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    I know I stand in line until you think you have the time to spend an evening with me

    Posted by Sean at 20:56, May 27th, 2008

    I spent part of the Memorial Day weekend going to a college friend’s wedding outside Harrisburg. Most of us from the old group gathered, so I got to see everyone and meet the latest babies. Very exciting. Funniest moment: four of us were from small-town Pennsylvania, and we all–independently of one another–looked the venue up and down and said, “A wedding at the fire hall–we’re so totally home!”


    I am in love with Dunkin Donuts. No, not the coffee–I know everyone loves that–the doughnuts themselves. I grew up with Pennsylvania Dutch sweets, so there was no shortage of real sticky buns and tender homemade kieffels and glorious pies–those transplanted Krauts make the best pies ever–but I went into Dunkin Donuts for a half-dozen on a whim a few weeks ago, and now I can’t stop. They’re so greasy they stick to the roof of the mouth, the cream filling tastes like chalk, and the crumb is about as tender as a Nerf ball. But I have two with a cup of coffee, and I feel American all over. Bonus points for the would-be sleek new box and stylized logos and tag line: “America runs on Dunkin.” Right, Dunkin Donuts provides fuel for, like, an active life. Didn’t you know that?


    The buddy I’m staying with has a few early seasons of The Simpsons on DVD. This is good. One of them includes that classic episode in which Sideshow Bob gets out of jail and marries Aunt Selma. Also good.

    Now I have Selma and Bob’s karaoke version of “Somethin’ Stupid” going through my head non-stop. This is bad. Very, very bad.


    Posted by Sean at 18:28, May 19th, 2008

    Eric discusses one of my pet peeves in this post, probably benefiting his blood pressure by not delving too deeply in:

    I hate the way Sunday has become official morality day.

    I say this not in criticism of organized religion or morality in general, but because I don’t like trickery, and I don’t like the way Sundays have become the official day for media to play preacher and promote morality — especially the newly manufactured morality which appeals to the non-churchgoers with unacknowledged spiritual needs.

    Fifteen years ago when I was in college, Camilla Paglia identified a certain kind of doctrinaire feminist as “desperate for a religion”; I assume from the way she discussed showily hip academic leftists and queer activists that she’d agree many of them have the same problems. At the time, I was just leaving the church in which I’d been reared. The idea that people would try to fulfill their spiritual cravings with trendoid politics struck me as weird. I guess it still strikes me as weird, but now I’m used to it.

    Nevertheless, it makes much social and political discourse extremely tiresome, and I really wish people would knock it off. If you need shriving, by all means go to confession or send a tearful prayer heavenward. Please don’t inflict your ecstasies of guilt and dogmatism on me while I’m trying to make small talk with a glass of wine at a party.

    I realize that Eric’s not really talking about polite conversation; he’s talking more about opinion pages and other spaces for serious commentary, where more serious value judgments are to be expected. I guess it would be nice if people whose scribblings are produced there could at least liberate themselves from formula a bit.

    Exhibit 1 is this op-ed linked by Eric, which I unwittingly clicked through to. In terms of finger-wagging social commentary, it has everything: a crack analogy, an appeal to some think-tank expert whose qualifications aren’t at all established, and compulsive genuflection to a supercilious Brit decrying the decline of civilization. Since I’ve been making the transition from the cell-phone culture in to that here in the States, I’ve actually been thinking about these things quite a bit, and I think the writer (and his Brit) are full of it:

    Sociologists and communitarians are somewhat obsessed with the idea of public spaces – places where strangers necessarily bump up against one another and form community. When we talk on cell phones in public, we are, as Rosen points out, intentionally removing ourselves from the public space in a form of “radical disengagement” with the public sphere. We’re participating in an activity that doesn’t just exclude those around us, it imposes on them too – in effect declaring our neighbors to be less important than we are. Or worse: It’s a little bit like telling them that they don’t exist.

