Friday, December 28, 2007

Karma Police

A true story...

Amy S. walked into the lobby of the police department, sobbing and moaning like a wounded animal. Her tear-stained face was red and swollen; her hair completely disheveled. She reeked of cigarettes and sadness.

It was the day after Christmas and her two young kids just that morning had been taken away by child services. She lost her job months ago, which caused her to get evicted from her apartment and subsequently categorized as an unfit mother by the local government.

Amy S. had nowhere to go, nobody close to cry to, nobody to hug her. After ringing a bell on the counter, she just sat on the short leather seat in front of the criminal evidence window, waiting for someone to help her.

The police department lobby, quieter and gloomier than usual, was empty except for me and Amy, her presence on the leather seat emphasized by the occasional sniffling and moaning coming from her direction.

Amy was hunched over, her shoulders bobbing up and down as she tried to contain her sobs. For an instant, I wanted very badly to just hug this poor stranger. But I didn't.

Suddenly a stout man with a blank expression came to the window and asked "May I help you?"

Amy stood up abruptly, and told the man the story about her kids, about how she had no one, about how it was the worst Christmas she'd ever had, and how the local Samaritan center wouldn't let her in without identification.

The man in the window stared at her and said nothing.

Amy asked him what time it was.

"4:15," he said.

"I have until 5 to get my ID, or at least a copy of it, so I can bring it to the shelter," she said, between sob-induced gasps. "I got a letter in the mail a few weeks ago that said you guys have my ID. David F. had it on him when you guys arrested him."

The man told Amy to wait while he went into the back room to locate her ID card. At 4:28, he returned and told Amy that there was no record of them ever having it.

"Sorry ma'am," he said. "Do you have a copy of the letter with you?"

"No," Amy replied, still crying. "Please, I have no one. You have to have it. I just need a copy of it. Please... I have no one."

"Are you sure David F. had your ID when he was arrested?" the man asked.

"I'm positive," she replied.

"I'm sorry ma'am. We don't have your ID. I suggest you go to the DMV next door and see if they can issue you a new one."

Amy sobbed even louder. She took one last look at the man and hurried out of the lobby, mumbling "I have no one, I have no one, I want my children" under her breath. Then, she was gone.

Out of curiosity, I walked up to the man at the counter, who knew me from my weekly visits to the police department to catalog local crimes for the newspaper, and asked him what David F. was arrested for.

"He was arrested for selling methamphetamines," he told me.

"And you really don't have record of sending her that letter?" I asked.

"No," he said. "This is the third day in a row she's come in."


"She got out of jail on Sunday and was there for drug offenses," he said, with a tone of amusement. "Her kids have been in government custody for months. I think David F. was her boyfriend, but he's not at this facility anymore."

"So do you think she really needs her ID?"

"I don't know."

"What if she keeps coming back?"

"She'll stop soon enough," he replied.

After that little incident, I wondered if Amy would be back the next day. I wondered if her "drug offenses" really were bad enough to warrant her misfortune.

I felt bad for her, but also angry that she made stupid decisions, causing her to go to jail and leave her children. Or maybe it was just the feeling of the holidays, making me more emotional and empathetic than usual.

But then I realized that on top of everything, it really didn't matter what I felt.
It all narrowed down to one over-dramatic, cliche version of the story... one that supports the idea that karma really is a bitch, and this time police really were involved.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I'll try anything once.

If I actually took the time right now to count all of my blessings, I think I'd eventually lose track of it all. It's been months since I last wrote anything on this blog and maybe it's because I've been suffering from a lack of inspiration. So this time, instead of writing about what the doors of perception are saying about other people... I'm going to talk about myself. I need to.

And by the time I finish, I'll have written everything without the need to talk about music. Because this IS my music.

The world's been a difficult place to deal with lately and all I can seem to think about are my own issues (or perhaps a lack thereof.) Don't get me wrong- I don't mean to suggest that I am in need of any personal drama. It's just that ever since I graduated from college in May, I've plateau-ed and it's just not any fun. I'm much too young to be hitting a midlife crisis... but that's another story.

