Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Naked in Korea (town)!

Annyong haseyo! Many pleasurable greetings! 
Are you one who is wishing to travel abroad, yet lack the financial means to do this? Do you wish to experience a new cultures and traditions without need of a passport? If this one is you, please to join me! Gather under my umbrella, and together we will experience a fun, educational time in Korea!

Koreatown, that is.

My afternoon's adventure began with an unexpected gift certificate from a friend to Crystal Spa, which  is at the top of a big multiplex structure called City Center in the heart of Koreatown. The outside looks like your typical Aveda Store (the only products they use in the spa), but inside it's a whole other world. $30 bucks gets you entry, though if you book a service they discount the spa fee. My lucky gift certificate also entitles me to a "body polishing." I imagine the Tin Man and his Oz rub-down. Will they even dye my eyes to match my gown? Jolly good town!
That's me all over. 
The men's locker room looks pretty standard, though very, very clean, which is a good thing, because if you're going to be shvitzing naked in various heated rooms, you want it to feel as germ-negative as possible. When I say naked, I mean naked. No posh Egyptian cotton white robes or even a demure terry towel in this spa. It's denizens are roaming the halls inglouriously and (mostly) unappetizingly, nude. Not that there are many people there at the moment; I'm here in the middle of the day and there are just a handful of Asian businessmen, a couple of old Asian dudes tottering in the showers and some sagging Eastern Europeans. Maybe all the hot guys who look like Jeremy Lin come in the evening. Somehow I doubt this. If you're looking to entertain your sexy-Asians-in-a-hot tub fantasies, this may not be the place for you.
Where am I going after I win the playoffs? Crystal Spa, of course!
I've done the Russian baths in Chicago before, but this layout is new to me, so I turn to the man in the polo shirt, a wizened old guy with enormous earlobes and a profusion of moles dotting his face, for some guidance. He doesn't speak English, but with a series of elaborate semaphors I get the lay of the land. Lockers here.  Showers beyond that glass door. Scrubbing there. Then, put on these clothes, go out that door. Yes? Yes.

There are two types of showers, the traditional ones all in a row and a few half-showers, those with detachable shower heads close to the floor, a stool and a plastic basin, all for  extra heavy duty scrubbing. This is where the old men seem to thrive, squatting and performing their ablutions like a holy rite: slowly and methodically lathering themselves, exfoliating and dousing themselves with regular baptisms of bucket water. 

Beyond the showers are a the saunas (steam and dry) and the pool of very hot water and the pool of very very cold water. The idea is to travel from hot to cold to hot to cold, opening and closing your pores like some time-lapse video of flowers blooming and folding, blooming and folding. The cold pool is extremely difficult to coerce myself into doing, but I chide myself like the father I am and tell myself to "Just try it." Blessedly, I am alone— I wince audibly. The shrinkage is alarming. Enough of that.  

It's time for my body polish. A man named Khan approaches, barefoot, clad only in a pair of tan cotton shorts. He gestures for me to enter the Scrubbing Room. This is not really a room, per se, but a little annexed area of the shower room with no door, right across from the towels. here I am instructed to lie supine on the table. I must look like an autopsy cadaver. A small towel sodden with warm water is placed delicately over my genitals and then I am carefully and most thoroughly scrubbed. First, Khan wields his loofah-padded hands to the front me. Suffice to say, he does not miss a spot. Parts are lifted, areas rarely seen by modern man are investigated and scrubbed. I turn over. After my backside is taken care of, buckets of warm water are poured over my body, and the process begins again, only with soap and water. Khan is casually familiar in his handling of me; there is nothing perfunctory, but there is no modesty, either. Even for someone who's had more than their share of massages, this is an oddly intimate, even regressive, experience,  Someone is washing me, and not clinically, without my participation, like I am a baby. I feel both vulnerable, and cared for. Unfortunately, there is no swaddling involved. 

When it's over, I head to the showers (this is reflexive; I mean, do I really need more bathing?) but when I turn back to ask Khan a question (are there really no sandals here?), I find him naked in the Scrubbing Room, dousing himself off with a bucket of water. This causes a fleeting moment of consternation: wait, did this guy actually work here, or was he a random stranger with a soapy fetish?  But yes, indeed, the kindly Khan is indeed an employee, and he encourages me to put on my own pair of tan shorts and a T-shirt stocked on the shelves and join him in the common room for the foot massage. 

The common room is slightly more populated, mostly due to the fact that it is occupied by both men and women. It resembles the atrium of a tiny mall, with tatami mats and dim lighting. There is a small cafĂ© to get Korean food, large and muted TV screens silently blaring Korean financial TV, and, incongruously, people sprawled randomly on the floor, resting. I think of Japanese tsunami survivors, displaced and bedding in public spaces. 