    Perhaps none of this is surprising. The sociologists Christian Licoppe and Jean-Philippe Heurtin have posited that modernity is constantly deinstitutionalizing personal bonds at every level. The effects of the cell phone are very much of a piece with their thesis. We have traded the rich tapestry of social cohesion – chatting with the cashier at the grocery store or with the fellow in the elevator – for these tiny, often useless, individual connections with those we already know.

    Am I the only one who remembers life before cell phones? If you don’t, let me assure you that it was not a never-ending stream of chummy exchanges with new acquaintances–the grocery store clerk, the guy in the elevator, the woman you passed through the revolving doors on the way into the bank, and the janitor in the movie theater rest room–that left us all warmed to the core by our common humanity. Besides, some of us were brought up traditionally and disliked being chatted up while we were quietly going about our business. (Checking messages or the Internet on a cell phone is a wonderful deterrant in such cases.) And as for those who have very private conversations very audibly in very public places, they were no less bearable when they were talking to their friends across the table in a crowded coffee house ten years ago. Boors will find ways to use any communications medium boorishly; that’s what they do.

    I’ve noticed no dearth of brisk-but-pleasant interactions between customers and salespeople or those sharing elevators since arriving back to New York. Otherwise, I’ve seen few people practicing “radical disengagement” with public spaces, but a great many people who just want to find out which kind of milk their wives wanted them to pick up so they don’t have to make another trip back to the grocery store (even if it means not giving their undivided attention to others who are contemplating the dairy case). Most people will check their phone if it rings in the middle of an ongoing in-the-flesh conversation, but they’re at least as likely to decide it can wait as to say, “Sorry–I really should take this.” Perhaps I just run in bizarre circles, but everyone I know seems to have figured out how to make the group with which he’s physically spending time his first priority.

    One final thing: I find the disdainful use of the word “deinstitutionalizing” unsettling. Institutions are important, but one of the most precious things about our kind of society is that you get to choose those you want to belong to. You don’t have to stay in the church you were born into if you don’t believe its doctrines, you don’t have to become a member of your father’s guild, you don’t have to stay in your hometown and shoehorn yourself into a life that doesn’t suit you. You form your own associations if you wish. If you find that disorienting and yearn for the simpler and more traditional life in which we all know our assigned places, why not leave the city and embed yourself in a small town somewhere? Or find your spirituality and become a Buddhist or something? If you can’t control your cell phone and make it work for the kind of life you want to live, the problem is that you’re neurotic, not that it’s addictive. Sheesh.

    And I’ll send you letters / And come to your house for tea

    Posted by Sean at 00:13, May 19th, 2008

    It’s interesting that Alice should tag me with something food-related, given that my stomach is having more trouble than the rest of me adjusting back to life in the States. I’m not sure my answers will say much, but here they are.

    What’s your favourite table?

    My father made a beautiful oak trestle table for my parents’ dining room. (It is the table itself we’re talking about?)

    What would you have for your last supper?

    My mind would probably be too distracted for me to enjoy really good lamb or venison or beef, so I’ll say vegetable tempura, which is heavenly when the batter and frying oil are perfectly prepared.

    What’s your poison?

    My favorite whisky is probably Laphroaig 10. Not a particularly highfalutin choice, but the one I reach for most. I like them peaty.

    I do most of my drinking in merry, boisterous crowds, though, and I find that vodka and tonic (the well vodka wherever I am, unless it’s particularly nasty) is both tasty and non-staining when my arm gets jostled. I had a nail-biting near miss with a negroni the other night that I don’t care to repeat.

    I like wine, too, of course, but I’m no geeky oenophile, and I generally find that whatever group I’m in has at least one person who’s far more informed than I am, so I just go along with whatever he or she recommends we get.

    Name your three desert island ingredients.

    Peppercorns, sweet red bell peppers, unsalted butter.

    What would you put in Room 101?

    I guess it would be cheating to count strawberries, since I’m physically allergic to them.

    I find the texture of globe onions repellant, though assuming Julia’s like everyone else I know, she likes them and wouldn’t mind having to eat them in my place.

