Opium: A Portrait of the Heavenly Demon

By Barbara Hodgson. This is a slim little volume that will teach you a lot about opium, its origins, how it was used, who used it, how it figured into 19th century Sino-British relations, and how it appeared in popular culture. By far the most interesting thing in the book is the pictures — it’s 140 pages of glossy reproductions of book covers, postcards, photos, sketches, and more. A must-read for those intrigued by drugs but who know very little, and fun of cute little tidbits. For example, “to kick the gong around” means to smoke opium. It seems that Minnie the Moocher was also a user. All in all, a fun read for when you need a break.

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The Wall Of The Sky, The Wall Of The Eye

By Jonathan Lethem. This is a collection of seven short stories by one of my newest favorite authors, Jonathan Lethem. I find Lethem a little hit-and-miss sometimes, and I think the short stories here don’t allow him the space to flesh out his ideas, although the premise is often strong enough to carry the story through. Lethem operates in that netherworld of speculative fiction — not quite full-out sci-fi, but not a slice-of-life either.

In “Vanilla Dunk” we are taken to a world in which basketball players wear exosuits programmed with the skills of famous NBS stars — Vanilla Dunk is a white guy who gets Michael Jordan’s skills. The story is from another player’s perspective. He’s not one of the elites, but one of the solid players who make up the rest of the team. From the hypothesis of a world in which the exosuits exist, Lethem focuses in on the impact on the players themselves. In “Five Fucks” we get a series of vignettes in which reality shifts every time this woman hooks up with this man. It’s like LeGuin’s “The Lathe of Heaven,” but more compact and sketchy, almost as if Lethem was telling you about the story in a bar. “The Hardened Criminals” is about a jail in which the walls are made of prisoners compressed together and laquered over, like something out of an H.R. Geiger painting. “Light And The Sufferer” is about a drug deal gone horribly awry, and these inexplicable aliens who are drawn to troubled souls.

As I said before, the stories are hit-and-miss. It seems like he was writing out some ideas he had before finding one which could sustain a novel. But it’s worth taking a look at if you want to read something reality-bending.

Filozofer Krew

I think that philosophers should have street/stage names to make them more “relevant” to the youth of today. For example, Wittgenstein could be “Da Witt,” and
Heidegger could be “DaZyne.” If I worked hard and knew enough philosophy, I could come up with more — “MC Imperative” for Kant, “DJ ‘Spin’ Oza,” and “Dilektik” for Hegel are some possibilities.

10 days until the prelim. I think I need to lay off the coffee, it’s making me jittery.

Summer school is an odd thing. They work you twice as hard, but it’s considered not as good to take a class in the summer as opposed to fall or spring. Is it because the teachers are supposedly worse? Or does the accelerated pace devalue the education? Or is it because taking summer classes is cheaper than paying full tuition in a semester?

Borobudur

700 Post St., corner of Post and Jones. This is supposed to be one of
the best Indonesian restaurants in the Tenderloin, and it certainly gets
my vote as one of the better places I’ve eaten lately. We started with
the Pangsit Goreng Ayam, which was small pieces of chicken wrapped in
dough and then fried, with a sweet-and-sour sauce that was opaque and not
as glutinous as in other restaurants, even though to me it seemed like
ketchup cut with vinegar. For the main course we had Bakmi Goreng, a
fried egg-noodle dish with chicken and vegetables. I don’t know what it
is about Indonesian and Malaysian food that makes it taste so distinctive,
but these noodles compared favorably with Nasi Goreng, another favorite
dish of mine (and also on the menu). The total damage was around $16 with
tip — pretty good, all told.

Next time I go (and there will be a next time), I’m going to try the
rendang curry, which I have heard is excellent. This place would be
great for a meal before seeing a play at the ACT or before a movie at
the AMC Van Ness. If you have lots of extra time, you could go there
for a meal before the Symphony or Opera, although it’s a bit of a hike.

Tangerine

Corner of 16th and Sanchez. I have only been here for brunch, so I can’t say anything about the dinner menu, but Tangerine is at worst an ok restaurant. It is certainly a place you might go to for the ambiance rather than the food, it seems, although the food is not bad, just bland.

Billing itself as a sake bar, Tangerine seems to tip its hat to Asian influences — the meal I had had nothing asian about it. I tried the macaroni, corn, and parmesan pancake, topped with a fried egg, leeks, and oyster mushrooms. All mixed together, it was a somewhat filling breakfast, but the mushrooms were too weak to counteract the dullness of the macaroni. It came with an arugula salad, which was a good light counterpart to the heaviness of the pancake. Ann had gingered shrimp with a scallion-potato pancake, which was hardly a pancake — more of a breaded mush, but flavorful. The shrimp were pretty tasty, I thought, although Ann was not so impressed. Each entree was under $10, which is not bad for a nice-ish brunch place.

All in all, I might go here again, but at happy hour rather than for a real meal. But it might be a good place to go for a date — the food sounds interesting, in any case, and maybe the dinners are better than the brunch.

The Ruby In The Smoke

By Philip Pullman. I checked this out of the teen fiction section at the public library, because I had heard it was good, and I know people who rant and rave about Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. The Ruby in the Smoke is the start of the Sarah Lockhart trilogy, and I’m not sure if I will read the other ones, although it wouldn’t take that much of my time. And I’m kind of a sucker for series.

The book is a 19th century mystery surrounding a ruby from India, and the 16-year-old Sally Lockhart’s unraveling of the mystery. To give away more would ruin it, so I’ll just stop there. Superfans of Sherlock Holmes might like this book better than I did. I didn’t find it dull per se, but just unsurprising. It was as if I was watching a story being put through its paces. Of course, I’m not the intended audience, so take that with a grain of salt.

If you’re looking for a gift for a 12-14 year old sibling or cousin who likes mystery novels and Victorian England, it would make a lovely gift. As for myself, I’d take the Dark Is Rising series over this one
any day.

me talk pretty one day

By David Sedaris. I picked this book up off of aBook Crossing drop-off at the I-House in Berkeley. These essays were just the thing for walking around, waiting for the bus, and eating breakfast. I was highly amused. I’ve liked Sedaris’ columns in the New Yorker, but some of these essays are better than anything of his I had read before. Either his life is endlessly amusing, or he “sexes it up” as the Brits might say. I don’t have very much else to say about it — it didn’t open my eyes or cause me to realize things I hadn’t realized before, but the joy of reading it was the way in which he puts things, and his own personal insights did make me wonder what I could say if I looked more critically at my own life.

Movements in a pipedream

I recently watched a film version of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh that was four hours long. And it dragged too. That man sure held a bitter view of the world. All of the characters in the play are deluding themselves with fantasies about the things that they could do to raise themselves out of the dump they are in. It got me wondering about what pipe-dreams I feed myself, and if I’m truly happy or I’m just deluding myself.

Of course, I’m not truly happy about moving all of my stuff from my old place to the new place.

The more I pack
The more is left
Or so it seems to me.
My aching back
With every heft
Complains quite painfully.

Back to it.