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25 Things

1. I think it is a sweet idea for people to have an excuse to share odd things about themselves, particularly because everyone is invited to share. If I haven’t tagged you, it’s because I don’t know how yet, not because I’m not curious about your life. However, I just will never post this if I write 25, so I’m afraid I can only come up with 2 x 5 items, but at least two of them involve the police, so Jennifer B said this was adequate.

2. I recently found out that to my shock I have a Bacon number of 3 (if you count TV)! I was on a kids TV program Livewire in 7th grade with Fred Newman (I) who was in Explorers (1985) with Ethan Hawke who was in New York, I Love You (2008) with Kevin Bacon. That also means David Cavalier has a Bacon number of 3 or lower.

3. I recently found out to my even greater shock that I have an Erdos number of 4 (if you count math ed articles). (Erdos number is like Bacon number except you co-author a paper with someone instead of co-starring in a movie with, and one counts distance to the famous Paul Erdos.) I have written a few articles with Diane Resek who co-authored with Léon Henkin who co-authored with Alfred Tarski who co-authored with Paul Erdös. This makes my Bacon-Erdos number 7 if you allow the fudges, which really is shockingly low.

4. I’m not sure I have a Black Sabbath number, though my Green Day number is 2. That is because in the mid-1990s I was in a perplexing punk band (The Hope Bombs) with Robert Eggplant who was in a band (Blatz) who had Billie Jo Armstrong on occasional guitar, who is in Green Day.

5. That peculiar band spent its years in conflict but we hung on long enough to actually have a meeting with Lookout! Records (original label of Green Day, Rancid, The Donnas). I will never forget that day. Robert Eggplant and I sat in the office of Chris Appelgren and played our recording, and when it ended, Chris turned to us and said, “You guys really…” and paused. And I felt completely certain that his next word would be “suck”. Eggplant later told me he had the exact same thought. Instead he said something like we were very interesting and different and the kind of band Lookout! was meant to nurture. So we agreed that they would release our record and help us tour. Wow, what a high! The whole band walked back to The Fish House about a half-mile away and as we walked, the talk steered into frustration over tour conflicts, and then it just snowballed down until we were sitting around the Fish kitchen and two of my bandmates were telling each other calmly and icily exactly what they thought of each other and the drummer, a sweet Mormon kid, just fled the room and I sat there saying nothing because there was nothing to facilitate. End of band. Oh well.

6. When I was in high school my yearbook said of me that I could be heard saying “nothing in class”. I didn’t like talking in class. My parents transferred me into a Episcopal school after horribly underachieving at public school through the 4th grade. I felt like everyone else knew the rules of the grand game, what to say in class, what to write for an essay, what to say in the hallways, how to get dates, etc. I was the odd Asian kid (you’ll have to remember this was near the start of the model minority stuff and before Jackie Chan broke, so I was merely odd at the time), and my parents knew nothing of US school culture to help me. I didn’t like school and didn’t really know what I was doing, but it turned out I was good at it. Enough teachers gave me enough feedback that I could produce good written assignments, but I could never figure out what to say in class or when to say it.

7. So it’s strange that I ended up doing so much public performance and continue to do so as a teacher. I’m pretty good at it now, but there is always some small part of me inside that is the high school Eric saying, uh what the heck are you doing, there are a lot of people out there. But my band playing days taught me that if you play out enough, you’re going to have a lot of horrible shows, and you realize that public humiliation isn’t as bad as it’s cracked up to be.

8. I learned to ride a bike when I was 18. I was in Taiwan visiting relatives and I figured, this has gone on long enough. So I borrowed a bike and went to a vacant lot. Of course my cousins and aunt came out with me. They told me “try to stay up on the bike”. They each had a slightly different theory about it, but it all boiled down to “stay upright, don’t fall down.” Let me tell you now that this is not a helpful theory. I tried for a while and of course kept falling down. Then they started arguing about whose theory was best which gave me some time to think. I recalled an Encyclopedia Brown story whose solution hinged on the fact that a bicycle rider turns INTO the fall which always mystified me. So I figured I was already falling, so why not try that, and amazingly that worked.