    Oh, and watermelon. I adore pink and green together, but I’m sorry–fruit should not be corky. (Don’t bother telling that good watermelon doesn’t have a corky texture. Yes, it does.)

    Which book gets you cooking?

    This may surprise some people, but in my case, Jane Brody’s Good Food Book. Yes, I think Brody’s too high-strung about nutrition and unproven dangers to health, but she genuinely seems to believe food should be enjoyed, and her approach in adapting recipes is often designed to bring the flavors of the star ingredients to the fore.

    What’s your dream dinner party line-up?

    I like large gatherings for parties, but not for dinner. Too many people makes lively shared conversation and pleasurably wicked confidences difficult, especially if several are new acquaintances.

    All of that is a roundabout way of saying I like dinner parties with close friends.

    What was your childhood teatime treat?

    The Pennsylvania Dutch make great sticky buns, with lots of nuts and moist yeasty cake and enough syrup to make the entire population of the Northeastern Seaboard diabetic.

    What was your most memorable meal?

    Hmm. Probably when I was eleven and we were visiting my Auntie June in England, because it was the first time I realized that my parents and family elders thought I was ready to start being introduced into the adult world in public. No, I wasn’t given a cigar and two glasses of port…just permission to order a main that came with artichokes and then after-dinner coffee. I like to think I still have my youthful energy, but I’m grateful I had the kind of family that still believed grown-up pleasures were something children should be taught to aspire to.

    What was your biggest food disaster?

    3 May 2001. Atsushi and I were giving a party over the Golden Week holiday for a few dozen friends in the afternoon. At about 10:00 a.m., I was julienning carrots for primavera sauce and lopped off the tip of my ring finger. I didn’t cut it off at the joint or anything, but there was blood everywhere. Emergency room, painkillers, huge bandage, stern admonition from doctor to keep hand elevated above heart for the rest of the day. Luckily, gay guys know how to pull together in a genuine catering emergency, so we had five or six friends who finished my prep while I tried to be useful with one hand and an addled brain.

    What’s the worst meal you’ve ever had?

    Let’s see. There was the Christmas dinner hosted by the owner of the bar that was kind of my local in Tokyo two years ago. It was oyster season, so the restaurant gave us its special ten-course oyster-themed prix fixe party menu. Have I mentioned that I can’t eat shellfish? There were oysters in everything: oyster miso soup, oyster stew, oysters au gratin, raw oysters on the half shell, grilled oysters–it was like the Spam episode in Month Python, only with oysters.

    I ended up snagging the two or three pieces of tuna and yellowtail sashimi that had found their way to the table, and then for the rest of the dinner subsisting on shochu and oolong tea and the occasional shiso leaf. When it was over, I collared my best friend and marched us to a little dining cafe in the middle of the gay district, where I demanded servings of their chicken karaage and steak-cut fries before they’d managed to get us sat down at a table.

    Who’s your food hero/food villain?

    My hero is whoever figured out that whipping cream turned it into whipped cream. My villain is the inventor of the no-taste tomato.

    Nigella or Delia?

    No offense to Nigella, but she’s always going on and on about how sloppy and casual and unstudied she is while cooking, and see how I made this lovely soufflé by just pitching some eggs and flour into a ramekin and shoving the lot into the oven without getting so much as a smudge on my cashmere twinset? Just wait for your friends to arrive, pluck the perfect complementary wine from your little wine cellar, and there–instant party!

    The problem is, a lot of cooking is engineering, and while it’s not as hard as running a nuclear reactor, it really isn’t as artless as all that. I haven’t seen anything Delia Smith has done in the last decade or so, but from what I’ve read and watched of her, she’s good at breaking down complex recipes into series of manageable steps and combinations of compatible ingredients.

    Vegetarians: genius or madness?

    Hold on–when I swallow this mouthful of steak, I’ll tell you.

    I don’t make a practice of passing judgment on other people’s dietary choices. I’ll only note that, IIRC, lack of milk and meat aren’t good for children’s early development.