Along the back wall are a series of rooms, each with their own name. Here it's like I'm entering a fairy tale. Three rooms, each hotter than the other, for resting in. The Mud Room, with huge terra cotta tiles on the ceiling and tomblike atmosphere. The serene but hotter Salt Room, with a floor covered with large pink salt crystals and a huge lit salt sculpture. And last, hottest of all, the Charcoal Room, where the walls and ceiling are completely covered in beautiful circular discs of charcoal, black and striated. While there were no dogs with eyes the size of saucers or mill stones, each room did have blankets for laying on, little carved wooden head rests, and a glass hourglass in a wooden frame for keeping track of time. 

Between visits to these rooms there is also an Ice Room. This is the only disappointment, because not only does it not contain ice, but it has the exact look and temperature of my parents' walk-in refrigerator in Denver. I don't have much time, anyway, somehow the hours have frittered away and it will soon be time to pick up my son from school. So I shuttle between all rooms like I'm on speed: jumping in, lying down for half a minute, jumping up again, and leaving. It's the OCD sauna tour! I'll allow more time next time, but I don't want to miss THE FOOD.

The great thing about City Center is that it has almost everything you'd want for an afternoon's adventure. You never have to step outside the building and break the illusion that you're somewhere foreign (albeit with English signage). The place is relatively new; it has a modern look and a few empty spaces on the top floors. The lack of people makes me feel like I'm traveling through Logan's Run or some other post-apocalyptic world where mankind has been decimated. 

Luckily, on the second floor the food court is thriving. It offers a tantalizing array of Far Eastern cuisine. Korean barbecue, Japanese noodle bowls, a Well-Being Char-broil! It is completely occupied by Asians, slurping their bowls of noodles and jabbing chopsticks into various meats. I'm sure for them this fare is about as authentic as Panda Express and California Sushi, but for me it is heaven. I get the bi bim bop for $8 and I'm given a feast of pickled vegetables, brown rice and soup to accompany it. And slim silver chopsticks!
A bi bim bop after my own heart.

After eating, I make a quick run around the various other shops, stopping, as I must, at Cake House. Really, how can anyone pass by something called Cake House and not buy one of those small cellophaned pastries? Never mind that Asian baked goods are always a bit disappointing, lacking in flavor and depth. Homage must be paid to the Cake House!

I love how the video store is still hawking episodes of M*A*S*H! 
The Korean market will have to wait for another time. I descend into the dark, byzantine corridors of the parking garage and spend another half an hour negotiating the exit. I emerge into Los Angeles sunshine, scoured, rested and full. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday Roundup

Gleanings from a week's worth of idle, non-productive scrolling. I waste time so you don't have to!

Sheep sheep sheep!
They're overruning the internet this week! First, a little known phenomenon—sheep cyclones (via towleroad):

What can whip these diabolical Baa Baa Bad Sheep into submission? Call in Babe, the... rabbit? My friend, Sally Nemeth, posted this video of a sheep-herding lupus which is quite amusing:

I knew this year's Republican field reminded me of something...

Particularly appropriate: Mitt as Mr. Howell, though Natalie Schafer must be rolling in her grave, having been possessed by Ron Paul... I bet Sarah's steamed at having to be the Mary Ann... I would have made her the Ginger, but that's just me. What do you think?

Did you see Colbert's interviews with Maurice Sendak? Gorgeous:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Pt. 1
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Pt. 2
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

And finally, (via the Huffington Post), kids get down and funky with Depeche Mode, and all fathers in America are simultaneously put to shame:

Have a good week!

PS. Starting P90X2. Revenge of the P90X. Don't worry, I won't go into the details this time. Suffice to say... ow. Medicine ball, how I hate thee.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Benji and the Art of War

If the last audition I went on results in a booking call from my voice agent, I'm gonna owe my son Ben big time.

It's like I'm being attacked by
those floating spores from "Avatar."
I got called in for a mocap game. Mocap stands for Motion Capture; it's where you get suited up with tights and ping pong balls and move around  on a special set, where they track all  your movements on a computer, a la Andy Serkis in "Lord of the Rings," "King Kong" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." ("I'm going Serkis" should be a new phrase for doing motion capture; if you run across it later remember you heard it here first.) With most of your props and set approximated on a bare stage, and the need to memorize your lines (though much of the dialogue is later re-recorded in studio) mocap is very much like the intersection between voiceover and theatre. It's a lot of fun. I've gone Serkis (how'd that sound?) on a couple of games, Uncharted 1 & 3, where I've played the same character, a swaggering Indonesian pirate called Eddie Raja, whom, I'm told, is quite popular in the gaming universe.

