January 12th, 2013 § § permalink
(This is the same essay I posted on Facebook.)
This is a not terribly interesting post about a gun, which may help illuminate my views on gun control. You may think of it as a set of statistical points, if you like.
As many of you know, I spent most of my formative years living in a house directly attached to a grocery store. Various family members have been held up while running said store. Fun times! Actually, every single Fong (Susan excepted, I hope) have various fun stories about psycho customers that are much more fun than this story.
I can’t remember if Mom – who spent most of the time in the store – ever got threatened with a gun, but I know she was threatened with a knife once, because I came home from school one day to find the police interviewing her over the incident. Turns out Mom, who is a far bigger badass than I ever will aspire to in this lifetime, grabbed her own knife (we kept it around for slicing open Freezies, if you know what those are), waved it at the assailant and threatened to take his ear off or something, and sent that guy running for his life. I wish I was there that day, because I love my Mom and all but her English has never been good and in her relating the story, I suspect something has been lost in translation as to just exactly what part of his anatomy she threatened to cut off.
One sister was once threatened in the store by a person with a snarling adult German shepherd, but that wasn’t a robbery, that was a revenge scenario – and I was involved. No, you will not hear that story today.
Brother-in-law had it by far worst: he was robbed by two men with guns – ended up hog tied, face down, etc while they raided every carton of cigarettes they could grab. Thankfully he wasn’t hurt in that one. But that’s his story, and anyways I don’t remember the details about that one.
Which gets us to my story: I got held up at gunpoint once in the store. This means I get to legitimately state I’ve stared down the wrong end of a gun held by a criminal. And I was a teenager at the time: I was at most fourteen, and actually probably even younger, since this was before Rosalind moved east. It was dinner time, which took place in the room immediately behind the store; we alternated amongst the kids who got to go out to the store and man the counter, and this time it was my turn. When I got behind the counter, twitchy customer guy who was maybe all of twenty or so draws a gun, demands all the cash, no funny stuff, etc. I don’t remember much about what I was thinking, except for one weird thing: I found it really odd that the barrel of the gun was way larger than I expected. My sisters still think this means I was actually threatened by a flare gun, I still maintain I was just scared shitless and my brain was acting funny. Anyways, my sisters’ opinions count for exactly squat in this particular situation because at first they thought this was all a prank pulled by a schoolmate. As if my high school friends would ever go through with pulling that sort of stunt: cf candy cane lottery forgery incident. Anyways, I handed over all the money in the till (wasn’t more than fifty bucks), and by this point other family members were finally figuring out what was up and appearing on the scene, so the guy had to divide his attention and threaten all of us – so he gave up and ran off with his spoils.
There’s not much more to this story. No one was hurt. To my knowledge he was never caught (I did a pathetic job of description to the detectives afterwards – they even gave me photos to look at and I still drew a blank).
Two additional important points:
- Notwithstanding the point I was under-fricking-age at the time, it has never crossed my mind that if there was a gun at hand, I would have acted any differently. First, there was no time. When there’s a gun two feet from your face, you do not think about reaching under the counter. You do not think about making sudden moves. We had an alarm button below the counter (all it did was ring a bell in the back) and reaching down to push it was the last thing on my mind. Second, I’m not that kind of person which counters lethal force with lethal force, I’m still not that person and don’t want to be that person. You may draw your own conclusions as to what kind of person that makes me. (“chickenshit” has come up before amongst drunken companions when I relate this story.. heh)
- This took place in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. Not the nicest part of Vancouver, certainly, but also not Oakland, California, USA which is where I live now.
If you’ve actually read this far – all I will claim by making this post is that there are some fine nuances to the gun control debate which we as a country shouldn’t be afraid to discuss. I’m tired of seeing everyone spin recent tragedies into a OMG partisan moment without at least rationally considering both sides of the issue. I think you can draw points from this post to support either side of the debate (I know *I* certainly can). That doesn’t mean I don’t fall pretty firmly on one side of the issue, but since moving here I’ve always been willing to consider arguments from the other side, as long as the points are made in ways I deem credible (i.e with science and statistics and logic, not guided by strong emotion).
