A Death in Tax Season

My Late Friend Don K. Yamagishi

My Late Friend Don K. Yamagishi

I would give anything not to have to write this, but today I lost a friend and co-worker. Don Kiyomi Yamagishi was an accountant and an attorney, and one of the most friendly and approachable people with whom I have ever worked. Although the above photo is twelve years old, Don did not look very different in this, the last year of his life. When we learned the news late this afternoon, there was not a dry eye in the company.

Don served as the tax manager of the accounting firm for which I work. He was a real scholar, a man of knowledge and consummate professionalism. He also served as the accountant for the Union Church of Los Angeles in Little Tokyo and as a volunteer working at a summer camp for disabled children.

Most of all, though, he was a friend whom I will miss deeply. Some people, when they leave us, leave many holes in our lives. Such was Don. May God have mercy on his soul and reward him for just being himself. Which is the best I could say for anyone.

Yes, Vote, But …

Democracy Can Be a Bitch!

Democracy Can Be a Bitch!

We have a local election coming up on Tuesday, March 7. I will vote, of course, but I will not make any political canvassers deliriously happy. In fact, I might avoid answering the phone at all. There will be strange invitations to “town halls” from Judy, my “personal assistant”; there will be oddly inopportune “surveys”; and there will be young volunteers claiming to represent people running for the School Board, the City Council, or referendum issues financed by lying bastards from the real estate developers’ interests. If I pick up the phone at all, it will be to swear at telephone volunteers, or, more likely, at robocalls which stand no chance of being heard in their entirety by me.

Don’t people know that all democracy has given us this particular four years is a bonehead real-estate developer with tiny hands and a  mind and penis to match. Politics is unspeakably foul; and anyone involved is suspect as far as I’m concerned.

My mailbox is jammed on a daily basis with expensive four-color pleas for my vote. Actually, they are helpful. Anyone candidate or issue that spends what I consider to be too much money is probably taking money from nefarious out-of-state interests, like the Koch Brothers and their ilk. I assume that most of what I hear or read will be outright lies, and that ultimately I am being romanced out of my God-given rights.

I can hardly wait for March 8 to roll along.

 

“The Demon with a Glass Hand”

Robert Culp and Arlene Martel in “The Demon with a Glass Hand”

Arlene Martel and Robert Culp in “The Demon with a Glass Hand”

Right after lunch, it started to drizzle; and Martine was without her umbrella. So we decided to go to the Paley Center for Media and watch some old TV. While Martine was watching episodes of Amos and Andy and My Little Margie, I decided to watch an episode of The Outer Limits.

The episode in question was “The Demon with a Glass Hand,“ directed by Byron Haskin and written by Harlan Ellison. It starred Robert Culp as the mysterious Trent, whom we are told at the beginning has lived forever, and the elfin Arlene Martel as Consuelo Biros. It was originally aired on October 17, 1964, and was the fifth show in the show’s second season.

This was at a time when television was great. tt reached out to a more unified audience with a well crafted story authored by the talented paranoiac Harlan Ellison. Trent found himself in Los Angeles’s Bradbury Building (called the Dixon Building in the story), with a glass hand missing the middle three fingers. A group of killer extraterrestial aliens called the Kyben are being sent from the future to get Trent’s hand and to supply the missing glass fingers, which they have. The object is to question the hand as to where the seventy billion earthlings from the year AD 3000 have gone. At the same time, Trent must obtain these fingers so that he could answer the same question and protect the missing earth people.

Interior of the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, Where Most of the Action Occurs

Interior of the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, Where Most of the Action Occurs

My friends in the film industry are always trying to get me to watch television, which they say has vastly improved with new original series like Breaking Bad and The Game of Thrones. In the relationship that Martine and I have, she gets to control the TV while I hit the books. Occasionally, I will watch a DVD while she is out taking a walk. That seems to work well for both of us, and I don’t feel as if I were missing out on anything.

In any case, it is fun to see some of the old classic television series like The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock, and One Step Beyond. I also have a real fondness for The Carol Burnett Show.

The Embarkation for Cythera

Antoine Watteau’s “The Embarkation for Cythera”

Antoine Watteau’s “The Embarkation for Cythera”

It is a strange view of love, almost theatrical, as young, beautiful, and well-dressed men and women prepare to leave by boat for Cythera. Better known as Kythira, an island off the southeastern tip of the Peloponnesus, Cythera is reputed to be the birthplace of Venus. As usual, the painter, Jean-Antoine Watteau, has not seen fit to provide an explanation. Will the young couples come together and dedicate themselves to the enduring flame of love eternal? That would seem to be indicated by the little putti flying in the air at the left of the painting.

Alas, Watteau makes no promises. I have always thought of him as one of the greatest of painters—certainly the greatest painter of his glitzy century—and also as a poser of questions rather than a supplier of answers.

Painting of Commedia dell’Arte Figures by Watteau

Painting of Commedia dell’Arte Figures by Watteau

What about that Pierrot in the above illustration? He is being introduced as if on the stage, while various other figures, ranging from lusty young men and women with babies to the elderly couple at the right of the frame. As the central figure, Pierrot is the image of innocence. It is almost as if the painter is giving us the full spectrum of love and life without indicating any clear preference of his own. Again, we are left with a question.