Anyway, I started the month of November dreading the possibilities of what would come. Historically, November for me has always signified some type of change... usually something emotionally painful or traumatic- perhaps the ending of an important relationship or the birth of a new kind of resentment. In November of 2006, I sort of gained an enemy and lost a few valuable friendships in the process. November = Bad. It's like clockwork.

Naturally, I went through a period of intense depression, pain AND resentment. It has been a REALLY rough year.

But since then, I've been blessed with something so much bigger than a few broken bonds. I discovered something that I actually had all along- something that I took for granted for most of my life- something that I now KNOW stays in the deepest part of my heart all the time and never goes away: FAMILY.

Instead of experiencing the usual painful change associated with the month of November, I made it a point to spend as much time as I could counting my blessings and falling back in love with the people who've taken care of me. It was like trying to avoid a bad superstition by playing all your lucky numbers.

Well now that it's December- I think maybe now, it's time to reflect.

I almost cried tonight, all because my baby brother decided to call me 'just to talk.' I won't go into the details of our conversation because that's private- but what matters for the purpose of this blog is that RIGHT NOW I feel like the luckiest person alive because of how incredible my family is. I really, truly, love them more than anything or anyone else in the world.

And the fact is, I really don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that - which makes me wonder how many other people in the world could be lucky enough to love their parents, siblings and children as much as I do mine. For the sake of mankind, I hope many could say the same although my own observations of the people around me suggest otherwise.

How many families do you know could sit around all together until 3 in the morning just talking about everything (from sex to religion to drugs to EVERYTHING) in a completely open forum? How many families still sit down to have meals together- because they want to- and if they don't, it must've been a weird day? How many families actually ENJOY going on vacations and spending as much time as they possibly can in this life TOGETHER?

How many people can love their siblings so hard that they're almost embarrassed to talk about it to each other in person? Not a lot.

Which brings me here... ranting on a blog because I think it's so important to explain to everybody else just how much I love and adore my family.

And I guess to best exemplify what I'm talking about - I want to recall, particularly, the last few experiences of the month of November 2007.

I flew to San Francisco on Nov. 27 to go job hunting and to spend some time with my brother Josh (who turned 21 the night before). It was a Tuesday. I spent most of the time wandering the city in a state of introspective bliss, while Josh worked during the day. He made me a quasi-itinerary, complete with bus routes to get me from point A to point B. He showed me Clement Street and the Blue Danube. Nights were good. We smoked cigarettes, drank beer, listened to This American Life, visited Twin Peaks and had dinner in Union Square. We talked... and smoked more cigarettes.

My parents, my 17-year-old brother Nathan, my 8-year-old son Francis and my two cousins (who are both 21), drove up that Friday and we all went to Napa/Sonoma to go wine tasting for Josh's 21st birthday celebration. The first night, we all stayed up until 3 a.m. getting drunk and spilling our guts out. Francis played and watched cartoons.

During the rest of the trip in no particular order: My dad had a few tears in his eyes while he talked to us about how important it is to raise our kids to be strong and confident. We were in awe. Our voices were heightened. We drank and smoked cigarettes. We talked about love, pain, marijuana, our dreams, and the right thing to do versus the desirable thing to do. Francis kicked ass with his etch-a-sketch key chain. We wore our jackets outside on the porch while having good talks. We indulged in a flight of wine at a vineyard. We took pictures, drank more wine, had more talks and barbecued. We played scrabble in teams, played ping-pong and billiards, ate late-night bagels with lox, sang songs while Nathan played guitar and smoked more cigarettes.

We went back to San Francisco on Sunday- DEC 2. We showed mom Clement Street. Josh bought a crepe for all of us to share and my cousin drank a sangria outside on the sidewalk. We didn't want to go home. But we had to, and we said goodbye to Josh around 5 p.m. In the car, we laughed about John Stamos until 1 a.m.