April 29th, 2009 § § permalink
I’ve been genuinely busy (really!) and generally not able to commit an hour of brain time to write a decent blog entry. Some of that was self inflicted: I committed to playing cello with the Stanford Savoyards latest production of the Gondoliers, and that more or less killed three consecutive weekends right there.
Beyond that, Susan has been very sick. I’ll avoid duplicating effort and instead point you at the page we wrote for our wedding web site. I can only hope she’s on the mend now that the pancreas is out and she’s off immunosuppression.
Nonetheless, the wedding is definitely still on, in large part due to the heroic efforts of the future in-laws. Caterer, cake maker, florist, DJ have all been committed to, with two months to spare, and invitations were all sent out yesterday. Yes, life continues here even when I’m not posting about it.
January 2nd, 2009 § § permalink
A lot can happen in one hundred and nine days.
Susan has been sick the last few months, and is still sick. She’s had to go to the hospital twice. We were lucky to have her discharged just prior to Christmas, and her parents flew out to help make it more festive here, but it seems like it will still be a long way to full recovery for her.
During her second extended hospitalization Kaylee decided to take after her mother and have a solid week of being sick as well. She took to waking her dad three or four times a night to be let out into the backyard to do her business. As a result her dad did not sleep particularly well, especially after spending evenings at the hospital. At least she recovered, albeit immediately after being taken to the vet.
Before and during all this going down, I’ve found myself playing a lot more cello. Two days at the CMNC workshop when they had too many pianos, and two quarters as the principal (and sometimes, only) cellist with orchestra. The first quarter concert was a treat: a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in Berkeley with full choir, including the Vilnius Pro Musica group from Lithuania. We’ve never sounded so good. The second quarter concert featured yours truly as a soloist on Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasy on Christmas Carols. That experience, along with Burke’s assertion during the chamber music workshop that my current cello is a piece of crap, convinced me I needed a new cello. So I ordered one – it’s on trial and I will post more about it if I decide to keep it.
Our wedding website is up: ffwed.com. Currently more of interest to guests, but we’ll have photos there after the big day.
Happy New Year to all. I’ll try to keep my New Year’s resolution to boost this blog’s interestingness.
September 15th, 2008 § § permalink
Our familes will have to fly in from opposite ends of North America to our wedding in Berkeley (more details forthcoming when I get the website up and going). We wondered what the geographic average of their hometowns would be. The answer is a cornfield in Nebraska. (If you think the map is off, remember that the Earth is curved.) The closest town is Stuart and as much as I would like to stay for the Summer Stock Car Races for our honeymoon I’m pretty sure Susan would not go for it. Factoring in the overseas parent leaves us with an average somewhere in the middle of the Yukon; not a marked improvement either.
September 3rd, 2008 § § permalink
My subconscious is repressed enough for me generally not to remember my dreams when I wake up, but lately there was an exception.
The dream started with me being home (a long time ago, still the grocery store) from university for lunch, just finishing up and about to walk back to school. As dream logic goes: apparently, a 16 km walk wasn’t about to deter me from saving a few quarters on bus fare.
Along the way I cut through an alley and passed the computer lab of my elementary school. As entirely opposed to reality, here the lab was on the first floor, enclosed in glass walls and I could clearly see what was going on inside. All the kids were working hard in front of Apple IIGs. Entrances to the lab were all keypad locked doors, but on the wall opposite those doors across the alley way, there were coin exchange machines, each one guarded by very short men in sunglasses and suits. Kids darted out with dollar bills in hand, exchanged them for quarters, and scurried back inside. I thought to myself, “well, these students must be sitting in front of coin operated computers, and there wasn’t enough room to install coin exchange machines in the lab, so they put them across the alley and hired dwarfish security guards so as to not intimidate the schoolkids. Yes, this all makes sense.”
A few minutes later I arrived at my class at UBC. It seems I was taking some sort of media class on doing your own television commercials, and I had arrived just to see my particular project be screened to the rest of my classmates.
