The Costume Party Murder

Just for the heck of it, I challenged myself to write a whodunit murder mystery in one day. Here is the result; enjoy!

The Costume Party Murder
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.

(contains violence, mature language)

“Come in, darling!” said Mrs. Ringer. It was fortunate she had large French doors, for Mrs. Lucas was dressed in an enormous and elaborate hoop skirt. She stumbled and gasped as she crossed the threshold. “Maybe dressing as Elizabeth I wasn’t the smartest idea. I can hardly move in this thing!” She tripped a second time and added, “And with my sprained ankle too!”

“Oh, dear,” said Mrs. Ringer. Her own costume was nearly as cumbersome: two enormous wings protruding on either side of a white robe and a golden hoop was held above her head by a wire.

“I like your costume!” remarked Mrs. Lucas.

“Thanks! But I also can hardly move in it. And getting all the wrinkles out …” Mrs. Lucas’ eyes narrowed and she swallowed very hard. “Umm,” continued Mrs. Ringer, “Getting the wrinkles out was a challenge.” Mrs. Lucas looked almost grim. Not knowing how to proceed, Mrs. Ringer looked outside expectantly. “But where’s Mr. Lucas?”

“He had to drive to Wilberville tonight unexpectedly. Business. He sends his apologies.”

“Oh, dear. Still no luck selling his car?”

“We had a couple of emails about it, but nothing definite yet. By the way, I am so looking forward to seeing your flower garden tonight. You simply must show it to me!” Carefully, Mrs. Lucas made her way through the living room. “Am I the first to arrive?”

Mrs. Ringer rolled her eyes and sighed. “No. Mr. Reglof is already here and …” She brought her hand to her mouth and mimed someone chugging down a drink.”

“Who is Mr. Reglof?”

“My next door neighbor. I don’t like him much, actually. Every night, loud parties. He owns half the town and the police are in his pockets. But he overheard me invite Mr. Campbell to the party and he just sort of invited himself. The late Mr. Ringer would’ve rearranged his face by now but …” She paused and somehow absorbed the tear that was threatening to roll down her cheek. “I just don’t like confrontations, you know? And his wife left him too. Had a black eye the day she left, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh. Well, I suppose he deserves it, but I feel kind of sorry for people like that. I’m sure most don’t really understand why they act so cruelly. Probably an unhappy childhood. Still, it’s no reason to hit someone.”

The ladies jumped at the sound of a bike horn behind them. A clown in a rainbow tunic and curly red hair was honking the horn and winking at them.

“Mr. Campbell, hello! Come in!” said Mrs. Ringer.

“Oh rats. You mean you can recognize me under all this makeup? I feel like I’ve got a mudpack on.”

“Do come in, Mr. Campbell. Do you know Mrs. Lucas?”

“Oh yes, the lady just down the street from me.” Mrs. Lucas held out her hand to shake his, but he just honked at her.

“Silly man!” chortled Mrs. Ringer. Her smile vanished at the sound of “Damnit!” bellowing from the kitchen.

“Who is that?” said Mr. Campbell. Mrs. Ringer mouthed “Mr. Reglof” to him. His smile also vanished. He grew very quiet. There was a faraway bitter look in his eyes. Finally he blinked hard and took a deep breath and muttered “Lovely. I suppose by now there’s nothing left to drink.”

“What’s lovely?” said a voice. There was a loud clanking sound behind them and they all turned. A knight in full armor, armed with a shield and lance, had entered. He raised his visor and smiled.

“What’s lovely?” he asked again. He waved his lance suggestively at Mrs. Ringer and winked, causing her to blush.

“Mr. Reglof is here.” said Mr. Campbell. The knight stopped smiling.

“Well, Mr. Reglof is like a talisman! His mere presence erases smiles.” said Mrs. Lucas.

“You’d stop smiling too if you knew what he had done!” snapped the knight. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so rude. Reglof is just a sore spot with me, that’s all.”

“And me.” said Mr. Campbell.

“Ah yes, you probably have even more reason to despise …” The door to the kitchen flung open and Reglof stomped in. He was not in a costume, just the suit he had obviously worn to work that day. He peered at the group, searching, until his gaze settled upon Mrs. Ringer. “You’re out of gin.” He waved his glass menacingly at her. An ice cube fell out of the glass and onto the carpet.

“Oh dear. I think I have another bottle somewhere.” She lumbered into the kitchen, as quickly as her heavy wings would permit. The ice cube was left to melt. Mr. Reglof glared at the group for a moment longer, then wordlessly followed after Mrs. Ringer. Everyone else sighed. There was an uncomfortable silence.

“So.” said Mr. Campbell and Mrs. Lucas simultaneously. “Ladies first.” he said. She turned to the knight. “I’m Mrs. Lucas.”

“I’m sorry, forgot to introduce myself. I’m Mr. Baxter. I live over in Mercy.”

“What were you about to say?” said Mrs. Lucas to Mr. Campbell.

“About your husband’s car.”

“Still not sold. Are you interested?”