    Fast food or fresh food?

    You will not get me to apologize for my once-weekly trip to Burger King for a Whopper w/ Cheese combo with the largest fries and Coke. There’s nothing quite like it to give you that pleasurable feeling of being at the very tippy-top of the food chain.

    If I eat that way every day, though, I start to feel clogged up and crave steamed vegetables and rice for a few meals. And as Alice said, some very quick meals are among the most wholesome and satisfying. I love buttery scrambled eggs on toast with some black pepper as a light dinner, and it takes ten minutes if that to prepare.

    Who would you most like to cook for?

    Uh…my mother cooked most meals I ate until I was eighteen, and my father worked to pay for the ingredients, so I guess it wouldn’t hurt to return the favor. I think they order in or eat out most of the time now, though.

    What would you cook to impress a date?

    I’m not sure “impressive” is what I’d aim for. It seems to me that a better precedent to be setting with date food is “luscious.” Maybe grill up lamb chops and rinse the pan with a glass of wine? And make some mashed potatoes, which are one of the best-tasting foods imaginable when fresh from the ricer and fortified with butter and cream.

    Make a wish.

    I wish for development of more and better GM crops, and for less sanctimony and skittishness on the part of governments about introducing them.

    We break bread

    Posted by Sean at 21:06, May 14th, 2008

    Hello, nice gentlemanly Woofie-boys.

    Why are you staring at me with those molten eyes?

    I know you missed me while I was out all afternoon, but you’ll have to wait before you curl up next to me while I read. Right now I’m trying to eat this hot pastrami sandwich. Yes, with all these puddles of gravy. And the french fries. It is as good as it smells, thanks for asking–aren’t you happy for me? Num-num-num….

    Now, come off it. You have the better lives by far in this arrangement. No one keeps a bowl in a special place for me and sends half my weight in kibble raining into it twice a day, like manna from heaven. I have to go out and get my own food.

    Okay, fine, if you’re going to be all technical, I didn’t go out and get it–I was feeling lazy and called the diner and had that nice man with the nice calves deliver it. I know you noticed the calves, too, because when he appeared you started shouting, “Woof!” Well, it came out “Arp!” as always, but I know what you meant. So I didn’t go out with a stone-tipped spear and hunt for my food and stuff, but I worked for it. And I had to get up and buzz him in and pay for it, which at least earned me the calories in the milkshake.

    Must you sharpen your claws on my favorite Diesel jeans? There, that’s better.

    No, for the last time, I can’t share food with you anymore. You know when Mommy took you in the cab to the man in the lab coat with the big, scary needle the other day? Well–

    Don’t you dare growl at me. If Mommy carefully avoided mentioning the big, scary needle so you wouldn’t freak out when she packed you up in the pet carriers, it’s not because I told her to! You didn’t ask whether there would be needles involved, did you? Thought not. (I mean, really! “We’re going to take a very special trip in the cab to see some pretty buildings uptown! Yes, we are! Yes, we are!” You seriously bought that?) So really, can you blame anyone but yourselves for having let your guard down?

    Anyway, when you hear what the vet told Mommy, you may think the shot wasn’t so bad by comparison: he said you’re a porker and need to eat less. Yes, you, Blond Woofie. You don’t think Daddy’s giving you less food at a time this week because he suddenly decided to economize, do you? You don’t want to turn into a dirigiwoofie, do you? The Goodyear Woofie. The Hindenwoofie.

    Fine, that was a little uncalled-for. Sorry. Just trying to drive the point home. It’s for your own good.

    Oh, for Pete’s sake, don’t give me the teary-eyed routine. Most of us don’t get to spend all day every day doing nothing more demanding than snuggling in while someone draws a blanket over our furry, sinewy little bodies and whispers that we’re adorable and should just lie still while he gets us breakfast.

    I am not a liar! I clearly specified “all day every day.” Sheesh. You know, you can keep your eyes and snouts glued to every morsel of pastrami I convey from plate to mouth, but you can’t listen to a thing I say. The last time I snu…never mind. It’s none of your business. You just sit there thinking your coarse, untoward thoughts. I can’t stop you.