Narrator: “Have you ever found yourself suffering.. from uncontrolled sarcasm?”
Woman in a boardroom, commenting on a coworker’s presentation: “Yeah, this is SUCH a brilliant marketing pitch. I’m sure the CEO would LOVE to know that our profits will rise by a WHOPPING 3% with that AMAZING advertising campaign”.
Everyone else in room: nervous stares, uncomfortable shuffling.
Narrator: “Now, with Sarcastaid, you can treat your once uncontrollable sarcasm! A once a day pill attacks sarcasm right at the source – your tongue!”
Animated cutaway graphic of tongue, showing red glowing arrows of sarcasm flowing from bloodstream upwards through tongue pores, then showing suppressive effect of Sarcastaid: white arrows pointing back down through tongue pores, countering red arrows and reducing sarcasm by 85%.
Repeat of same scene in boardroom, same woman presumably after taking drug: “Who designed the color scheme of your slides, your mom?”
Everyone else in boardroom: easy grins, benign chuckles.
Commercial over. Silence. Classmates looked around, a little shocked at the sheer inanity just on display. Some student, “You know, that wasn’t really all that less sarcastic.” Various mutterings of concordance. Then the professor: “For the rest of the year, ‘your mom’ will be one of those viral memes that comes up after every project is screened. It will be disruptive, and not even that funny. And who will we blame?” Accusing, unison answer: “Julian”.
And then I woke up in a cold sweat.
June 24th, 2008 § § permalink
We spent last weekend in Southern California, sweltering through a heat wave at Disneyland, being tourists in Hollywood, and attending the world premiere of Wall-E at the Greek Theatre. Getting to go was Susan’s privilege as a lead on the film and I got to tag along and pretend to be famous. Although not your A-list Hollywood event, there was still a red carpet scrum which we were mostly tangential to. Susan claims her foot is visible somewhere in a publicity photo next to some Disney Channel starlet, while I as usual am the invisible, not even implied presence. We did play spot the celebrity and at the after party, we hovered for a moment, one mere foot away from Sigourney Weaver (she’s the voice of the ship’s computer in Wall-E) – alas we were too awestruck to introduce ourselves.
That wasn’t the first time I’ve seen the film; that would be the end of last month at the Wall-E wrap party. A lovely event, made more so by an especially touching thanks from the director to the crew. As for the movie itself, I’ve sat through it three times now and it holds up well. It is truly unlike anything we’ve ever done and works brilliantly.
In other news, CSUEB orchestra is done for the school year. This term our cello section was reduced to three (yours truly as principal this time around), but we padded out the rest of the strings with more professionals and we sounded excellent at the concert. We have come a long way since last September. The program this term was the Marriage of Figaro Overture, Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, KV. 488. The last was weird: the first concerto I ever played with orchestra back when I was ten. Two decades later and I’m on the other side of the piano playing cello. No real regrets, just a small irony. Cello’s not in storage for the summer. I’ve been dragooned into playing the bass part for some Slayer noodling at work. An honest to goodness bass amp has been ordered and is on its way. More on this furious acoustic metal assault soon.
May 13th, 2008 § § permalink
As of last weekend, Susan and I are now finally engaged! Here’s the proposal story:
Saturday May 3rd was the fifth year anniversary of our first date – the Finding Nemo wrap party – and I decided that was going to be the big day. I had the diamond since a little before Christmas (hidden in a box of Lego around the house, which was pretty much the last place Susan was going to look), but decided to wait until Susan had finished up on Wall-E before popping the question. Susan and I also hadn’t celebrated that particular anniversary before, so there was also a nice element of surprise to the date. I had the ring set last month, which involved subterfuge (and some fibbing – sorry Susan) on two consecutive weekends. The last step was to work up the courage to call her parents the week before. Mr and Mrs. Fisher were very nice but they also said they were going to pop a prompt congratulatory card in the mail. That card arrived on Monday – talk about not leaving any room for chickening out!