TODAY IS DECEMBER 9. Josh is coming home tomorrow night from his trip to NY. He's flying back to SF on Tuesday morning. Tradition will call for a late-night cigarette. It will probably be too late for coffee.

So maybe these experiences seem completely mundane to anybody else - but to me, they're extraordinary. When I have nothing else... these are the kinds of experiences that I can always look forward to having. These are the people I can share my life with... no matter what.


EDIT: 12/10/07 11:13 a.m.
I forgot to mention something. I really hope that nobody else takes offense to my entry - it isn't me trying to brag. Really, I'm just trying to share the thought and maybe spread a sense of "family" along to other people who may come across this... to show that it's plausible if you want it.
It took years and years of some serious fighting and (mis)understanding for my family to get to where we are now... Nothing worth having comes easily.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Sir Paul: Saviour of Pop

So who really gives a shit about bands like Maroon 5 or Britney's so-called "highly-anticipated" comeback? Honestly? Okay, so Maroon 5 isn't the WORST boy band to hit the airwaves, but they're still pretty damn annoying in my opinion. As for Britney.. further detail is probably unnecessary.

If there's any musician left in the world who could still be the saving grace of the once-noble "pop" genre, I think Sir Paul is KIIS FM's last hope. Remember... with all the Ryan Seacrest bullshit set aside... the concept of "pop" music used to be a positive one. A good friend of mine once reminded me that The Beatles themselves were considered "pop" back in the day and they almost had more power than any goverment on the face of the planet.

Lucky for us, the super bohemian, day-trippin', love lovin', yellow submarine livin', guitar weepin' GREATEST BAND OF ALL TIME chose to keep their musical endeavors categorized under creative expression only. Though now that I think about it, living in a country run by The Beatles might have been the closest to a utopian dream as we could have ever gotten. But still, given that two of the members are dead (God bless John and George) and that the band has been broken up for decades (F* YOU YOKO), this is not about The Beatles as a collective. This is about A Beatle - Paul McCartney.

Here's my personal, IDEAL definition of "pop" music. Tried and true pop music appeals to just about everybody (for all you indie kids out there, why is that such a bad thing? isn't the point of making music to share your message with as many people as possible?) and is ACTUALLY GOOD. The latter part pretty much eliminates about 98% of the shit that's played on the radio today anyway. It's catchy, it's honest and it helps connect the world together under a common theme - whether it's about love, heartbreak or plain old good times. It usually doesn't have to include words like "bitch" and "boo," or address things like milkshakes bringin' all the boys to the yard. Like I said, it's popular and it's GOOD.

Under my definition, McCartney's new album 'Memory Almost Full' is the perfect pop album. And the first song, "Dance Tonight" is the perfect pop song, despite some pretty mean criticism that the song received from KROQ's Kevin and Bean a few weeks back. I'm normally not one to disagree with Kevin and Bean but I think their interpretation of the song was totally off. Nobody talks shit about Sir Paul and gets away with it on my watch. But anyway, this is why I think "Dance Tonight" is so great:

Yesterday was Independence Day. While I may look pretty ethnic on the outside and I may celebrate holidays in an uber-Filipino manner, I can still be somewhat patriotic. No, I do not like most country music and I do NOT know what rednecks do in their spare time. I do not fly an American flag in front of my house nor do I enjoy being active with all the soccer moms in my son's PTA. I'm not that kind of American. However, I AM the kind of American with immigrant parents and who appreciates the diversity of the nation's coastal areas. I'm the kind of American who admits that I would be nowhere near as privileged as I am now if I had been born in a third-world country like the Philippines. I am the kind of American who's pretty egotistical and (maybe stupidly) believes that you can do whatever you put your mind to. Okay, sorry for the rant... back to Independence Day.

I was enjoying myself yesterday at a typical family gathering at my aunt's house. Leave it to us to celebrate the 4th of July by eating roast pig, skewered BBQ, pancit (that's filipino for "noodles"), and RICE of course (what's a filipino party without RICE?), while drinking the occassional mojito - the latter being the newest addition to our family parties. Let me add that we spent the entire day (well into the night) hanging out and swimming in the backyard, virtually ignoring all signs of any fireworks or other typical American patriotic practices.