    There’s just no reasoning with you two.

    Oh, for the love of…here. A quarter-inch square of pastrami for each of you. And NO MORE. Just the lean part so your Daddy doesn’t yell at me too much. Now stop staring!

    Those jealous dogs / Always on the alert

    Posted by Sean at 20:26, May 12th, 2008

    A few years ago, my buddy gave his wife a pair of chihuahuas as a present. Now that I’m staying with them, they’ve become my companions.


    Don’t they look adorable?

    Of course–in still photographs. In real life, though, they move.

    I call them the Millicujos.

    They open their little jaws and bark at the slightest noise, often for close to a half hour before settling down. Usually, it’s the elderly elevator in our brownstone that sets them off, but sometimes the stimulus appears to originate somewhere around the kitchen skylight–a creak caused by the wind? the piping of a bird? Usually I can’t make it out. No trouble making out their response, though.

    The blond with the limpidly innocent gaze is, you shouldn’t need to be told, the more implacably hostile of the two when the public isn’t around to observe. Not by all that much, though. His darker, younger brother is a willing accomplice.

    J. and his wife have nicknamed them “the Woofies.” This is a courtesy title, about as connected with reality as “Princess Di.” These two wouldn’t be able to produce a butch, baritone, thrillingly menacing “woof!” if they sold their souls to Cerberus. Even “yap!” errs somewhat in the direction of resonance, as far as I’m concerned. My conclusion–borne of repeated and lengthy exposure–is that “arp!” is the best transcription of the noise they make (and make and make and make and make).

    They’ve grown accustomed to me now, so they’ll sometimes jump up into my lap when I’m trying to type. Mostly, though, they still eye me with deep suspicion. Unless I’ve just cooked something along the savory/buttery/meaty axis, that is. Then I become their new best friend. Their little eyes liquefy, and (I swear) they pout. For those who’ve been wondering why they’re not hearing more about how adjusting to New York has been, a major reason is that I’m too busy defending my breakfast eggs.


    Posted by Sean at 10:11, May 10th, 2008

    Happy birthday to Atsushi. (I won’t specify which particular milestone it is.) We’re no longer partners, but he’s a true gentleman and has remained a friend and a real rock in time of need. I’m sorry I’m not there for the celebration, but his love of sweets is well known among our friends, so I’m assuming he’s happily chomping his way out from under a pile of cake as we speak.

    Candy shop

    Posted by Sean at 17:45, May 7th, 2008

    Everyone keeps asking whether the culture shock has set in. The question is delivered with a gleam in the eye and an eagerness in the tone that I can’t quite pin down; I hope my friends aren’t running about thinking, Won’t it be fun when Sean encounters some sassy-rude salesperson and just totally cracks? I make a practice of not cracking, thank you very much. And the adjustments I’ve had to make so far have mostly been pleasant ones.

    I do somewhat miss the Japanese cleanliness fetish. Back offices and kitchens and hospital rooms may be as grimy as they are anywhere else, but rare is the office or shop in Japan that doesn’t work overtime to ensure that no customer has to deal with so much as a dust mote. Grittiness on the street in New York is welcome and invigorating; grittiness in the produce section is less so. I also got my hair cut in New York for the first time in a decade today. It wasn’t a particularly exclusive place, but it wasn’t a dump, either. And yet, there was stray hair everywhere (including stuck inside the lid of the jar from which my cutter guy retrieved a good six cc’s of hair goop and plunked it on my crown before I had the chance to protest. New York moves quickly).

    On the other hand, the City, with its old brick buildings and stone and concrete detailing, has a much more earthy built environment. It feels like a place built by people for people. Tokyo’s steel-and-glass, its tiles, its molded HDP, give it a moon-colony quality that can be a lot of fun; but it can also be draining to navigate through, especially in the rain or snow.