The plan was dinner at Masa’s Restaurant in San Francisco – fancy French food in a romantic setting. This was actually my second choice, but I couldn’t get reservations at Gary Danko. Since I could only get a 9 pm reservation, I decided to also book a room at the attached hotel (the Executive Vintage Court) as driving back across the Bay Bridge late at night didn’t seem like a great end to the occasion.
So, on Friday night I made a nonchalant suggestion of going out for a dinner on Saturday. Impending minor catastrophe: Susan wasn’t keen on a late dinner, and suggested Sunday. When I shrugged, she said something to the effect of “well, at least I now know it wasn’t a proposal dinner”. I am proud that I didn’t give it away right then and there. I did spend part of that night sleepless in bed staring at the ceiling fretting about the weekend plans.
Saturday morning I presented Susan with an anniversary card and strongly suggested that it would be really nice if we could go out for dinner that night, since I’d actually made reservations to celebrate our anniversary. Fortunately this went over much better than the night before. I spent most of the day in Marin at a chamber music workshop with the rest of the piano trio. Got home, got dressed in a jacket and tie (Masa’s is fancy!), and drove into the city with Susan. When we parked at the garage, and handed Susan a pair of tennis shoes, she knew something was up. I’d furtively packed in secret on Friday and Saturday and had left our overnight things in the trunk, remembering almost everything we needed for the hotel. I’d actually planned ahead, even ensuring Kaylee got walked on Sunday morning when we weren’t home.
Dinner was amazing, although when we looked down at our plates at the first course of the tasting menu – I think I had one solitary octopus tentacle on my plate nestled amongst a few greens – we thought, “wow, we might have to fill up on bread today”. (Actually, what we thought was: my mom is right about French food.) However, six delicious courses and three hours later we were actually full! I lacked the courage to propose during dinner, but when we got back to our hotel room, after a few minutes of puttering and working up the nerve, I said “I have one more thing..” and pulled out the ring box from my jacket. I got down on my knees and asked Susan to marry me. Then I handed her the box. Oops. This was apparently the glitch of the evening that we will be talking about at the wedding. I didn’t know about the entire sliding the ring on the finger part of the procedure. Thankfully she teared up and said yes.
That’s the proposal story. Sorry, it was a bit traditional and didn’t involve something crazy like Lego minifigs (not that I didn’t think about it.) We spent the following day in San Francisco shopping for Susan’s Wall-E wrap party dress and dropped off her ring to get sized. She had to live without it for a few days (we did substitute a Lego piece attached to the tension clasp that the diamond came with), but now it’s permanently attached to her finger as she freaks out about planning weddings in Northern California.
February 28th, 2008 § § permalink
So there’s that orchestra thing I do, every Wednesday I lug my cello to Cal State East Bay in Hayward, dump fourteen quarters into a parking meter, and practice for a couple of hours. Our spring end of quarter concert is coming up next Wednesday, March 5th. We’re playing Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and Gluck’s Overture to Iphigénie en Aulide. 7:30 in the Music Building Recital Hall. Request your ticket online!.
A few comments about orchestra these last two months. Everyone else in the cello section who was around last quarter is gone. I was the sole cellist for the first three practices, then a ringer from the SF symphony and a high school student showed up. Ringer is gone, but I think he’ll be back for the concert. Meanwhile, it’s been me and the student, who is now the principal of the section. Roz probably thinks I’m annoyed at this, but she showed up and, while sight reading, played the music on the spot better than I after having practiced for three weeks, so .. yeah, she deserves to be there, I don’t.
Susan told me that I’m a cocky cellist based on the amount of practicing I’ve been doing (i.e: none). While I’m probably over confident in some areas, piano probably among them, I don’t think that’s true of cello. I feel like I’m slogging uphill, every step of the way. The Brahms Variations with its five flats in some sections proves that I’m still intonation challenged when it comes to any flats. G flat? Forget it. F sharp? Sure, no problem. Yes, I know it’s the same note, but put the G flat next to an A flat and suddenly I’m the guy playing sour notes in the lower strings. The one area I’ve realised some progress on: while I rarely pencil in bowings (there’s that cockiness again..), that’s partially because I can actually come up with sensible bowings on the spot, or at least remember them from week to week. I’m not at the level of deciding how to bow a phrase based on musical merits – don’t ask me how to bow the Bach Suites, please – but at least I understand that bar beginnings and sforzandos should be down bows, certain staccato phrases are probably easier up bow, and that the string sections should be more or less consistent.