This may sound extremely UNpatriotic to you - but it makes perfect sense to me. My family (and most filipinos by nature) are party animals and will make just about any excuse you can think of to have a gathering. This most definitely includes American holidays like the 4th of July - even though over half of my family are Philippine-born. I have a gi-normous family (those close to me can easily vouch for that) and we just enjoy having a GOOD TIME.

Here is my family's unspoken motto (as "coincidentally" sung by Paul McCartney):

Well you can come on to my place if you want to
You can do anything you want to

And as if Paul, himself was actually at last night's party:

Everybody gonna' dance tonight
Everybody gonna' feel alright
Everybody gonna' dance around tonight

Okay, so we don't actually DANCE at all of our parties. We mostly sing karaoke. And if we don't have a karaoke machine close by, we pull out our guitars and jam. But the point is.. if you substitute the word "dance" for "sing" when appropriate, you have a pretty accurate generalization of the typical filipino party. OH MY GOD, HOW DID HE KNOW?

DUH! It's the perfect pop song, like I said! If you already forgot, please reference what I wrote earlier about "connecting under a common theme." So what if it's as simple as a Dr. Seuss book? A good pop song is simple and understood by anyone. RADIOHEAD IS NOT POP MUSIC.

And is this song actually good? Fuck yeah, it is. It's catchy as hell and nobody (except for maybe Jack White and that one dude in Arcade Fire) can make a mandolin sound so cool without it turning into full-blown mountain music. Plus, you have that quintessential McCartney instrumental bridge that sounds like a staircase looks ... when the notes just climb up one at a time and take you to a new level in the song. It's just beautiful.

So.. even on an American holiday like the 4th of July, 1st generation filipino-americans like myself and my cousins, immigrants like the rest of my family who think aborted duck eggs are a delicacy, all those cute little white people watching fireworks at the local high school AND everybody else in this crazy country can unite under one theme - thanks to Paul McCartney.

Everybody gonna feel alright because after all, it's only human to want to have a good time.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Suffering For Fashion

My best friend works at a beauty salon. And since we all know that we, as over-advertisement-exposed Americans, are about 90% dependent on word-of-mouth information to make most of our purchasing decisions, I've been an almost-perfectly-loyal customer of her salon since she started working there. Well that, and the fact that since she books all of my appointments, I tend to get a significant discount on services.

By the way, I say "almost-perfectly-loyal" because the only time I've ever strayed from going to a stylist at the aformation salon in the last couple years was when a hairdresser acquaintance of mine from outside that salon insisted on coloring and styling my hair. I don't know why that was relevant. Anyway, that was several months ago.

Needless to say, my hair was developing a rather unsightly wispiness and I knew it was time for a haircut. So today, I went to my 3:30 appointment with the adorably-cute real estate agent/hairstylist named Stephanie. She is one of the most perfectly cute women I have ever seen - tall, slender, sweet-spoken and blonde. And for once, her blondeness is something of an asset - given that most (most, not all) beautiful blonde women I meet are completely superficial and stupid. (It's a stereotype for a reason, people.) Still, Stephanie is beautiful, sweet, brainy and an all-around wiz with shears.

So, I showed up for my appointment about 15 minutes early to catch up with my best friend - who went to Disneyland this past weekend for her birthday. Just so you know, my best friend and I don't get together for the primary purpose of gossiping. I was just sincerely interested to find out what staying at the Disneyland Hotel was like. (Again, I don't know why that was relevant.)

But, as I stood at the counter waiting for Stephanie, I couldn't help but overhear some of the conversations going on around me. My best friend, who was working of course, had to pause her story about Disneyland (see! it was minutely relevant after all) because some woman was scowling at her from my side of the counter, in desperate need to schedule her next appointment before she left. She was vicious - looking back and forth between me and my best friend, probably analyzing the sheer injustice of the fact that my friend hadn't turned to help her quickly enough. Granted, she had only JUST appeared at the counter, and the fraction of a second it took for my friend to respond to her could never have been seen as customer neglect. Even when my friend turned to help her, she still looked over at me a few more times as if I was violating her personal bubble of salon space.

