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My annual California vacation began with panic.

My shuttle service called me at 4:50 am to announce that he was waiting downstairs to pick me up. Unfortunately, I had accidentally fallen asleep on the couch before packing anything.

The driver agreed to pick up another person while I threw my luggage together and then return to pick me up (again).

At the Baltimore Washington International (BWI) airport, I accidentally cut through the security line and almost got kicked out. Then I realized that I put together the wrong apparel ensemble for flying - the hooks in my hiking boots, the studs in my jeans, and the aluminum foil in my Mentos candy all set off the metal detector.

Fortunately, my flight was delayed, so I had the needed time to catch it. And I got to see A Beautiful Mind.

My college buddy Jonathan picked me up. We watched the Anaheim Angels play a good game against the LA Dodgers (which the Angels lost). And for the first time, I witnessed the glory and grandeur that is the Anaheim Angels' rally monkey.

Now, I just finished my first game of Neverwinter Nights, and it's 2:35 in the morning. With the time zone difference, this means I've biologically pulled an all-nighter.


I just completed a Tapas dinner Two-Fer, attending social gatherings at both the Chi-Cha Lounge and Bambule.

Yesterday, Jen Rajkowski announced a happy hour at the Chi-Cha Lounge to the various DC blogger groups.

Most of the people who showed up were Beltway Bloggers, who "believe in individual rights, individual liberty and capitalism (No Communists, Socialists or Democrofascist)."

Not that the evening was a big political soapbox. The company was fun and interesting, from the "What's worse" questions to Hookahpundit (more on that later).

The Chi-Cha Lounge is a Latin, plush-couches-and-cool-music kinda place. It's on U St., right by the Adams Morgan neighborhood in downtown Washington DC. Their tapas dishes are good; so is their chi-cha morada ("A spicier blend of red corn, pineapple, cinnamon, cloves and alcohol" - tastes like honey).

But the highlight of the lounge's offerings was an Arabic tobacco, soaked in apple juice and smoked from a hookah. Very nice stuff.

So that was part one of the Tapas Two-Fer. Part two took place earlier this evening. I attended the first gathering of the Washington Post Restaurants Club at Bambule on Wisconsin Ave.

The tapas dishes were good here as well (this is the second time I've referred to a restaurant's food as "good"; this is why I write for NASA and not the Washingtonian magazine).

Dining out twice in a row was expensive. But I'll be in California for the next week, so I wanted to put in some quality DC time while I could.

I spent last night sucking on a hookah with Libertarians.

Details to follow...

I just read an article on Letterboxing, an activity that sounds fun to try out.

From the article: "Letterboxing is like a scavenger hunt for hikers. Participants can log onto or a number of other Web sites to find a list of clues that hikers can follow to find one of the thousands of boxes hidden out in nature all over the country.

"Once they've managed to locate and dig up the buried box — which is actually a waterproof Tupperware or other plastic container — they'll find the treasure inside: a log book and an ink stamp used to document their success."


A week ago, I watched the movie Series 7: The Contenders on DVD. It's about a reality game show in which the contestants try to kill one another.

This is fun to watch in a sick way, and occasionally cringeworthy. However, the commentary on today's entertainment is high on shock value and low on subtlety and substance.

For example, I would've liked more explanation on how society comes to legalize and even sanction cold-blooded murder for a game show.

Series 7 is presented as an actual episode marathon, rather than a movie about the filming of a TV show. So it's full of shaky camera movement, abrupt cuts, and solo confessionals.

There are also sentimental shots of the characters, complete with piano accompaniment, that are so cheesy they could come from an Asian karaoke video.

If you see this on DVD, make sure to check out the alternate ending. It's much more appropriate than the actual cliched finale.

Finally, the soundtrack is provided by cool rock band Girls Against Boys. My favorite song from the movie is "One Dose of Truth," which has a nice 80s New Wave, Psychedelic Furs vibe.


While I was briefly shut out of the DC Sessions outdoor concert two weeks ago, I discovered a potential weak spot in our national homeland security.