Somewhere I picked up the habit of pencilling stars into my music. I wonder who I got THAT from, and how many stars of hers I ignored over the years.
I’ve been neglecting blog lately. Fifty hour work weeks, chamber music activities for the last three weekends (playing piano, not cello, even though two weekends were devoted to cello sonatas), plus family in town and the last thing I’ve been wanting to do is bang out a screed on the keyboard. Nonetheless here’s one to round out the second month of the year.
February 15th, 2008 § § permalink
The majority of my friends and peers have always been older than I am, so carping about my new status as a trigenarian garners little to no sympathy. I seek solace instead in a poem by one of my favorite authors, Lewis Carroll, from Alice in Wonderland: “Father William”.
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head–
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”
“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door–
Pray, what is the reason of that?”
“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his gray locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment — one shilling the box –
Allow me to sell you a couple?”
“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak–
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”
“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw
Has lasted the rest of my life.”
“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose–
What made you so awfully clever?”
“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down-stairs!”
October 11th, 2007 § § permalink
It’s one of those times in my life where I have too much going on. Came down with a cold, but mostly recovered in time to spend last week in Vancouver with family; Dad included, first time in seven years. Dad gave me a Leica M6 camera and lens, and I’m now faced with the daunting proposition of learning to shoot film after using point-and-shoot digital exclusively. I have a chamber music workshop this upcoming weekend, playing piano both days: two Brahms piano quartets to prepare. We’ve been training Kaylee, working with a dog trainer every Saturday for an hour and working on her D-O-W-Ns during the rest of the week. And then there’s a silly Lego minifig customization project I’ve been working on, involving everything from Krylon Fusion paint, boiling Sculpey, drawing in Illustrator, and printing water slide decals.
The biggest time commitment that I signed up for: I’m again a cellist in a real de facto orchestra! Classical this time, not punk rock. I auditioned for the orchestra at California State University two weeks ago, which meant buying new strings, actually practicing the cello, and dusting off the default audition piece: Prelude from Bach’s D Minor Suite No. 2. Amusingly, I recognized the sight reading immediately: the 3rd movement from Beethoven’s Fifth. Honestly hadn’t played it, but I knew very well how it was supposed to sound.
I got in, which may have had something to do with the orchestra being hard up for strings. I discovered just how hard up last night at first rehearsal: strings consisting of one first and two second violins, three violas, and three cellos. Fortunately we have a full wind and brass section, and they are very good. They consist mostly of students – as I understand it, due to budget cutbacks CSUEB had terminated their orchestra program a few years ago, resulting in the mass departure of the string students. The winds and brass programs remained intact though. As for us strings, currently it’s a mix of community members and students, and I anticipate any expansion will have to come from the community in the next few weeks.
Oddity I can’t get over: people think I have a nice cello. I don’t, really; it’s a crappy “Stradivarius copy” with wooden tone – although it’s much improved with a new set of Pirastro Obligatos – but some of the other musicians play school rental instruments. Not trying to sound like a snob, but I’m surprised that at the university level, people still play rentals. I guess I was spoiled while I was at the Academy. (Or just spoiled in general.)
We plowed through Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night Dream overture and made a hash of it, but started hitting our stride with Beethoven’s first symphony. As we played it, I started grinning as I found and reactivated long-unused neurons that had actually played the fairly challenging cello part over fifteen years ago while in the Delta Youth Orchestra. Rounding out our current repertoire is some interminable Bach, and Copland’s Quiet City (cello solo, treble clef – gack). Quite ambitious! Our first concert is the first week of December. Before then, I have some cello calluses to develop, and some major intonation issues involving C sharps on the G string to work out. Should be fun.