What does all of this have to do with music, you ask? Well, this whole thing reminded me of that Of Montreal song, "Suffer For Fashion" from the "Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?" album. It starts off like this: "we just want to emote til we're dead / i know we suffer for fashion or whatever." Lyrically, the rest of the song basically criticizes the societal norm that forces us to subject ourselves to just about anything to be physcially beautiful... and that our human obsession with doing so is actually weakining us.. blah, blah, blah. (All this, coming from a lead singer who wears feathers, glitter, women's clothing and the occasional blue eye-shadow on stage - but that's beside the point.)

"How can I help you?" my friend asked the woman.

"I NEED to schedule an appointment for the week of July 16th with Doreen," she said, with pen in hand as she browsed through her little, black leather organizer. She said this with such a tone of inconvenience - as if it was my friend's fault that she had to schedule this seemingly unwanted appointment.

My friend continued to schedule the appointment and they eventually agreed on 1 p.m. on July 18th. Our new woman friend gave one last scowl and proceeded to march pretentiously out of the salon, leather organizer and all.

I get it. I know that a lot of people religiously make appointments at the beauty salon... but come on! This is not a military operation. We're supposed to go to these places because we feel like getting cute or because our hair is getting too long, not to pollute the world with bitterness and inner ugliness. This woman took the concept of "suffering for fashion" completely wrong and turned it into her horrible necessity. She has turned into exactly the kind of person that Of Montreal's song indirectly describes as bad.

If only she had heard this song before coming to the salon today. (Realistically though, she didn't strike me as the type of person who listens to Of Montreal on a regular basis, let alone actually take their advice). But still, for the rest of us - maybe we should consider this message before getting crazy at future hair appointments.

"If we've got to burn out let's do it together / let's all melt down together." Ugly wouldn't really be ugly if we were ALL ugly together.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Jack + Meg = Unconditional Love

Okay, so I can't seriously boycott my senses (see previous post if you're confused) - and so here's something new for today.

If I had to pick just one band in all of history (besides The Beatles because they're perfect by default) to best represent the beauty of life and love... I've decided that the honor would go to The White Stripes.

With the release of their gazillionth album coming up next week, I found it absolutely necessary to surf the entangled web for any trace of a music video (or whatever) that had to do with the album. And so, I was elated when, upon googling (yes, I know that "googling" is now ridiculously used as a common verb..) "icky thump," which is the title of the aformentioned album, I found a youtube video of the single.

Now, before I get into my reflections on the video, there's at least one important thing to consider about Jack and Meg White. From the beginning, their story has been a complex one - first they insisted on trying to convince the public that they were brother and sister. Then, it eventually got out that they were ACTUALLY ex-husband-and-wife, and that Jack took Meg's last name in marriage. Of course, the Jack we know now has kept the surname "White," despite his divorce with Meg (which of course, the details of the breakup are still unclear).

Then, several years into their extremely successful music career, Jack White met model Karen Elson. Then, Jack MARRIED Karen (with Meg as Karen's maid of honor, of course) and the couple had a daughter - Scarlett, who is now about a year old. SCARLETT WHITE! YES!!!! Jack's daughter with Karen Elson has Meg's last name! AND.. the name Scarlett is a synonym for the color RED. RED + WHITE = the color scheme of The White Stripes. Let's think about this for a minute, shall we?

Besides the fact that Jack and Meg White might just be the most important musical duo of all time in terms of pure talent and genius (besides Lennon and McCartney, that is), they are also both completely enamored with each other on a personal level. You can easily tell how close they are by the countless interviews they've done and the way they play together on the big stage. When I saw them live a couple years ago (and from completely memorizing my concert DVD of them playing at Blackpool), I conclude that there's not a single duo in all of rock & roll today who can play in absolute perfect sync with each other than the two of them.