    And of course, New York is noisy. We’re Americans, and we’re boisterous. I grooved to Tokyo’s brittle, reined-in, well-behaved hum, but of course the flip side is that people need to explode, forcefully, when they’re off the chain. You get used to being surrounded by people so drunk as to be near alcohol poisoning: hanging from straps on the train, roly-poly-ing down the sidewalk, tenderly placed face-down over storm grates by friends (who perch jauntily on a nearby curb and chat) so they don’t drown in their own vomit. No one will ever accuse New York of not drinking, but after-work life doesn’t feel like a 180-degree change from the business day.

    People do start drinking here earlier, though. In Tokyo, it’s still kind of a sign that you’re not important if you actually get out of the office at 5:00 or not much after. I’m not going to an office at the moment, of course, but everyone I know is, and I don’t think I’ve gone to an after-work gathering that started after 6:00 in the two weeks I’ve been back.

    Speaking of things that go down the hatch: there’s no point in my repeating in its entirety my rant about American food portions, but sheesh! You know things are cockeyed when even your flippin’ arugula salad is too big to finish. Arugula salad! Who gorges on that?

    Last night a friend asked me to go to the symphony at Carnegie Hall, and it turned out to be a charming confluence of things Philadelphia, Tokyo, and New York. It was the Philadelphia Orchestra doing its annual series, and last night’s piece was Mahler’s Eighth. (The Tokyo tie-in is that the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra is known for its Mahler performances.) Much classical music in Asia is very good, but there’s something nice about sitting in a Western audience, which shouts cheers and goes a bit over the edge when genuinely moved by a performance. The Philadelphia Sound had been put to good use.

    Earthquakes in Japan (Part Infinity)

    Posted by Sean at 14:37, May 7th, 2008

    Earthquakes centered in Tochigi Prefecture a few hours ago: estimated 6.7 M on the modified Richter scale, and a weak 5 on the JMA scale (which measures surface vibrations) in parts of Tochigi and Ibaraki. According to my buddy, they were perceptible in Tokyo. I haven’t seen any reports of damage, but a weak 5, while not as bad as things could be, can cause real problems in craggy, cliffy rural areas with a lot of elderly people. There’s an English translation of the JMA scale here. A weak 5 isn’t strong enough to knock down buildings that are up to code in areas that are prepared for earthquakes, but it’s strong enough to be scary and make it difficult to move.

    New York update: food, clothing, and shelter

    Posted by Sean at 07:29, April 29th, 2008

    There’s a favorite story on my mother’s side of the family: My great-grandmother’s sister came from Poland for a visit in the 1950s, and seeing the variety of goods in a typical neighborhood grocery store, she burst into tears.

    Japan is a first-world country, so it’s certainly not the case that I’ve become unused to variety. But of course, the brands are different, the diet is different, what appeals to people is different, the cumulative effect of surveying the aisles is different. Coming back to New York means readjusting my eye and palate to New York food sources. We were going to order from Fresh Direct, but last night we passed D’Ag’s on the way home, so we stopped in. I’m afraid I kind of embarrassed my friend by giggling at everything, but I couldn’t help myself.

    It wasn’t the type and distribution of products. Even from only coming home twice a year for the last decade, I’m still used to that. It also wasn’t that anything and everything comes in 50-gallon-drum size, which wouldn’t fit through the door of most Tokyo houses. I’m used to that, too. What got me was the evolution in some specific familiar stuff. The most improbable brands have gone upscale.

    Cheer’s curvy new bottles look as if they were inspired by ewers from Pottery Barn; I half expected each one to come with a little basin in matching plastic. For detergent containers, they looked invitingly touchable, almost ergonomic. (And, unsurprisingly, they’re clearly aimed at the lady of the house, with filigree patterns in the background on each label.)


    There are formulations for the stuff inside that I hadn’t seen before, too. One is supposedly targeted at dark colors. (The brand concept was developed by “strategy and design teams fully immersed in darkness.” Is that the most fabulous thing ever, or what? And I like the way “Cheer Dark” sounds like Near Dark , the Kathryn Bigelow vampire movie that reunited many of the most memorable cast members from Aliens .)