My friends and I were crammed against the locked vendor gate, along with the other suckers who were angling for a view of Cake, the headlining act. We watched jealously as the wire fence cracked open ever so slightly whenever a concession stand worker passed through. The crowd would surge forward slightly, daring to rush the guards, but never quite working the collective courage before the gate closed.

Then a pizza delivery guy showed up, balancing a half-dozen pizza boxes on one hand. Even though he wasn't an official concert worker, even though there was no one on the other side of the fence to vouch for him, he was admitted with nary a question.

That's when it hit me: a delivery bag full of steaming pies can be like a VIP, all-access card. I started to wonder what other security measures could pizza subvert?

Office buildings would be difficult, because surely someone from the inside would have to call security to confirm a delivery order.

But would it work again another DC Sessions concert? I'm tempted to procure a pizza delivery bag and find out. They're readily available on eBay. At the very least, I'd have a costume set for Halloween.

Maybe I should place a bid before they're declared contraband and Congress approves a federalized Secure Pizza Delivery Agency.

Here's an interesting news story for science geeks such as myself: Physicists at the Australian National University have announced that they've teleported a laser beam across a meter of physical space.

According to the article, this "opens up enormous possibilities for future super-fast and super-secure communications systems, such as quantum computers over the next decade."


Through Wednesday, one can witness a summer moon illusion, in which the full moon looks unusually large as its rises over the horizon.

I tried to witness this, but I missed the optimum viewing window by a half hour. So I didn't notice anything strange about the moon's apparent diameter.

But I did appreciate its pizza-pie orange hue, caused by the scattering of moonlight through dust and pollution in the air.


Melinda and I tried going to Panjshir, an Afghani restaurant, for lunch yesterday. We wanted to try their muntoo, which is described by Washingtonian magazine as "dumplings filled with scallions or ground beef and topped with yogurt and meat sauce."

Unfortunately, I chose the Vienna, VA location (Panjshir II). Even though the place was supposed to open at 11:30 am, the doors were locked and no one was home when we got there.

We were on a tight schedule, as we were seeing Star Wars Epsidode II at 1:25 pm. So at 11:50 am, we crossed the street to eat at an Italian restaurant called Marco Polo. It was okay.

Panjshir has gotten good reviews, but I would recommend that one try the Falls Church, VA location. I called this branch both for directions and to find out why their Vienna restaurant was closed. The person at the phone was helpful both times.


The Washington Times ran an article that bore the following headline: EPA Says Toxic Sludge Is Good for Fish.

The article describes an internal EPA document. "The document says it is not a 'ridiculous possibility' that a discharge 'actually protects the fish in that they are not inclined to bite (and get eaten by humans) but they go ahead with their upstream movement and egg laying.'

It's quite a stretch from "It is not a 'ridiculous possibility'" to "Toxic Sludge Is Good for Fish." It almost seemed as if the Times had begun running satire on its front page, mocking the environmentalism movement.

But then it relates the viewpoint of a Republican representative who opposed the polluting of the Potomac River. "To suggest that toxic sludge is good for fish because it prevents them from being caught by man is like suggesting that we club baby seals to death to prevent them from being eaten by sharks."

So really, this isn't so much an anti-environmentalism article as an anti-stupid government article. And judging from it, the EPA looks like it's engaging in some heavy-duty Orwellian Newspeak, painting pollution as a positive for wildlife.


I have to admit, it's been awhile since I've been personally frightened of terrorist attacks.

But this Washington Times article, which details the stockpiling of radiation treatment pills by government agencies, reminds me that I'm living at the Bulls-Eye of the terrorist dartboard.


My friend John in Cleveland had this to say about the Scooby Doo movie:

I'm a fan of both Scooby and Sara Michelle Gellar. So I was really looking forward to this. And, when I heard that the PD [This is Cleveland's newspaper, the Plain Dealer] panned it in their Friday section, I was confident it'd be GREAT.

Wow, was I wrong.