Finally, here are three studies for a black boy that are totally realistic:

Three Studies of a Young Black Man

Three Studies of a Young Black Man


There you have it: An incredible beauty wedded to strangeness, by a painter who is not well known in this country, but who always has made we wonder.

 

On the Beagle Channel

Looking Across the Beagle Channel Toward Isla Navarino

Looking Across the Beagle Channel Toward Isla Navarino

This is a picture I took a little more than ten years ago on November 15, 2006, the day I broke my shoulder at one of the ends of the earth. That day, I took a cruise on the Beagle Channel to Estancia Harberton, a place of great importance in the history of Tierra del Fuego. The channel was named after the ship that bore Charles Darwin on his five-year cruise around the world, sailing under Captain FitzRoy. It was here—and not the more northerly Straits of Magellan—that the HMS Beagle cut between what is now the Argentinean Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean Isla Navarino, where the southernmost town in the world, Puerto Williams, is situated.

The weather was starting to get bad, so bad that our motorized catamaran, the Moreno Jr., dropped us off at Harberton; and a bus was called for from Ushuaia to take us back. By the time we approached town, not only was it slowing heavily, but the waters of the channel were getting increasingly choppy. It was that snowstorm that iced the streets of Ushuaia and made me fall shoulder first into a high curb at the intersection of Magallanes and Rivadavia.

Now here’s the real story. This was the real beginning of my love for Argentina. Motorists stopped for me and called an ambulance on their cell phones. I was well taken care of at the local hospital; and the owner of the bed & breakfast where I was staying helped me in every possible way, to the detriment of her own business. Even as I left the country from Buenos Aires’s Ezeiza Airport, the security people didn’t make a big deal of signing my name on the forms, as my writing arm was in a sling.

On this grim day, I fell in love with a country and returned there twice. And, with luck, I will return again. Regardless of the weather.

Deep in Cinnabon America

Universal City’s City Walk

Universal City’s City Walk

There are parts of Los Angeles that are no really for Angelenos. They are for the Flyover People who come to see a fake-o version of my city. I paid my 35¢ and took the Metro Rail downtown, transferring to the Red Line subway to get me to Universal City. I used to enjoy going there more when Gladstones 4 Fish was located there, but now there are other glitzy (mostly chain) restaurants that promise more than they deliver.

The whole place was crawling with tourists, including many Chinese and Japanese who were taking cellphone photographs of everything. I had a decent Smokehouse Burger at Johnny Rocket’s, and wandered around seeing the sights. In my hands was a book, Hunter S. Thompson’s Generation of Swine about the craziness of the 1980s. Well, Thompson is gone now, but things are crazier than ever. For one thing, I was probably the only person in the place who was carrying a book. Everybody else was playing with their smart phones, taking pictures of the sights, and of each other, proving conclusively that they were in striking distance of the sights.

I am of an age which confers a certain degree of invisibility. I have no tattoos, no beard, no wrinkled camouflage shorts with dozens of pockets, no smart phone. I felt like some ancient saurian dripping with mud that had just crawled out of a primitive past. But then, did I have anything in common with the scads of tourists? Not really, nor did I have anything against them. We were just inhabiting different planes of existence.

In the end, I felt good about myself. I felt I had nothing to prove. I left my camera at home, and didn’t take any pictures with my flip phone. I did read a few chapters of Hunter Thompson, and I felt that was good.

 

 

A Nattering Nabob of Negativity

Sometimes There Is a Point To Being Negative

Sometimes There Is a Point To Being Negative

American culture frowns on negativity. People who are seen as being mostly negative are shunned and are constantly ducking brickbats thrown by amateur psychologists. But sometimes, it is good to be negative. For instance, I have nothing positive to say about the Trumpf administration, except that he has not pitched us into a global war—yet! (Even that f at the end of his name is negative, no?) Many of my friends say that they are taking a “wait and see” attitude. That I cannot understand.

We are so anti-negative that we sometimes confuse ourselves. The Patriot Act during the last Bush administration was essentially an attack on our liberties, pretending to protect us from terrorism. Hast it? No.

There is a long standing battle between the conservatives and women on the subject of abortion. Both sides are “pro” something: one is pro-life, and the other is pro-choice. How can anyone be against life or a woman’s choice on bearing a child? Here is a list of such euphemisms:

  • Passed away instead of died
  • Correctional facility instead of jail
  • Departed instead of died
  • Differently-abled instead of handicapped or disabled
  • Ethnic cleansing instead of genocide
  • Negative patient outcome instead of dead
  • Relocation center instead of prison camp
  • Collateral damage instead of accidental deaths
  • Downsizing instead of firing someone
  • Put to sleep instead of euthanize
  • Pregnancy termination instead of abortion
  • On the streets instead of homeless

For more examples, check out this website.

Now it seems that every piece of legislation, regardless how nefarious, must bear a positive moniker.

Maybe I react the way I do because I am a Hungarian. My people were on one of the two main invasion paths into Europe—the other was through Poland. When one is the product of a history of almost constant warfare, one is likely to not always look on the bright side of life.

That does not mean that I am, in Spiro T. Agnew’s memorable phrase, a “nattering nabob of negativity”; but I do not lay myself open to accepting arguments solely because they are framed using positive language. No more than I would call a bill urging Republicans to commit suicide the Glorious Sunset Act.