangling tea bag flapping like a white flag, and three lonely napkins, unused except for having served their purpose as some token acknowledgement that *something* besides a cup of tea should be taken to the table.

The man frowned. He had wondered at the time if he should have slid all the way over once that seat was vacant, but he had sat in the middle, and such decisions always had such a finality about them, no matter how random their beginning. Now the comfort of old decisions meant the lady had no choice but to sit in a place just a little too close for normalcy.

Not that normalcy seemed too much of a concern for her. Her older, somewhat ample frame was draped by a flowing blouse with bold swatches of color, a close-up of technicolor giraffe. Her jewelry was equally as bold and generously round, with wide hoops for earrings, of course. Her hair was still desperately trying to be blonde rather than white, and curly rather than frizzy. Her eyes would certainly be bold enough on their own, but the heavy makeup made a point of reaching out to the world ahead of them.

Her coffee was the smallest available, still labeled as regular, of course, and loaded up with whipped cream and caramel sauce that had become the new definition of “coffee.” Her bag was also larger than necessary, but all of this seemed appropriate for a woman who was likely more comfortable with excess.

She protruded a thin, badly reddened smile toward the man in gratuitous hello, as if they would be in on a great secret, just for the two of them. The man’s smile was a bit more wan. His eyes, considerably more deadened, rolling as he did so. His only thought was “Crap.”

“Crappity-crap-crap,” he thought. “This lady’s going to want to talk to me, isn’t she? Can’t someone go to a public place any more in private?”

He tried to turn his attention to his Economist magazine. He liked to stare at the long columns of words and think about nothing, but he noticed her out of the corner of his eyes reaching into her bag and producing yet another,

like some weird Russian nesting doll or some new show called Housewife Magic.

She set the second bag on the table, then proceeded to set the table around her coffee with a bottle of water, a well-worn Dan Brown novel, earphones with no music player, and, naturally, some token napkins. There also was yet another bag, this one a flimsy white plastic shopping bag.

The lady caught the man staring at her cornucopia of cafe survival essentials then, impossibly, widened her eyes even more. She was indeed sharing a secret with the man, and opened the bag to reveal the sushi she had bought at the grocery store and smuggled inside. She flashed a “shush” with her forefinger in front of a blown kiss.

The man’s eyes said “whatever!” silently. And he snapped his magazine to attention.

The woman looked ahead, too, but leaned slightly to the left, toward the man. Clearly, he would be included in the conversation regardless of his silent protests.   

“It’s made with brown rice. Really,” she made the implicit conversation more explicit. “And a bit of hummus, cucumber and red pepper, feta. Greek Sushi, can you believe it? I just *had* to try it of course.”     

He forced his eyebrows to raise for a beat.

“I had a friend from work who was from Japan, you know. He brought some sushi for an office party one time? From the grocery store. I mean I *know* people don’t eat it for like every meal or something, or whatever he said, but I just thought it was kind of funny, you know?” She turned to look fully at that man, just to make sure she was clear for her next point: “Well, not *funny*-funny, I mean. You know.

“Anyway, I just say that because I know this has to be kind of wrong. I see a *lot* of cooking shows, though, and fusion is like *the* thing. I don’t think you can really be any kind of chef nowadays and not do something fusion.”

The man wondered why conversation had to happen to him, of all people. Maybe there was something about his face. If so, there would be something kind of hopelessly sad about that.

By this time, the woman had busied herself enough to open a sachet of aoli, herb and wasabi dressing for dipping. “Oh my,” she said. “This looks so healthy! Isn’t it weird that something can look healthy? I guess we can say that something looks ‘delicious,’ but you’re really just mixing up your senses, right?       

“I try to eat healthy as much as I can, you know. Not that I started as young as I should have, but what can you do? Everything’s so importantly healthy, or maybe healthfully important, or whatever. It’s too hard to escape it.”

By this time, she managed to pop one of the one-inch oil-dipped faux-sushi rolls into her mouth. She chewed for just a few split seconds then flashed the man a surprised smile, hiding her lips like she needed to cover a quick chuckle. “Oh my gosh! It’s so *good!” she confided.

“It’s hard to think about food as food anymore, right? Just some weird combination of natural flavors with a bunch of vitamins and fibers and what not. It’s like you’re not making decisions about food on a daily basis, but about medicine.”

The man wondered if anyone else would be coming to this section of the cafe.

She went on, the bites of sushi doing little to stem the rising stream of consciousness. “I remember when French cooking was all the rage. Eggs, cream, beurre blancs… And pastries, naturally. God! What was food supposed to be then?” She leaned to the side again, answering her own question, “Cuisine as pleasure.”       

She didn’t want to raise a sushi piece too high for the barista to see, but held it firmly as an example in the shadow of the plastic bag. “And this was supposed to be something elegant, right? Japanese food is so carefully presented– crafted, really. I mean, this is tasty,” she said as it too got popped into her wide maw, “but some people dedicate their whole lives to this kind of thing. Like art really.  Food as aesthetic.”