Let's start on the positives -- the CGI Scooby was pretty cool. He looked good and sounded good. Shaggy was also very well acted, and the interaction between Shaggy and Scooby was cool. The selection of foods that they devoured throughout the movie were consistently disgusting and entertaining. (Eggplant burgers with Chocolate Sauce and Ketchup anyone?)

OK, we're through with the positives. Velma was OK at best. Freddie was poorly played at best. And Daphne... well, SMG played a decent Buffy. She sure as HELL didn't play Daphne.

The script and plot was disastrously bad. (A one-armed monkey with a bad case of poison ivy could have typed up a better one.) I'm pretty sure that the authors had never actually seen an episode of Scooby Doo. They might have had someone tell them about it. But, for the most part, they ignored the source material. After the first scene (which for no apparent reason included a Pamela Anderson Cameo -- GAH!), they basically flushed the Scooby Mythos down the toilet.

Don't see it. Don't rent it. If it's on Cable, don't watch it. This one is up there with Highlander 2, Mortal Kombat, and Batman & Robin. If anyone asks -- there was never a live action Scooby Doo movie made.


Yesterday, I saw the rock band Cake play a street concert in downtown Washington DC.

The show was part of the DC Sessions, a series of free rock performances that runs throughout the summer. The DC Sessions stage is located on G St. NW, in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, near the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station.

The opening acts included Jackpot and Recovery, who sounded good. I didn't get there in time for the first act, the Shane Hines Band.

I met my friends Mike, TJ, Beatrice, and Vijay at the show. TJ brought two other friends, and Vijay brought his sister and cousin.

Inevitably, a group of that size at an open concert venue is bound to get separated at some point. Sure enough, Mike, Beatrice, and I succumbed to hunger pangs and left the concert area for a quick dinner at the nearby Lei Garden.

There were food stands at DC Sessions, but everything was typically overpriced. Plus, the burgers were very much on the rare side. So instead, I continued my quest to eat at every restaurant listed in the Washingtonian magazine's 100 Best Bargain Restaurants list.

On the way back, we noticed an unusually heavy stream of young people headed in the opposite direction (including one particularly careless young woman who nearly knocked down both myself and Beatrice). Quite a few people were on their cell phones as well, so something was definitely amiss.

It turned out that while we were gone, the concert area filled up and all the gates were shut. So we walked down 8th St. to the gated vendor entrance. This was as close as we could get to the stage.

The view of the stage actually wasn't half bad. As Cake took to the stage, a flood of other shut-outs filled "Exile Alley." The more enterprising viewers climbed onto the tops of delivery trucks for a nosebleed vantage point until the police sent them away.

But without the thumping of the sound system surrounding us, we were missing out on a lot of the show's positive energy. Plus, the exiles grew progressively frustrated as the gate opened up and promptly closed for passing vendors.

So Beatrice led us back to the 7th St. entrance, to see if it would open up again. Sure enough, it had, even though the vendor entrance guards insisted that all gates would be closed for the rest of the night.

Happily, we found our friends in time to hear Cake perform "The Distance." The crowd's enthusiasm peaked with "Short Skirt, Long Jacket," which came complete with an audience singalong. The last song of the night was Cake's cover of "I Will Survive."

After the show, Mike, Beatrice, and I drove to Bethesda, MD. A friend of Beatrice, Carla, was celebrating a birthday at the Thyme Square Cafe.

Beatrice met Carla through Fieri, an organization of students and young professionals that celebrates Italian-American culture.

The party came complete with a DJ, so we topped off a day of rock with some merengue dancing.


The release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace sparked a slew of criticism as critics saw overtones of racial stereotyping.

Now, an article in the Detroit News described objections to the casting of bounty hunter Jango Fett in Episode 2: Attack of the Clones.

A panel of representatives from Detroit's Latino and Arab-American populations were concerned that the villainous character was written in a way that created a negative portrayal of their respective peoples. This is despite the fact that the actor, Temuera Morrison, is actually Maori, from New Zealand.

My thoughts on this article:

1) There were some pretty weak arguments in this article. For example, Jango Fett lives on the planet Kamino. "Camino" is the Spanish word for "road" or "I walk."