9. So I mentioned the Fish House above. It’s a vegetarian group house in Berkeley that I lived in for a few years. People who know me from that time like to tell a story about me which basically is about the time I got arrested for sex trafficking. I will summarize a lot (it would make a good short story), but the setting is that one of the Fishes, G, and his girlfriend X had helped the little sister of another Fish, A, run away from home. G, X and A had all had romantic entanglements, making for complex motivations. Anyway, the parents of A call the police and tell them that their teenage daughter is being held as a sex slave at the Fish House.

The police naturally come to investigate the claim and I was the unfortunate who answered the door. They came asking for G and I said to hold on. I had a faint idea of the whole melodrama but not much. G was upstairs and begged me to get rid of the cop and that he only needed a few hours to straighten out the situation with the parents. I told him I would, but that he should get out of the house and go talk to the parents. So I went back to the front door and had an extensive conversation with the police officer where I explained what I knew of the situation. The cop got the picture and was about to leave when another housemate C came to the door and invited the cop in to take a phone call. I let the cop in, figuring G had had time to get away.

The cop takes the phone call, hangs up and says “You lied to me! Stay here!” and he handcuffed me to a small kitchen chair. Clearly I was not considered a great flight risk. Then I heard the sound of the cop going up the stairs, saying “G, come out with your hands up,” which freaks out the resident dog who starts barking like crazy, causing the cop to yell “Restrain your dog! Restrain your dog!” followed by the sound of a door being hurled open, more dog barking followed by a most peculiar dog yelp, a storm of footsteps down the stairs and out the door, and finally the cop comes down with a sheepish looking G.

It turns out that C, who hated G, was observing the whole spectacle of me trying to talk the cop into leaving and called the big sister A, who then told the cop on the phone that G was still hiding upstairs. The cop went upstairs, pepper sprayed the dog along with heretofore unmentioned Fish J, and with gun drawn, opened a closet upstairs to find G hiding and thankfully did not shoot him.

The cop puts us in the back of the squad car as he writes up a report. Then he drives us to the police station, which even then seemed amusing because the police station is literally two blocks from the Fish House. He has a negotiation with us involving threatening to send us to Santa Rita for the weekend, which ends with G calling the runaway and her coming back to town to return to her parents and us getting released and our records cleaned.

So when people ask me what life was like at the Fish House, I tell them this story, because it was sort of like this everyday, though usually with less cops and pepper spray and more tempeh and house meetings.

10. I followed my first implosive band with another peculiar band, the Hungry Hungry Hippos. Kerwin So (who tagged me for this whole spiel) was to be the new drummer for the Hope Bombs before that all collapsed, so he got together with me and my college roommate John Byrd. We later added the very talented and ultra-nice guy Chris Mitra. After this band broke up I’m pleased to say our relationship ripened into a very nice friendship. We had a lot of peculiar shows, but here is one that I always remember. We were playing the Stork Club in Oakland, a very common occurrance (the owner Micki loved us for no discernable reason). Two of my friends who came were beautiful grad students at Berkeley, who were dating two Danish boys, and they brought the boys along with a large percentage of the Ethnic Studies department. Anyway, as I walked around before the set, I noticed one of the guests had brought an enormous stash of pot which he kept in a (full) ziplock bag in front of him on the table. I was a little concerned because that sort of thing is allowed in Berkeley, but in Oakland (as in most of the US), it could get you a serious jail term. I could smell the fumes and furthermore, they were seated right near the door. I told them that they should hide that stuff and be careful. At this point, as in a dream, an actual police officer appears at the entrance. I felt like a cartoon character as I went to greet the officer, subtly spread out to obscure the large amount of pot behind me. I said, “Good evening officer, can I help you?” “Yes sir, we have received a complaint.” “A complaint?” “A complaint about smoking.” My heart froze… until I figured out what he meant. “Smoking… tobacco?” “Yes sir.” I was so relieved, I took him to the bartender (who was smoking!) and let them hash it out while the pot boys scurried out of sight. Anyway, the show was a blast and most of the audience was just a little bit extra receptive. Afterwards one of the Danish boys came to me, raving -- really raving -- with delight about how good the show was. I can still hear him rambling, “Oh that one song you sang, you sang and he sang and it was different, but you were one!” “You mean you liked the harmonies?” “Yes, it was so beautiful… you were different, but you were one!”

Words for the world to live up to, aren’t they?