Wrapping Up

2011 was a bag of mixed nuts. In March a terrible earthquake and tsunami hit Japan and almost destroyed a quarter of my heritage. In the spring I got to play with puppies. In May I left a job I hated (which I didn’t realize I hated until I quit). In June I lived in Las Vegas for almost three weeks while working on a pageant. In the fall I realized that my efforts in dating someone that I’d met a year ago just weren’t worth the time. And the last two months brought on the loss of two people who touched my life more than I realized.

In between all of that, there were family and friends who managed to keep things together for me. There’s no way I could ever truly thank or repay them for what they’ve done for me, but I hope they’re aware of the tiny fraction of appreciation I have for them (even you crazy internet friends whom I’ve yet to meet in person).

Tonight I’m spending time with new-found friends, and tomorrow will be spent with friends and family. I’m still amazed that these people let me into their lives the way that they do (well, except for my family – they didn’t have a choice). Here’s to a more stable 2012.

I’ve dreaded coming back to this blog, mainly because my last post dealt with something that should have been a happier memory. Seven weeks have passed since my dinner with Lisa, which should be ample time to “recover” and get back into the swing of things, like life.

More than likely it’s just a coincidence, but after Lisa passed away I was called to attend two more memorial services. One was for my boss’ mother, the other for a former co-worker at Hilton. At this point I’m really, really hoping the rule of “bad things happen in threes” will apply here, but I’m not holding my breath. 2011, you’ve got less than a week left to throw whatever shit you were saving – I’m not dealing with anything negative come 2012.

My boss’ mother’s death was not that much of a surprise. She had been diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer, and in her final days my boss was doing all he could to make them as comfortable as possible. The atmosphere in the office was a little bit strange, but it might have just been me – I was going through my own stages of mourning. As if it wasn’t enough, I was asked to assist at the funeral. It wasn’t anything difficult – I was there to deal with the caterer and help set up the food. To make things a little bit easier, I told myself that this was a funeral rehearsal to help prep me for Lisa’s funeral.

A month passed, and I thought I was slowly getting back to “normal.” I wasn’t prepared when I discovered through Facebook that a director from my former workplace had passed. I frantically emailed and called old co-workers, trying to piece together what happened. This director had battled cancer twice (like Lisa), but the second round spread to another part of her body and just wore her down. The memorial service at work was incredibly bittersweet – so many people from my old team were there, and it was like no time at all had passed.

Things were so familiar, I half expected Anna (the late director) to burst into the room, apologizing for causing such a fuss and greeting me with her usual “Hello, Miss K!”

These past two months have been extremely trying, to say the least. I took time off from Pop Bunker with the intent of returning two weeks after Lisa’s funeral, but I haven’t found the energy to write. I’m not pleased with this post, but it’s the closest thing to therapy for me at this point.

Cupcakes & Wine

It’s been seven weeks since Lisa Kelly’s passing. It’s a Japanese custom to acknowlege each week for the first seven weeks, something that almost, I’m sorry to say, slipped my mind.

Because on my bad days, it feels like I just had dinner with her the night before.

On my good days, it feels like it’s only been a week at the most since she passed.

The only reason I started counting is because Lisa’s friend, Kim, mentioned that a month had elapsed in a blog post. No way, I thought. We just had the memorial. But pulling up the calendar proved me wrong, and I realized that I had three weeks left to make up for it.

My friend Nina had suggested holding a small birthday celebration last Saturday for Lisa at her “new place.” I stopped by Whole Foods and picked up some cupcakes for the occasion – I managed to convince Lisa to have dessert *that* night, and figured she wouldn’t object to another round of sweets. (When you’re in Heaven, calories don’t count. If they do, then it’s not Heaven.) The day was cloudy with patches of rain, but the sun did eventually pop its head out towards the end (just like at her funeral).

There was wine, chips, cheese sticks, a sausage and cheese platter, and those sugar cookies you see at the grocery store that are frosted and covered with sprinkles. We were just a main course short of having a full-fledged meal in the hills of Forest Lawn. Since our location was a cemetary, we couldn’t help talking about funerals and other loved ones who had passed. I couldn’t keep the tears back, but for once they weren’t from grief – I was crying because it felt like we were slowly getting rid of a heavy cloud that’s been hanging around since November 4th.