2) No one mentions the possibility that Temuera Morrison was cast because he was the most qualified applicant for the role, rather than to represent a "colored menace."

3) The article did not represent the viewpoint of Pacific Islanders, of whom Mr. Morrison is actually a member. Reading this article, one may think that the ethic identity of this community is defined only by how they may inadvertently represent other ethnic groups.


Where else but in Washington DC could you go to a karaoke bar and see a Congressman sing?


Two days ago, I participated in the Washington Storytellers Theater's Story Slam.

Since it was the day after I turned 30, I decided to make my first open mic event my official birthday celebration. Joining me in the audience were quite a few of the friends that I'd met since moving to the DC area 1.5 years ago. There were friends whom I met through mutual friends in Cleveland, people I met at young professional social events, people I knew through the University of Michigan alumni club, and even someone I met at a previous storytelling event.

It's a good thing I had such good company that night, because I ended up rating the lowest score of the night, getting a 13 out of 30 points. It was a fair accounting. I didn't prepare like I should have, my topic was off the night's theme of "Blinded", I ran over the five-minute limit, and I was carrying six alcoholic lemonades and no dinner in my gut by the time I took the stage. Other than that, I did pretty well.

Thanks to Vijay (who gets extra kudos for driving my drunk 30-year-old butt around), Mike, Preeya and Tricia, Todd and Erica (who went above and beyond the call of duty by giving me the National Geographic Other Worlds coffeetable book), Tracy and Dan, Doug, TJ, and Mitch for sharing the night.

This Story Slam was part of the Storyteller Theater's series of Speak Easy open mic nights. The next Speak Easy event is in August, and it will be hosted by this night's animated Audience Favorite, Wallace Boyd. I'm already thinking of story ideas...


My co-workers were kind enough to take me out today for a birthday luncheon. We went to the Betawi Grill in Bethesda, MD.

This is an Indonesian restaurant that has gotten favorable reviews from the Washingtonian magazine and the Washington Post.

Dishes tended to be flavorful spicy, as opposed to sear-your-tongue spicy. I had a beef dish that was cooked with coconut milk. Yummy.


Tonight, I saw the theater production The Big Green Door (not to be confused with "Behind the Green Door", a production of an entirely different sort). According to the show's Web site, the story "focuses on how a family deals with the depression and institutionalization of their father. It is a play about memory and the difficulty of connecting with each other even when love is strong."

This was a one-act play lasting roughly 50 minutes, but it could have easily been expanded into a second act. Most of the story showed the two children's painful adjustment to the dad's hospitalization. Near the end, a few issues were touched upon for which I would have liked some elaboration (the daughter's theory on what drove the dad into depression, the son's entry into fatherhood at the same age when his dad was hospitalized).

The two actors who played the kids did a good job displaying vulnerability and child-like rambunctiousness. The mom's portrayal was strong as well, as her desperation bubbled up through her in-control front. I wasn't quite as impressed with the dad's performance, but he was still decent.

The performance area was sparse, as there was no actual stage separating the performers from the audience. This worked to the show's advantage, as the closeness heightened the audience's intimacy with the characters.

The show took place at Signal 66, near the Mt. Vernon Metro stop in downtown Washington DC. This ex-warehouse is rather non-descript, marked only by a tiny nameplate by the door (which you need to walk down an alleyway to see).

The Big Green Door runs through the end of June.



This blog is another symptom of my tendency to view my life through a writer's lens, looking for events and situations that could produce good stories, or at least a minute of small talk with co-workers. Unfortunately, this frame of reference is starting to veto my common sense.

For example, I was leaving my apartment this evening just as a heavy thunderstorm was passing through the area. Common sense dictates that lightning strikes can cause power outages, and therefore using an elevator can be risky. But even as I acknowledged this, my internal writer's voice was saying, "Wouldn't it be interesting if the power went out and I got stuck in the elevator? That would give me something to write about tonight!" And into the elevator's parting doors I walked.