“But hey, this had whole grain brown rice, and it’s all organic, too. My package told me it’s the best combination of cancer-fighting vitamins and low-fat, gluten-free, all-natural superfoods. You’d almost think it was farmed locally and all artisan, too.”     

The man ruefully looked at the cooled coffee on the table in front of him. He thought it was Fair Trade, but wasn’t really paying attention at the register and really didn’t want to say anything about it anyway.

“If you haven’t been to the farmer’s market on Wednesday afternoons, you really *should.* And I’m not saying that because it’s the trendy thing or something. I really think you should. Whether it’s pastries or sushi or artisanny stuff up the wallapazoo you’ll find it there. Ohmygod I *love* the chilaquiles they have.”

He had to stop himself from asking what chilaquiles were.

“I guess what food really is,” she said, putting away the plastic, like she was trying to hide comic book from her Science teacher. “It’s a community. People at that market aren’t just giving you a piece of their wares, their giving  you a piece of their world. And the place in the home that everyone gathers? The kitchen. It’s something that really binds us all, you know, food.”

She raised her whipped cream with coffee underbelly as a kind of cheers to welcome the man once more into her philosophy.

The man stuck out his lower lip and bulged his eyes slightly. Without a word, he threw back his quarter cup of coffee like a shot, for courage. He lifted his weight off the seat and exited, an empty cup a signal of his disagreement, or at least the punctuation to the end of the conversation.

Oblivious to the significance, the woman held her own cup with both hands and smiled as she regarded the whirls of cream before her.

Universal Truth

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Google's Time Life Archives; February 1959; Photographer: John Dominis

Google’s Time Life Archives; February 1959; Photographer: John Dominis

What if doing the Hokey Pokey and turning yourself around really IS what it’s all about?

 

Once Upon a World: Taiwan’s Moon People

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Telling stories over a cocktail in a loungey bar? It’s no wonder I try to drop into The Moth Story Slam whenever I find myself back in LA. It’s just too bad that the synchronicity of such events is not simply like catching lightning in a bottle, but chasing down that damn firefly and all you got is some narrow-necked empty Corona. The last one I went to was Summer 2014, and the theme was “Altered,” which you’d think would lead to some crazy stories, being LA and all, but in fact resulted in far too many “and what altered was my perspective on life” kind of stories. Here’s my attempt at some kind of story, although it’d never make it on stage as a story of “real life,” since it’s embellished with more than a little bit of dramatic license. I’ll leave it to you to figure out to what extent the story is “altered” as such, but that’s a going a bit meta for the theme, so I’ll stop the prologue here and just begin with…

tawiansupermoon

TAIWAN’S MOON PEOPLE

I should have known better when the conversation during the first date involved stories of her psychiatrist and the medication she was using.

Normally, that would be a deal-breaker, but then again, I was already breaking my own rules about deal-breaking with such a date. Rule number one: Don’t date a local girl. Rule number two: Don’t date anyone “younger.” Yet, there I was, walking down the shopping streets of Ximen in Taiwan, with a college girl who went from friendly tour guide to something more– so seamlessly but so quickly that the result was a heady rush usually expected from cheap wine.

As a consultant for design engineering, Taiwan had great opportunity– one of the five largest and growing economies in Asia, with decades of dealing with Western counterparts while remaining decades behind in infrastructure. And while my company had many positions available for a whole team of consultants, I had never been placed in a company so deliberately with such a lack of support. While there was more than a simple curb-side drop-off on my arrival to my furnished, temporary apartment, it wasn’t *much* more than that.

But no matter. Within a few weeks, I had found for myself a routine for work, a new gym, and familiar faces at my regular coffee shop. In fact, seeing my favorite barista recognizing me and knowing my order made me smile the most. What was it that some famous guy said? Something about somewhere everybody knowing your name? Well, hers was Love. Really, it was PengWen, but her “Western name” was Love.

Coffee orders evolved to conversation, then to a connection. “Oh!” she almost yelled with the laugh, “You know Doraemon?” Of course I recognized the blue cartoon cat in the pin on her apron. He’s a robot cat from the future with a doorway to another dimension in his stomach. “Isn’t that just hilarious?” she said, knowing it was so, in that ironic psuedo-hipstery kind of way. Exactly.

Why, yes, I would need someone to show me around the city. And why, yes, we did share the same likes and dislikes of food. And movies. And music. And the moon. “Daylight is so harsh. And so bright? What is up with that. The moon is so much more mysterious. You can rest in the moonlight.” The night was filled with more conversation, too, and later, kisses. And later, more. Maybe the mention of the medication at some point days ago didn’t seem so important, not when we also talked of family, her life, her school major, graphic design. There was also her plan to move to the States. And after all, I didn’t want a girlfriend. That was against the rules. She didn’t want a boyfriend, either. That wouldn’t be according to the plan.

