Rollin' deep in the heart of the I.E. through the gnarled concrete arteries of 60+10+91 east to neon sunsets and Naugles, Taco Tia, the Mad/Friendly/Happy or Lucky Greek,The Menagerie, Spanky's, Butch's Grinders, The Denny's Cocktail Lounge at Hardman Center (in pace requiescat). We spell Paris P-E-R-R-I-S, bitches!


Emperors of the Felt: Poker Stars from The 'Side

Hometown boys alert!

Two of the poker profession's greatest young players are Inland Emperors. Phil Ivey (L) and Allen Cunningham (R below) were both born in good ol' Riverside, CA. Each have 5 WSOP (World Series of Poker) bracelets, and Cunningham was named the WSOP Player of the Year in 2005.

Ivey actually grew up in New Jersey, which is, let's face it, an entire state with a Riverside
ethos. Cunningham, though, stayed here in So. Cal, and even attended my college alma mater, UCLA, before giving up on his engineering degree for the pleasure and profit of the felt. The dude couldn't afford NOT to quit school to become a poker pro. Cunningham raked in bank at the cash games at the card rooms off the 5 and 110 (The Bike, Commerce, Hustler) before he moved to Vega$ to "work" full time.

As some of you may know, I fantasize about this scenario all the time,
and have recently started hitting up the card rooms on a bi-monthly basis to keep the "live game" skills sharp. In fact, I'm going to quit smoking at the end of the month so I have a modest tournament bankroll to play with.

I started playing poker in my first year of grad school ('96-'97) with galpals and manfriends from my Berkeley English Department cohort. We knocked back shots of Jameson and bottles of filling, Bay Area micro-brewed beers (why?!?), while playing mixed, low-stakes cash games like Hold 'Em, Anaconda hi-lo, your 5 and 7 card varieties of stud, Black Mariah, Queen's Baseball, and even our own made-up games like "Cabin Fever" (4 up, 4 down, no one wins). It was a great way to blow off steam. As I learned in my eerily accurate horoscope today, strategic card games like "pinochle and poker" are a perfect way for Virgos to unwind when they aren't using housecleaning as therapy. All of us needed our poker time to get sloppy, maneuver, act-out, be sexy, clever or weak--things we weren't allowed to express in our everyday grad school lives. The cards and the game were a repository for all our displaced competitive energies and fears of failure. We dealt by shuffling up and dealing.

This probably explains why the poker world is filled with former academics, teachers, and lots of Ivy Leaguers, from Yale homegame compatriots like
Alex Jacob (2006 US Poker Champ) and Vanessa Selbst (heroic butch final tablist at the 2006 WSOP Hold 'Em Pot Limit Event--pictured L), to Andy Bloch from the infamous MIT Blackjack Team. Nicknamed the "Professor of Poker," Howard Lederer and his bad girl sister, Annie Duke, are the children of a boarding school English instructor. Their Harvard-educated parents, now divorced, jokingly refer to themselves as "The greatest breeders of poker players in the country." Even the infamous "Poker Brat," Phil Hellmuth, ended up marrying a woman from the Stanford University psychiatry department. Ah....a match made in heaven. Or perhaps required by social services.

Poker is also the profession for choice for lots of badass immigrant Asian dudes and their sleek and sexy "dragon lady" counterparts (as ESPN likes to hype them). It all started with the legendary Johnny Chan, whose skills were immortalized in Matt Damon's poker flick, Rounders. Some prefer the mulleted "Prince of Poker," Scotty Nguyen, or the trash-talking Men "the Master." And we all gotta give it up to the "soft and silent" Indonesian national hero, Johnny Juanda, and lady sharps like Dee Luong and the media darling, Asian-Canadian sistah Evelyn Ng (R).

As for me, I've been ramping up my Hold 'Em game this summer. Kangagi and I have been lucky enough to find a cool posse of dykes of color scatttered up and down the 5, 105 and 405 FWYS for regular home games, tourney excursions, and tribal casino trips. I've won big (Pechanga). I've lost big (Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas). I've made it to 5 final tables for 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 9th place finishes (out of 90 players) in the 2K "play money" tourneys on Full Tilt. And I've experienced full tilt after bad beats in cash games against the zumanity at the Riviera, or even just in our homegame at the hands of Maria "bulitlit" Butalid, our resident "Just For You" pocket-rocket demon.