Our little group (Kim, Nina, Will, Lisa’s friend Jodi, Lisa, and myself) decided to sing “Happy Birthday” to her and “share” our wine (a fancier version of pouring one for the homies). It took almost everything I had left in me to make my voice sound cheery, but I’d like to think that Lisa got a kick out of us being a little tipsy and singing a little bit off-key just for her.

One of the last things I said to Lisa is that I wanted us to get together again for a drink before the year was over. And in a way, we did have that drink.

Going to visit a grave is typically a somber experience, but it wasn’t the case this time around. It’s still a sad occasion, to be sure, but when you’re with a group of friends who are gunning to make the best out of things, you can’t help but feel a little bit lighter.

This has been sitting in my drafts for longer than it should have. I’m ashamed to post this, as it’s so incomplete and lacking in words, but I want to share the last time I saw Lisa with you.

I cannot wrap my head around what’s happened over the past few days. I’ve gone from numb to sadness to anger to confusion, and back again.

As some of you know, Dr. Lisa Kelly passed away unexpectedly. I haven’t known her for very long; at the most maybe a bit over two years.

The hardest part of her passing is that I had dinner with her the night before it happened. She was the picture of perfect health, and it seems beyond cruel that she was taken from us like this.

Our dinner together was over a year in the making. We’d been talking about getting together for a girls’ night for what seemed like forever, but trying to find a free moment in both of our schedules was tricky. And then, like magic, we suddenly settled on having dinner on Wednesday at Osteria La Buca (her choice). Her message to me about the place: “[it] has the most amazing flat bread pizza. I’ll break my diet for it.”

I was excited about this. My work day was a long one, and I was looking forward to unwinding with her over a cocktail. She looked absolutely adorable when she came in and I felt a little bit shabby next to her. She was wearing a red dress with a short jacket; I was wearing jeans and a shirt (my only saving grace was that I’d thrown on some eyeliner and eye shadow beforehand). We hugged, sat down, and kept the girl chat flowing: dating, shoes, the gym, and nothing in particular. We probably only stopped talking in between sips of wine or bites of food.

We said goodnight to each other and headed home. She headed east and I went south. I’d never have even guessed that would be the last time I’d see her.

I’m still in shock. There’s a lot I’m trying to come to terms with. I’ve replayed that evening over and over in my mind, trying to see if there was any hint that something was wrong.

This woman worked with babies and volunteered to go to places like Haiti and Mongolia to help save lives. This is a woman who practically told cancer twice that it wasn’t going to keep her from doing what she loved. This is a woman who found time in her life to sit down and have dinner with me.

Aluminum Foil: the Jack O’ Lantern’s Best Friend

My family has never been one to go all out for Halloween. We’re the type that puts up smiling ghosts, mildly scary monsters, and the odd witch here and there on the door. All of our jack o’ lanterns come generally in the classic triangle eyes, triangle nose, missing teeth grin/grimace.

The one thing that makes our jack o’ lanterns better than yours is how bright we get ours to shine at night.

For as long as I can remember, my parents have used foil to line the inside of our pumpkins to enhance the glow of the candle. (And yes, we still use candles. If your children don’t have fire-resistant costumes, then that’s something you should have thought to consider before coming to our house.) At least two groups of parents will always ask, “Do you use mirrors to get the inside really bright?”

No, we just use foil. It makes things really shiny and also makes cleaning up a breeze.


Try it out this year. I guarantee you’ll make even the suckiest pumpkin look good.

It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This

I’m working again (albeit it’s just a temporary position). It’s your typical Entertainment Industry assistant gig, but in my recent experience, the only industry that is still hiring assistants on a regular basis is the one that Los Angeles makes a good chunk of its income from. There’s nothing challenging about it, but I do need the industry experience if I’m going to try and make a living in this town.

This past Tuesday was tough on me physically: global warming decided to turn it up a few degrees and it was my turn to run errands. My list included the following:

1. Go to my boss’ new home in Beverly Hills to pick up a couple of items.
2. Drop off Time Warner Cable property at the location on Cahuenga.
3. Visit Marshall’s to purchase a comforter for my boss (preferably in brownish hues).

The house gig was the trickiest one. I had a key, but didn’t realize that the house alarm had been set and would go off as soon as I opened the door. I’ve heard house alarms go off before, but they’ve always been deactivated by the owner well before a stern recording tells me to vacate the premise and that the cops are on the way.