I told her those rules. She told me those plans. Semi-regularly. We were meeting nearly every weekend. We were Skype chatting every night. She wouldn’t end Skype until we had both got ready for bed, and I would lay my head on the pillow with her face in the laptop beside me on the bed. She refused to go to sleep first, since I was so “old,” I obviously should be the one more sleepy, despite it being 1 am already for the both of us. “You logout first.” “No, you logout first.”

Good Lord. I was dating someone. A local girl. I didn’t want to do the math to find out she was 12 years younger. It would be just one more reason to not do this. But there was a bigger reason telling me the opposite. I think I was falling in love. Months were passing, and my worry about the relationship went from “should this be happening?” to “when should I tell her?” Our conversations were growing deeper. Her graduation was approaching. There was a threshold coming.

Also coming to Taiwan’s skies was a “supermoon.” I would secretly plan that it would provide an excuse for a nighttime hike, holding hands and kissing under clear skies and giant moonlight. Instead of Skyping, though, I saw a Facebook message from Love. She apologized for becoming my friend, that this friendship was not what she thought it was. She wanted to make it quick; she wrote that she had no “good” friends, was not a good person, and was ending all her relationships.

Once upon a time, in the first couple of weeks when first lived alone in my own apartment, I looked at the pile of dishes in the sink and decided I would rather just buy a whole new set, dumping all those in front of me into the trash instead.

I tried to parse the message; nuance and playfulness are hard to communicate through a second language, after all. But the words dind’t change no matter how I looked at them. All my replies were being “seen” but not answered. That night, I went to sleep on the bed with the laptop closed on the far side of me and stared at the equally blank ceiling.

The next two days, my feet carried me through the city and back home again. My hands did the CAD drawings and emails they were supposed to. My mouth idly ate some food for me. My eyes watched the world as if it were some strange foreign film.

Well, if there was one thing I was good at, it was goodbyes. The final word between me and Love would not be the question mark and crooked head sticker sent to elicit a response from social media. I prepared a multiparagraph missive so I could rehearse as best I could my understanding of her feelings, my guess at my own failings, and my attempt to hold her to higher standard, to not give her the easy out. At least we would always have Starbucks.

She left the coffeeshop at the end of her shift more promptly then she usually would have. Her head almost buried in a high collar ill-suited for Taiwan’s heat, and her attention buried even more into the private world allowed by her muffler-style headphones, she almost didn’t see me. Or maybe she chose not to. I had to step in front of her to give her whatever it was that I remembered from my rehearsal.

After dutifully giving her time to react, she explained, still without really seeing me, that she was drunk that night, but it helped her to say the things that needed to be said. It was a decision she had to do for herself, she said. That it was completely selfish and rude and it confirmed she was not a good woman but it had to be done. For her future.

“Yeah, well. You’re right, then– You are selfish. But in a relationship you don’t get to be selfish. It’s not a lightswitch you hit as you exit a room. That’s not the way it works.”

“I’m almost done clearing my friends,” she said without a shrug, “I just don’t have friends basically.”

And, “You know, I’m not a cold-hearted person. This is the worst thing ever, but I have to do what must be done. 加油, Jiayou… good luck to you.”

I grabbed her by both shoulders, turning her out of her walk. “No, I can’t accept that. I don’t like the sound of what you’re saying. Are … are you going to hurt yourself?” I searched her eyes, trying to peer into the bottom of the pool. The strangest fact was that there was nothing strange there. They were completely normal, clear pools after all.

“I have never made those kinds of plans,” she said.

But nothing more came out of either of us. Eventually, “what would you have me do?” she asked simply.

I let go. Shaking my head, in order to keep the rest of my body from shaking, I didn’t know what else to say. “You need to do this? Fine. You’ve already said this was a selfish choice. I will still be your friend even if you don’t want it. You can message me when you’re ready, then.”

She put her headphones back on, faint strains of Adele’s Chasing Pavements wafting by, and continued on her way.

That night was the supermoon, the night my heart was broken.

Later, we did in fact get in touch with each other again. She was waning herself off her medication and was suffering extreme paranoia, apparently, and talked a bit about that journey. There was a brief, new phase of relationship, but by then, however, even coming back to friends was too arduous a journey, and it would never be what it once was. The next break-up turned out much more mutual, and much more natural.

As it turns out, these days, I much prefer the daylight.

“Dammit, Bob”

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“You know that ‘Crazy Hat Day’ still implies ‘Business Casual…'”

 

fatman at the post office

“You know this is why they took away Pajama Day, right?”

Having Words with Words

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letters

Words?
Words, where are you?

Ah, there you are.
I think.
Verbs, you seem so apatethic.
Adjectives, you’re languishing.
Nouns? Ew!
Interjections, you’re such blobs.

I know it’s been a while.
Look.
I’ve kind of ignored you
Haven’t spent time with you
But thinking of you doesn’t count,
Not if thinking of never becomes working with.

But
There’s so much more we can do together!
To explore the world
To plumb the depths of understanding
To light the world with art.

Words?
Words, what do you say?