All this is to say that if you combine my cumulative poker experience with all of the nature/nurture/kismet called forth by the demographies I discussed above--Inland Emperors, Asian immigrants, and disgruntled academics--a future with poker is definitely "in my cards." (Kick drum, cymbal crash).

Cue Belle and Sebastian's "It Could've Been a Brilliant Career."

If any of you out there on the "interweb" from the Greater or Lesser Los Angeles area would like to hook up with our modest home tourneys and cash games (with buy-ins at anywhere from $10-$25, and a winner take all or 1st-3rd place payout structure), holler via email.

The more, the merrier and the bigger the prize pool.

Let's shuffle up and deal, yo!


Balikbayan II: The Multimedia Round-Up

Cue the Pinay sing-along...

Mr DJ, can I make a request?
Puwede ba 'yung love song ko?
Mr DJ, para sa 'kin ito
Sana ay okay sa iyo

Hihintayin ko na patugtugin mo
Thank you ulit sa iyo

Kahit luma na ang aming awit

Nais po ring marinig

[PIC: My dreamy mirror-stage view from the balcony of our rental in Makati]

Kahit man lang sa aking alaala

ay makasama ko siya
Nasaan man siya
mayro'n mang iba
ito'y para sa kaniya
At sana'y nakikinig siya
naaalala kaya niya?
Ang love song namin noon
na niluma na ng panahon

Mr DJ, salamat sa iyo
sumasabay din ako
sa love song namin noon
na niluma na ng panahon...

That voice, ladies and gentiles, belongs to none other than the Philippines' reigning grande dame of cinematic love teams and saccharine song-stylings, Sharon Cuneta. In "Mr. DJ," Sharon's 12-year old croon sounds mature for its age, but still endearingly coltish. "Mr. DJ" was her breakout hit way back in 1978, the same year my mo
m and I first left the Philippines to move to the States. I was 5. Sharon Cuneta was my first unrequited crush. How could a budding lesbeaux not fall in love with her or this song ?!? She asks Mr. DJ (quite politely, peppering her refrain with lots of "thank you's" and apologies) to play her favorite love song just in case her dear heart will hear it and remember their time together, even though her beloved is with someone else and the song itself is old. [RIGHT: Sharon retro tee at the Mall of Asia, Pasay City. The largest mall in--you guessed it--Asia. Oh were I small enough to fit in the petite Pinay sizes!]

Like the pubescent girl singing sweetly to Mr. DJ instead of directly to her lover (gotta appreciate the Catholic mediation), I felt
both sentimental and hopeful when I got to Manila. Hopeful that I'd hear, smell and taste the things I knew, while sounding, smelling and feeling familiar enough to my luma ("old") love.

Ang love song namin noon na niluma na ng panahon
(Roughly: The love song that was ours back then, that now ages with the passing days...)

[ABOVE LEFT: Reunion at the Iloilo airport with Tita Mellie, my 75-year old great aunt (grandma's sis), and Bibing, who is technically my aunt but more like a big sis in our extended-fam "compound" in San Antonio Village, Pasig, Metro Manila. RIGHT: Onas family portrait. The baby on the dashing gent's knee is my grandma, Linda Onas Katindig; the girl in the pink dress is Tita Mellie Onas Morales; the adults are my great grandparents...Lola Salud Penuela Onas in the carefree years before WWII.]

The strange thing about it is that Mr. DJ, or rather the collective DJ's of everyday culture--the cab and Jeepney drivers blasting their radios; the barkers at the beach bars in Bora'; the "Palawan Idol" winner singing "More than Words" & Jobim classics between shifts tending bar at El Nido; the Manila Municipal government who use swanky sound systems to pipe soft rock into Rizal Park (the city's monument to the slain national hero, Jose Rizal)-- all managed to play the old songs that were mine.

Para sa 'kin ito.

This is for me.

Of course I know it wasn't really just for me. But my Balikbayan narcissism and diasporic sentimentality allowed me to experience the everyday soundscapes of Manila, Iloilo,
Palawan and Boracay as my own personal audiotopias. (I've been really into reading Josh Kun's book lately).

[MONTAGE: Street scenes
from Chinatown and Divisoria; (R) Rizal Park].

Maybe some of that narcissism has to do with the musical legacy, for b
etter or worse, of my mom's side of the family. The Katindig clan are often remembered as the Latin Jazz "innovators" of the Philippines. In the late 1950's my grandpa, Romy Katindig, and his 4 bros lead the Latin charge with their shiny tight suits and wicked mambo king looks. I'll try to scan a picture for a future edition of The I. Emperor.