I literally told the recording that I’d love to go, but I had things to get from the house and couldn’t leave until the items had been picked up and were in my car. It was a brand new low for me as an assistant, especially since I’m only a temp – I had doubts that the company would come and pick me up from the station once the police realized that I’d set off the alarm in error. Luckily, I managed to turn off the alarm without any cop cars rolling up the driveway, and I was able to finish my task.

The day was a warm one, and I was still a little bit rattled after the house alarm fiasco. I managed to make it to Time Warner and Ross without any further mishaps, but the heat, the slim chance of me having to deal with the fuzz, and dealing with LA traffic left me cranky. My mood didn’t improve when my phone suddenly indicated that I had three new text messages.

Daytime text messages are on par with nighttime phone calls: someone has either died or wants you in his/her bed. Since I’m single, I had a gut wrenching feeling that something was very, very wrong.

Luckily, no one had died. It was my old roommate, Jamison, on his way back from Rome via Chicago.

Our conversation went a little something like this:

J: Kkkaaatthhhhrrryynnn
J: Dunkin donuts?
J: They have one herein Chicago and I’m going to grab some before I leave
K: Yes please! :D
J: What’s your preference?
K: Pumpkin if they have it; otherwise chocolate
J: Okie dokie
K: Thank you!

That quick exchange (and the promise of a donut) had me turn my frown upside down.

“He’s HIV Positive!”

Apparently today is National Coming Out Day, if I’m to believe my Facebook and my Twitter feeds. This is great for two reasons:
1. Going to a Professionals Mixer at the Abbey tonight and am bringing my gay ex-husband/roomie with me. Flame Dame clichés galore!
2. Don’t really need another reason, but I wanted to make a list.

Admitting your sexuality to others can either be an easy chat or a heart-wrenching ordeal. Luckily my friends who have come out have been able to have a relatively easy time of it (at least with the people they’ve been able to tell – sibblings and friends, but the parents may be left out for the first few years). I realize it helps to be in liberal-ish California to break the news and that millions of others are still struggling with being accepted as human beings, much less homosexuals.

To honor this special occasion, I’d like to share the story of how my mom’s youngest brother decided to come out. At the time it wasn’t that funny (for reasons you’ll soon read about), but fifteen years have passed and I’d like to think that my mom kind of laughs about it today.

I came across my first gay man at the age of fourteen. My father had just reconnected with his long-lost half-sibblings, and we discovered that his brother was gay. Having never been around a gay man before, I was intrigued by the hand gestures, the slight gay lisp mixed with a Long Island accent, and the gentle swish of the hips as he walked. I abolutely adored my newly found uncle – the things that came out of his mouth and his personality made me feel like I’d come home to something. It was comfortable, like a friend you’ve always wanted but never imagined in your wildest dreams that you’d come across someone so divine. It also felt like I could explain where some of my sarcastic traits came from, as my mom’s side was much tamer in their sense of humor.

A year passed, and my newly-discovered uncle was a permanent fixture in our lives. Everyone was comfortable around him, and I was pleased to see that my family wasn’t doing the usual quiet back-handed whispers that come with anything that doesn’t follow the norm. My mother’s youngest brother must have been relieved by this, because soon after we received a card in the mail, with this image on the front:

I had just gotten home from school to find my mother sitting in the den, crying. The amount of tears meant that it was more than just a touching moment on Oprah, so I assumed that someone had died.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Uncle M-mike c-came out,” she sobbed.

“So? Uncle Gordon’s gay.”

“He’s HIV positive!” She broke down in fresh tears.

“How do you know?”

“He s-sent this card…”

She held out the card and I glanced through it. Inside he mentioned how much he loved our family (especially our love of food), then casually mentioned that he was gay. He said that he sent everyone else cards in the mail and that we weren’t to worry about his health: he tested HIV – and would always use protection.

I turned to my mother. “I don’t see the part where he’s got HIV.”

She pointed to the line where he wrote “I tested HIV -” and got upset again.

“Mom, I bet he means that he’s HIV negative.” It dawned on me that he probably intended the dash to mean “negative,” but my mom took it to be a pause.