(Now stay with me, because I have to get into another story thats necessary to relay to my point properly.)

Two years ago, my ex-bf and I dressed up as Jack and Meg White when we went to a rave for Halloween. We had a band together (with another one of our best friends) but we had broken up our relationship on okay terms just a few months earlier. For the sake of the music, we kept the band alive. As a tribute to The White Stripes, as well as to our own once-passionate and ever-musical romance, we figured that we were the perfect people to dress up as Jack and Meg. But here's the kicker... between the time my ex and I had broken up, and that night dressed up as Jack and Meg, we had abstained from all intimate relations. But, interestingly enough, that evening after the rave temporarily sparked our interests in each other (to go into detail would be rather un-ladylike). Of course, this temporary reignition coincided with being "Jack" and "Meg."

Okay, so here it is - as if any more proof was actually necessary! The newest White Stripes video for "Icky Thump" is one of the most passionately beautiful videos I have ever seen. The way Jack and Meg interact with each other in that video is the most perfect demonstration of "making love" - not sexually, but musically. Jack and Meg White, despite the fact that they are divorced, are joined into ONE soul whenever they make music, even if Jack is married to someone else. See, it doesn't matter. They will ALWAYS be "Jack & Meg," no matter what their personal lives dictate. Beyond the message of the song itself, they are THE human embodiment of LOVE, in a way that is extremely infectious... and if you ever get the opportunity to experience it, then you are truly lucky.

Life is full of broken ideals and constant change but music will always be a medium for understanding the unspeakable. Simply put, love is what you make - and The White Stripes are living proof.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Zep's Effect on Sanity

What is it about hearing a Led Zeppelin song that makes you want to break out into a Dionysian wine dance AND jump off a cliff at the same time?

I think the fact that music is so intimately intertwined with memories (which at the time, seemed like completely mundane experiences, but are now painful reminders of what you DON'T have anymore) is just another one of God's cruel cosmic jokes.

I mean, think about it, it's just like when you're walking through a crowded place and you get a whiff of a cologne/perfume that transports you to this alternate universe where you're all of a sudden hand-in-hand with that "one that got away" or "the one that completely ripped my heart out." Then, you are rudely disappointed by the image of some horribly unattractive man/woman (or whatever have you) who is unfairly wearing the same scent that your ex wears. From that point on, your day is just completely shattered because not only have you been reminded of someone you USED to love (or perhaps still do), but now the smell is stuck in your nose and you'd give anything to just be happy and carefree again.

My point is... the basic senses that we have are not simply "basic" at all. They're tools of destruction, designed to break our spirits and kill us slowly. Sure, sure... we've been conditioned to love our senses but when you think about it - what do they truly accomplish beyond the obvious, most rudimentary survival needs? Sure, we are able to see, smell, taste, hear and feel... but beyond that, our memories use that information to torment us for the rest of our lives. And most sinisterly, that information usually comes back to us when we least expect it.

Just like Led Zeppelin. Yeah, you think they're all fun and games, and just good old rock & roll but no, hearing them is both orgasmic and terribly heartwrenching. Probably not to you... but of course they are to me (more proof of my stupid senses backfiring on me).

To support my aformentioned theory that our senses are out to kill us during our most vulnerable times, I'll tell a VERY SHORT story. I was innocently surfing myspace yesterday (please reserve your guffaw for later) when I was unexpectedly greeted by one of those new playlist things that seems to be taking over profiles left and right. Through my laptop speakers, I began to hear Jimmy Page's crunching, yet catchy, guitar intro of "Heartbreaker." I wanted to rock out and cry at the same time because of course, anything Led Zeppelin reminds me of my last boyfriend. As soon as Robert Plant started to sing, it was definitely over. Needless to say, I denied that friend request.

I am proposing a boycott - a boycott of the senses, that is. Because really, it's just not fair to be put through this kind of torture - especially when Zeppelin songs are so easily accessed via myspace.