My mom's bro
Boy Katindig is carrying on the family name, I suppose, but in the "smooth jazz" realm. Yes, his name is "Boy," like Boy George--but to all you folks not fluent in Pinoyisms out there, "Boy" is the nickname given to the eldest son in just about every Pinoy fam. Anyway, my mom made a go of it for awhile as a budding popstar in Manila. But regardless of her success, she could never get any respect for being the "girl singer" in the fam and it pisses me off to this day. We've all let some of that baggage go ever since my grandfather died in '89...let's just say the macho music man bullshit is something I have experience with, first hand. Anyway...

The same night I landed in Manila, I had a chance to see my great uncle Ed
die (grandpa's older bro) work the vibraphone during his weekly gig at Merk's, one of the last remaining 24/7 jazz clubs in the city. Tito Eddie, otherwise known as Eddie K or "the Filipino Kenny G" for his saxational stylings, has been taking a break from the sax, which as some of you know is my instrument too. He's now revisting the instruments he played back when he was in the band with my grandpa Romy. Here's a glimpse of him vibing it up:

Richard Merk, the owner of the club and an old family friend, is a Dean Martin-inspired playboy and
crooner who was once linked to the "icon of Philippine cinema," and "the actress of the people," Nora Aunor. That night at the club, through my San Miguel "Strong Ice" goggles, I was was shocked to see Tito Eddie looking so old. It had been awhile since he stayed with us in the I.E. as part of his ill-fated attempt to immigrate to the states. After a botched marriage of greencard convenience with a "working woman" he hooked up with in L.A., he was deported back to Manila. But I digress....As a gal pal exclaims in the video, "he can still kick it!"

[MONTAGE: (L) Merk and Me after too many Chivases on the rocks; (R) from left to right, Kangagi, Blissie, Merk, Joya, Tito Eddie and yours truly, bloated
after platefulls of Bangus belly (Bottom L) Merk giving me and Tito Eddie an Earful. Am I dressed like these dudes, or what?!?]

Most of o
ur time in Manila involved reunions and sentimental surprises scored to pop, jazz and Pinoy indie rock. Seeing the uncles and aunts who I grew up with, and with whom I scampered away from the ghosts supposedly shacked up in the ancient Duhat tree in our carport, made me remember how much I hate the bullshit interactions of the profession and other uptight situations. I mean, my balikbayan journey to Manila had the potential to be as artificial as it gets--all the burdens of family reunion that require manufactured sentiments for the long lost cousin/niece/pet. But as I mentioned in my previous post, it was easier than I could've imagined, and for that, rewardingly complex. It all flowed and me and my original homies--Tito Ogie, Tito Jojo, Tita Bing--picked up where we left off. It was as if nothing had really changed except for our waistlines, hairlines, and in my case, my accent. I've resolved to go back as soon as possible. And not just because of the sexy beaches with polvoron sand. [(R) Puka Beach, Bora] I just want to see them again. Color me emo. I certainly don't plan on waiting another 24 years...

Honestly, I was stumped when the Merk called me out from the crowd during Tito Eddie's show and asked me to tell everyone what I thought had changed in the 24 years since I was last home. I made a crack about "democracy" and everyone, including the senators in the audience catching some "sounds" and gin, laughed. The real answer? Everything and nothing. I know what I'm saying right now sounds eerily similar to the the final scene in the stage production of Dogeaters. But give it up to la Hagedorn for hitting the nail on the head with that one, and for reaping the corniness for all its scrumptious truth. What can I say? I'm a sucker for dramatic symmetry. A child of the corn(y).

[(R) Building a mystery...strolling through the garrisons at Intramuros, the original walled city that
was Manila during the Spanish Occupation]

Again, all of these feelings require more than words. (OK, lame song title riff, but it's my blog and as far as I know, no one really reads it). I'll let the pictures paint a thousand words...The reason I know all the lyrics to "Feelings," and Bread's "If"?

Ako'y isang Pinoy!

Action Alert: Save My Neighborhood Dairy Queen!

We interrupt my already interrupted Pilipinas travelogue to call all you Blizzard-loving sistahs to action! I was just informed by J-Sto (after she read another Ramona High School pal, Nova's blog), that MY CHILDHOOD DAIRY QUEEN is on the City of Riverside's redevelopment chopping block.