It took a few hours before she managed to get a hold of her brother by phone, and he apologized: he did indeed mean for that phrase to read as “HIV negative.” My mom was feeling much better after that conversation, knowing that her little brother wasn’t going to die of a terrible disease.

For me, I was pleased to have another gay man in my life. Little did I realize that this would cement my fate as a Flame Dame (and I wouldn’t become aware of the title until I started working in retail).

I am proud of my uncle for coming out, and I’m proud to have so many gay and lesbian friends in my life. You guys are the ones that keep my life exciting, and I Thank You from the bottom of my heart.

Hau`oli Lā Hānau

The story I’ve been told is this: when my paternal grandmother left her second husband, she and my father packed up their belongings and boarded a plane for Japan. Since it was the late 60’s, there was a layover in Honolulu to refuel. The stop was probably no more than a few hours, but my grandmother (being the stubborn person that she was), demanded to get off the plane to stretch her legs.

Long story short, she loved Hawai’i so much that she was living there permanently within months after going back to Akita.

This is how I came to have my “Grandma in Hawai’i.”

Grandma's modeling pics

She gave me my first ukulele when I was three. She made an excellent reason to make the trip to Hawai’i every couple of years for summer vacation. She was the only one who ever called me by my middle name on a regular basis (which is also my Japanese name). She would send me letters that were always written on her typewriter and were finished off with an elaborate signature. And she only gave and accepted gifts from Macy’s, Liberty House, and Neiman Marcus.

Today would have been her ninetieth birthday. I wish I knew more about her, but sadly she was the black sheep of a very traditional Japanese family (i.e. never going to find out anything before 1960), and my dad doesn’t really like to talk about his past. The little bits and pieces I do know come from miscellaneous pictures and a cardboard box of her belongings. My memories of her are simply made up of her long hair, shopping excursions at Liberty House, and remembering to respond to my seldom used Japanese name.

Old Photo

Hawai’i is a place full of memories for me, and a good majority of them include my grandmother. She’s been gone for almost fifteen years, but there’s a tiny part of me that still expects to meet up with her at the Ala Moana Center for another shopping date.

I Love Margarita, She’s a Sweet Gal

In Santa Monica, you can see this sign if you park in the structure near 2nd and Wilshire (and if you park towards the promenade side):


It’s just an ad for Mexican food and something that belongs to Margarita:

I’m guessing the bottom half of the sign must have blown away during a windy session or they had a tight budget and hoped that people would think that margaritas were being offered instead. It’s things that this that break my heart, because I’m sure Miss Margarita could have offered something wonderful.

Seriously, people. Take the time to do a little spell checking before you put stuff up. Demand a discount from your printer if the item didn’t come out the way you wanted. And placing the sign on the back of your establishment does not guarantee that it will not be criticized. A lot of employees would park on that side of the structure (I’m speaking from experience) and probably see it at least four times a week.

Oh well.

Me with Richard Simmons

So that happened.

I knew that a lot of crazy things were going to happen during my three weeks in Vegas, but nothing prepared me for this event: all fifty-one contestants (District of Columbia was her own entity, not Puerto Rico) would be hula-hooping in Chinese Laundry-brand wedges at the Miracle Mile Shops with Richard Simmons. There may have been a chance that it was listed on the schedule a few days before the shoot, but after multiple schedule changes, anyone’s guess was as good as mine.

How do you prepare for an encounter with Richard Simmons when you’re running on fumes? You get coffee, in any form. I decided to go with an iced coffee, Vietnamese-style:


Even after coffee and a power nap, the cleanest image I could grab of the man while we were in the same room was this:


The crazy Richard Simmons that you see on TV is exactly how he is in person. I thought he might break away from his character when I asked him to sign an appearance release, but no such luck. Our conversation went a little something like this:
Me: Mr. Simmons?
RS: (after kissing me on the cheek) CALL ME RICHARD!
Me: Richard, can I have you fill out this release?
RS: (after he started filling out the form)WHERE DO I LIVE?! MICHAEL (his manager)! MICHAEL, WHERE DO I LIVE?!

He took the girls down through the casino to the Miracle Mile shops. I swear I could hear his voice while I was still in the production office on the floor above.

It was truly an amazing experience, and it was a little tricky for me not to be starstruck with him around. Hands down this was my favorite shoot out of the whole pageant. :)