“I took a peek at it on my way over tonight. Definitely interested. I’m not employed right now but maybe we could work out some kind of installment plan?”

“I can ask him when he gets back from Wilberville.”

“Oh,” said Mr. Baxter. “If you’re hurting for money …”

“I’m good for now, but thank you. You’re hurting a bit yourself, though, aren’t you?”

“Oh my,” chimed Mrs. Lucas. “What is the matter?”

Mr. Campbell sat down, but Mr. Baxter replied, “You know East Kingsley?”

“I love it there! All those little shops and cafes.”

“Yes. But not so a few years ago. Bad area. Crime, poverty. I wanted to do something for the community, so I took a chance and opened a little coffeeshop there. ‘Pay what you can’, that kind of thing. Organized the neighbors, started a neighborhood watch. Eventually the area turned around and other businesses opened. Then Reglof came in with one of his chain coffeeshops, right next to mine. Name recognition, big advertising budget. I couldn’t compete. Had to close my shop. I wouldn’t have minded, except you know Reglof doesn’t care about the community, he’s just sniffing for dollars.”

“He owns Koffee-normous.” said Mrs. Lucas. Mr. Baxter nodded.

At that point Mrs. Ringer reentered. “Well, I found the gin and left him with it. Maybe he’ll knock himself out and give us a little peace for a while. Why don’t you sit down, Mrs. Lucas?”

“Err, I can’t. Costume is just too big.”

Mr. Baxter had put down his shield and lance and took Mrs. Ringer by the hand. “Might I have a word with you for a few minutes, milady?” He led her up the stairs. She didn’t seem to mind.

A moan suddenly flew out of the kitchen, followed by the sound of footsteps staggering down the hallway. A loud retching noise came forth. Mrs. Lucas suddenly said, “Oh! Mrs. Ringer promised to show me the garden!” and she headed towards the stairs.

“I wouldn’t if I were you.” said Mr. Campbell.

“Why not?”

“Don’t you see?” He motioned his head towards the stairs and made an exaggerated wink. Mrs. Lucas just regarded him quizzically. He repeated the gestures, with much clearing of his throat. She was still mystified. Finally he made a circle with the forefinger and thumb of one hand and drilled it with his other forefinger. Comprehension dawned upon Mrs. Lucas.

“I see! I had no idea that …” There was another retching noise, louder than before. “Well, would you show me the garden? I hate to go alone. Please say yes.”

Mr. Campbell shrugged but said, “Of course.” He led her through the kitchen and out the back door. She followed slowly, carefully. There was a little path, then an area enclosed by a low stone wall. There was a wooden gate, only about two feet wide. Mr. Campbell opened it and stepped through, but Mrs. Lucas stopped short. “I’m afraid my skirt won’t permit! But I can admire it from here. Why don’t you show me what she’s done with it?”

Mr. Campbell walked around the perimeter, pointing out the bougainvillea, the chrysanthemums, the rhododendrons. He ignored the hydrangeas, for he loathed them. There was a large hole dug in the center; he said Mrs. Ringer was having an oak delivered the next day. Every now and then he looked over his shoulder at Mrs. Lucas, who wore a rather fixed smile but didn’t seem to be paying any attention. As he completed the circuit he suggested they get themselves something to drink.

“No!” she cried out, so sharply Mr. Campbell was taken aback. Then, in a quieter voice, “I’m sorry. I mean, what’s that over there? Those white flowers?”

“The Shasta Daisies?” She nodded. Mr. Campbell walked over to the flowers and began to speak, but Mrs. Lucas let out a yelp and blushed.

“Just indigestion,” she said. “Let’s go get that drink.”

When they returned, Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Ringer were in the living room. He had the smile of a lottery winner. Her smile was tempered by her blush. She thought she should say something before anyone got suspicious. “So … here we all are.”

“Not quite all of us.” smirked Mr. Campbell.

“Yes, where is ol’ Reglof anyway?” said Mr. Baxter.

“Probably passed out in the bathroom.”

“I’ll go look for him.” said Mrs. Ringer. Mr. Baxter went after her.

“Mrs. Lucas, how is Mr. Lucas?” said Mr. Campbell.

“Oh, fine, fine. Keeping busy with work. It’s a little quiet around the house now, ever since …” There was suddenly a half-scream, choked off, coming from the bathroom. Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Ringer rushed in.

“Oh my god,” gasped Mrs. Ringer. “It’s Mr. Reglof. Dead!”

“Dead?” said everyone else, except Mr. Baxter, for Mrs. Ringer’s announcement was not a surprise to him. They all moved to the bathroom to survey the body on the floor. Nobody spoke. A moment later, Mr. Campbell finally said. “Stabbed … maybe five times.”

“Stabbed?” said everyone else.

“Obviously,” he continued, “Someone here is a murderer.”

“Murderer?” said everyone else.

“But who would’ve wanted Mr. Reglof dead?” said Mrs. Lucas.

Mr. Campbell scoffed. “Who wouldn’t have wanted Reglof dead, you mean.” A pause. He nodded at Mrs. Ringer and Mr. Baxter. “Wait a minute. How do we know you two didn’t kill him yourselves just now?”