Sure enough, after sinking for a floor, the lights went out and the elevator ground to a halt. All of a sudden, my internal writer's voice was saying, "I'm stuck in a dark, cramped, stuffy elevator. This isn't interesting - this sucks!"

The lights dimly lit back up to half its previous intensity - just like in the "emergency power" sequences on Star Trek - and the elevator lurched back just long enough for me to activate the nearest floor button. The door opened, but too early, revealing the blank concrete barrier between floors.

I panicked and hit every button on the control panel. Fortunately, I got out and proceded to leave the apartment via the safe, non-power-dependent staircase.

Now, I need to have a stern talking-to with my inner writer's voice. Or it may only be a matter of time before I'm hearing "Wouldn't it be interesting if I insulted this biker's girlfriend?" or "I bet there's a good story to be found at the end of this alleyway, the one with all the used needles lying about."


Like I said in my last posting, my Story Slam Birthday plan was inspired by an earlier storytelling event at the Metro Cafe in downtown Washington DC.

After listening to several professional storytellers, the audience was welcome to tell their own, around the theme of "I'm not that kind of girl/guy". Here's the story I told:


I attended a wedding in Ohio this past weekend. My friend Stephanie picked me up from the airport, and took me to her parents’ house, where she’s currently living.

On the way, I became resolved to make a good impression on Stephanie’s parents. I didn’t really have a vested interest in their approval. It’s not like Stephanie and I are actually dating. And I don’t sell Amway either, so I didn’t need to get on their good side.

This desire was probably the product of my Catholic school upbringing, where I automatically get on my best behavior whenever I encounter any kind of parental figure.

So I tucked in my shirt, straightened my hair, and remembered my pleases and thank-yous. And since I was in Ohio, I took extra special care not to reveal that I attended the University of Michigan for my undergrad education.

Unfortunately, Stephanie had already given her parents a full debriefing on me – complete with pictures.

Some of those pictures came from a party that Stephanie and I attended several months earlier. It was a costume party, and the theme of the party was “Pimps and ho’s of the 1970s.”

I didn’t want to dress up as a pimp, because all that fur and velvet gets expensive. And I certainly didn’t want to dress as a prostitute, because miniskirts make my butt look big.

So I got creative, bought a $3 Hawaiian shirt, and went to the Pimps and Ho’s party as Don Ho.

I thought I’d get kicked out for cheating, but instead the outfit was a big hit. In fact, I was elected “Ho of the Year.” This honor came with a special crown, and a picture was taken of me with my special crown. It was this picture that Stephanie showed her parents when she told them about me.

So there I was, this past weekend, trying to make a good impression, and all that Stephanie's parents could see was a drunk guy in a Hawaiian shirt, draping himself all over their daughter while wearing a cardboard cutout of the "male anatomy" on his head.

I tried to present myself as a respectable member of the human race, but they knew that I wasn’t that kind of guy.


One of the three hosts of that party moved out of town earlier this year. So another pimp and ho party was never held, and I never got a chance to defend my crown (which still rests in my closet).


My odometer is flipping over, and I'm about to become officially Old.

I turn 30 this upcoming Monday (June 10), and to celebrate, I'm going to participate in my first open mike Story Slam.

It actually takes place the day after my birthday at the HR-57 Center for Preservation of Jazz and Blues. The place is named after a feel-good bill from the House of Representatives that declared jazz a national treasure. According to the Washington Post, HR-57 is in a neighborhood that is in transition "from a grungy pocket of prostitution and heroin to a residential and retail district."

The Washington Storytellers Theater is hosting the event. The selected theme for the event is "Blinded." I'll spend the next week thinking of a story with a clever take on the theme.

At least one friend is wondering if I'm hitting my mid-life crisis a decade early. Why else would I risk floundering under such a public spotlight? Actually, I dabbled in a public storytelling event last week (also hosted by the Washington Storytellers) and enjoyed it. So why not try it again, in an environment of friendly competition.

Besides, public speaking may be a potentially nerve-wracking way to celebrate a birthday, but it's cheaper than strip clubs and easier on the kidneys than drinking 'til sunrise.