Yeah sure, the DQ ain't nothin' but a chain, and the "something different" logo calls out the fact that it's trying too hard to be otherwise. But like I say over and over again in the RELOCATIONS project, it's what you make of the chain that transforms it and you. Chains of love, baby!

Even though this DQ (built "mid-century" in the 50's) was part of the whole prefabbing of America, it's still a place with grain and moxie. It's still my place
. It was my first hang, a mere S-shaped block and a half away from the 'rents place. [MAP: From Midway down Santee Place to the green arrow on the corner of California and Monroe] I'd ride there on my first banana- yellow 10-speed bike with the brown ram's-head-handlebars and the "I heart My Dog" sticker on the rear reflector. Soundtrack of choice: "Ghost in You" by the Psychedelic Furs on my Walkman. I had to rewind the casette manually to put it on "repeat."

This DQ is where I'd
go to cool off after a game of street-baseball using novelty mini-bats and chewed-up tennis balls with the neighborhood fellas, all who adopted me as their immigrant tomboy. This was one of my first tastes of "America" and its dreamy soft-serve.

Plenty has already been leveled at that corner called "California Square." Some of it I don't mind. While I loved the Alpha Beta grocery for its healthy selection of Smash Hits mags, I'm down with the fact that it's evolved into a Maxi Foods, a Mexican chain that services the new demos of West Riverside. My mom buys all her oxtail there for crockpots of Kare-Kare.

But I sure do miss Geno's Pizza (I was the "Centipede" stud). And I owe my wicked Rom-Com knowledge to my very first video store directly across the faux-courtyard from
Geno's: Marie's Pick-a-Flick. Marie, the deaf Native American owner, and her Wilford Brimley-eseque former G.I. hubby used to give me free movie posters. I was probably the only 11-year old within the city limits (or anywhere for that matter) who wanted the one for "That's Life!" starring Julie Andrews and Jack Lemon. You gotta give it up to my proto-geriatrica.

I ultimately graduated from DQ slushies to Flaming Hot Cheetos and bottles of Cisco, Bartles & Jaymes and Club "Sex on the Beach" at the liquor store tucked next to the produce entrance of the AB. The owners confused me with my mom and didn't card me all through my senior year at RHS, so I was the BBPOC (big booze pimp on campus) for Thespian cast parties. H-O-TTT.
Aside from the DQ and its precarious life, that liquor store is all that's left of the California Square that held me ever so tight through my awkward adolescence. Even though it's just another So. Cal stripmall, these places are special to me and to so many. Each square foot of that transient lease-space has staged countless rites of passage.

If this isn't enough to make you want to run out and chain yourself to the bulldozers, maybe Nova's story will:

Sunday, August 05, 2007
Save the Riverside Dairy Queen!

Many of you in the Inland Empire see all the new development in the IE. Some of the developments are no doubt for the better; the Riverside Plaza is so much better than the old Monkey Wards building. The latest is revamping the shopping center on Monroe/California Avenue and the demolition of the old Dairy Queen building. I believe this should be seriously reconsidered by the City. Those of you who reside in the 'Side know this little building with two walk up windows is nostalgic; it's also part of the charm of Riverside that might be quickly dismissed by those who never truly lived in Riverside. This Dairy Queen has history, memories, long lines, and not to mention some good blizzards! It's unique from most Dairy Queens because it's a tiny building built in the 50s, and walk-up windows that only sell soft serve, no food. There was no air conditioning or cash registers until the 90s! [Photo below features Riverside resident, Melissa
Lewandowski, who began the letter-writing campaign to city officials].

The DQ is one of the rare buildings left in Riverside that have a little history and charm. In LA there are tons of cool old buildings that remain [comment from I.Emperor--"It's an epidemic sistah. I suppose the grass is always greener"]. An LA business like Pink's in an old structure that hasn't changed since the 40s, but people still love it after so many decades. The DQ in Riverside is certainly no Pink's in LA [I. Emperor--"It sure isn''s BETTER!"], but is nonetheless legendary in its own vein. This hits home for me since this particular Dairy Queen is where I had my first job. Interestingly enough, today I work for a city/redevelopment agency that would generally take the opposing position in this situation. For those of you who still live in the Riv, if the Dairy Queen means anything to you, write the Mayor & appropriate City Council Members. It may not be too late! Please click on this PRESS ENTERPRISE article for details on the story: Thanks!!!