Hey! That's my move!
For this game the role was a more stoic one; a commander in a Chinese rebel army in the desert. For the audition I lead an ambush and do lots of battle cries. The lines were typical of most action game dialogue; lots of "Get down!" and "Fall back!" and "Protect the base!" On the audition sheet, the actor was instructed to make sure "the dialogue be accompanied by physical movements. Mime action."

That meant lots of shooting, and getting shot at. The lines were no problem, battle cries are the stock and trade of every voiceover actor today, but I was less comfortable about how my shooting of an imaginary gun came off. I've never handled a firearm, and wondered how awkward my form was. Did it look like I was holding an AK47, or watering the lawn? Who should I turn to for advice on weaponry and battle?

My ten-year-old son, of course.

Since the age of five Ben has been able to replicate, with amazing accuracy, the sound of a semi-automatic firing (it has to do with the tongue trilling against the lower teeth; no, I can't do it). Mind you, he comes from a virulently anti-firearm household— he's never had a toy gun, never played a point-and-shoot video games, wasn't allowed to aim a finger at us and go "bang,"— no, he was forbidden from play-shooting in any manner, lest he be subject to long, tedious lectures on "Why Guns Aren't Fun," and "How Weapons Hurt People."

Still, he managed to create firearms out of anything— a tree branch, a plate display stand (the perfect revolver), two pieces of PVC piping, his ever-handy disobedient fingers. When questioned, he wouldn't call them actual guns ("No! They just stun the people and put them to sleep!") but we knew what was up. Out of the ether, it seemed, he learned how to lock and load, though more likely he acquired this knowlege from his fellow gun-obsessed school chums.
eeee... this one don't look
too ticklish...

Doug tried to rebrand Ben's weaponry by calling them "kissing guns," or "tickle guns," but it was a losing battle. And then, in first grade, he saw his first "Star Wars" movie, and it was all over. The lightsaber is a gateway weapon. Soon, we had all manner of staffs, swords and "Pirates of the Caribbean" cutlasses piling up in odd corners of the house. Still, no weapons that fired anything in the house (water guns being the glaring exception) and no shooting video games. Birthday Laser Tag parties? We caved. We still preach against guns, but our finger-wagging is half-hearted at best. We know we've been beat.

"And... if you're reloading a machine gun, what does that look like?"

Yet here I am, asking Ben about the very weapons he's not supposed to be wielding. He happily obliges. Benjamin's natural mode of being is in constant motion; soon he is diving, rolling, ducking, shooting. He give me pointers on how to hold my arms, how to take cover, all the movements he's gleaned from countless "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" episodes. I have to admit: it's pretty impressive, and exactly what I need for a computer game.

The audition takes place on one of those rare rainy days in L.A. and I have to park three blocks away from the casting office. We all troop in, Asian-types and Middle Eastern types, soaking wet and crammed into a tiny office waiting area. From the couch you can hear the sound of simulated carnage going on behind the closed casting door. Am I really going to be jumping and running around, miming artillery and blockades? I remember what Doug, the ever-encouraging, murmured to me the night before as we settled down to sleep: "Mocap is kinda a younger man's game, isn't it?"

Yes, thanks for that, Mr. Wood. Still, he may be right. I'm feeling like the sage Danny Glover, who once famously stated (via those Lethal Weapon movies): "I'm getting too old for this shit." Yes indeed, Mr. Glover, yes indeed.

And yet, when I enter the room, my inner ten-year-old asserts itself: I've got the moves, and, more importantly, the abandon by which I throw myself into those moves. Soon I am diving, rolling, ducking and shooting behind two folding chairs. My two bum knees do not buckle, my lumbar vertebrae does not compact, and it all goes very well. If I am not entirely authentic, I'm doing a damned good impersonation of Benjamin. "Where did you come from?" the casting agent says, in a good way (I think). I want to tell her, "From my son's imagination."

So we'll see. The next night, we are invited to dinner at our friends' house. They have a three-year-old son who adores Ben, and wants to do everything he does. This occassionally can be a little problematic, given Benj's prediliction for fight moves, and the mom's concern about her own son's entry into the world of weapons. I see Ben showing the little boy a Star Wars clone trooper action figure, but I don't need to worry. A little while later the little boy runs over to me and wants to show off the trooper. "And this man, if there's a fire, he shoots his gun and water comes out and puts out the fire!"

Good one, Ben.

I told Ben that if I get this job, I'll get him something special for his help. Maybe I'll buy him a Lord of the Rings action figure, or some more Bucky Balls. But no, I won't be getting him a gun. He seems to be doing just fine without one.