    I was utterly bewildered by a product called True Fit:

    Nothing can ruin laundry day like finding a favorite shirt has stretched to the point of no return. Help clothes keep their shape with Cheer® 2X Compacted True Fit™.

    Love your clothes. Treat them right.

    Personally, my solution to clothes that could get stretched out of shape is either to take them to a proper cleaner’s or to use a mesh bag in the washing machine, but I love the idea that there’s a detergent out there that’s specifically formulated for them.

    Also, Dietz & Watson? I grew up not far from Philadelphia, and to me, Dietz & Watson means hot dogs and kielbasa. But not anymore. The company introduces itself on its website with this VERY WRONG sentence:

    Welcome to Dietz & Watson, home to the World’s Best Meat Delicacies and Artisan Cheeses.

    Or maybe it’s not so wrong. Dietz & Watson was always a local, family-owned company that emphasized homely production values. It’s just that it used to be assumed that those values appealed to local just-folks types; now, rebranded as “artisanal,” they’ve moved up in the world.

    I love the disdain that drips from every phrase on this page about condiments:

    The World’s Best Meat Delicacies and Artisan Cheese deserve better than that “same old yellow or spicy mustard, horseradish without a kick or sour pickles without a snap”. So we created our Deli Complements™ with just that intention, to complement our meats and cheeses with enhanced flavor profiles to satisfy today’s adult taste expectations.

    Enhanced flavor profiles! For a range that includes something called “Sandwich Spread.” I love it! What next–small-batch Cheez Whiz in earthenware jugs stopped with natural corks? (And psssst! Kudos to your marketing people for choosing the right spelling of complements for this context. Now they just need to tell your webmaster to fix the filename for the image. And guys, this is America: the period goes inside the quotation marks.)


    Also, check out the gigantic sandwiches featured on the “Healthier Lifestyle” page.

    Sorry. The Dietz & Watson thing really amused me.


    It’s been rainy for the last few days, and one of the things I always notice about being back from Tokyo is how much better New York looks in the rain. The grey weather can still be depressing, but there’s something about the presence of organic-feeling brick surfaces sprinkled through the built environment that makes it feel less off-putting. The relentless onslaught of steel/glass/concrete/tile in Tokyo can really drag you down. And sidewalks in the City are so wide that you can actually navigate down them with an open umbrella without maiming anyone.


    Posted by Sean at 04:49, April 23rd, 2008

    Thanks to everyone who wished me a good trip. The flight was uneventful, and here I am in New York.

    Jet lag. Luckily for me, Atsushi’s going-away present was two sets of DVDs–the first and last series of「古畑任三郎」, the Japanese detective show modeled on Columbo that we used to watch together. I’m through six episodes already!

    [Added on 29 April: Since I was talking about product design in the next post, I might mention that 「古畑任三郎」has some of the coolest titles I’ve ever seen. The Japanese are known for their sleek design, but to a degree that’s because what we see in the West is selected by other Western visitors, who bring back the most striking artifacts. Lots of graphic and industrial design in Japan is as clunky and unprepossessing as it is anywhere else. That’s especially true where words are concerned. Print media, web pages, and movie credits often have cutesy visual themes and are crammed with text. For a culture so renowned for maximizing the impact of spare design, Japan goes in for the clutter an awful lot.

    Fuji TV doesn’t seem to have streaming video of the opening credit sequence up on its page, which is a shame because the music is pretty cool, too. You can still can get a sense of the way it flows by clicking on some of the links:


    If you click around on the site, actually, you may see what I mean by clutter. Even if you can read the Japanese, the page is hard to navigate.]

    Speaking of jet lag, a word to American Airlines: When your flight is landing at JFK at 6 p.m., it’s flat-out cruel to keep the cabin lights off and serve breakfast an hour before beginning descent. I mean, seriously? As if my sense of time weren’t already screwed up enough.