Mr. Baxter smiled grimly at him. “Yes, I just happened to have a big knife on me and we went to look for Reglof and decided to stab him in the bathroom in an unexpected fit of pique.” He swooned dramatically at Mrs. Ringer. “They’ve got us. We’re guilty, call the police, arrest us!”

“No.” she cried. “We didn’t do it! Look at all this blood! This couldn’t have happened just a few minutes ago. He’s been dead longer than that.”

“So where were we all between the time he left for the bathroom and the time you two went to look for him?” said Mr. Campbell.

“Wait a minute. I still want to know. Who would’ve wanted to kill Reglof?” said Mrs. Lucas.

“We all have our reasons,” said Mr. Baxter. “Don’t we, Campbell?”

Campbell looked at Mrs. Lucas. “I guess it’s time for my story. I was a junior high school teacher. Reglof was on the board of directors. I don’t know how he found out, as I’ve always been as discreet as possible, but he outed me. Well, people are afraid to have a gay man teaching their children, even in this day and age, so I was dismissed.” He smiled weakly. “Hence the installment plan. I’m just delivering pizzas until I can find something better.”

“But …” started Mr. Baxter. “This is a joke, right? I mean, nobody here liked him but we wouldn’t actually have killed him!”

“Mrs. Lucas liked him.” said Mrs. Ringer.

“I didn’t say that! I only said I felt a little sorry for him, just because his wife left him and he seemed to be drinking himself to …” Her tongue froze on the word “death”.

“Please.” said Mr. Campbell. “Where were we all while he was being murdered?”

Mrs. Lucas spoke first. “Well, I was in the garden with you.” She looked at him and he nodded. “We are each others’ alibis, I guess.”

“And you, Mr. Baxter?” said Mr. Campbell, pretending he didn’t know. Mrs. Ringer’s eyes widened and she shook her head almost imperceptibly at Mr. Baxter, who only said, “I was with Mrs. Ringer at the time.” If possible, her eyes opened even wider and she tried to look innocent. It somehow contrasted sharply with her costume.

“And where were you, Mrs. Ringer?”

With as much nonchalance as she could manage, she replied, “I was with Mr. Baxter at the time.”

“Oh, quit stalling!” said Mr. Campbell. “You were bonking upstairs.”

“Bonking?” said Mrs. Lucas. “I don’t understand.”

“You know,” continued Mr. Campbell. “Hiding the salami. Gettin’ some. Shagging. Wham bam, thank you, ma’am.”

“I’m sorry, I still don’t understand. Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Ringer were …”

“Fucking!” ejaculated Mrs. Ringer. “Fucking! There, I said it! We were fucking! In my bedroom! Upstairs! On my bed!”

“Oh.” said Mrs. Lucas. “So all of us have alibis, and there’s nobody else in the house.”

“No,” said Mrs. Ringer, collecting herself. “Just the four of us, and Mr. Reglof.”

“Maybe it was suicide.” joked Campbell.

“Maybe a thief came in?” ventured Mrs. Ringer.

“Yes!” said Mrs. Lucas. “He came in, and Mr. Reglof surprised him, and he killed him.”

“Maybe,” said Mr. Baxter, “But it seems unlikely. I mean, Reglof was drunk and sick at the time. I doubt he would’ve been in any shape to pursue thieves.”

Mrs. Ringer looked at Mrs. Lucas and whispered to her. “My dear, step over here for a moment.” Mrs. Lucas followed her into the hallway. “Do you … I mean, are you … oh, this is difficult to say.”

“Says the woman who just yelled ‘fucking’ several times.”

“Oh, right. Well … is it that time?” Her eyes glanced downwards at the hoop skirt.

“Time? Time for what?”

Mrs. Ringer decided not to mince words after her dramatic confession a few minutes earlier. “Are you having your period?”

“My period? Whatever makes you say that?” Mrs. Ringer looked down again at the skirt and cleared her throat. Mrs. Lucas followed her eyes to a small blood stain on the front of her hoop skirt.

“Oh!” she cried. She tried to cover the stain with her hand but hesitated. By now the two gentlemen had joined them.

“What’s going on, ladies?” said Mr. Baxter.

Mrs. Ringer laughed gaily. How to spare her guest any embarrassment? “Oh, Mrs. Lucas has … injured herself.” she said, then realized this would only draw everyone’s attention to the bloodstain. The two men peered at it. “My word, Mrs. Lucas, what have you done?” said Mr. Baxter.

“Nothing, nothing!” said Mrs. Lucas, and she tried to run out of the room. However, she tripped on the edge of the hoop skirt and fell over, flat on her face. The hoop, lying on its side, resembled a clamshell stage. And inside, sputtering furiously as he clawed his way out from the confusion of petticoats, was Mr. Lucas. He was clutching a bloodstained knife. There was also blood on his arm and chest.

“Congratulations,” said Mr. Baxter. “It’s a boy!”

Mrs. Ringer was momentarily speechless. All she could do was point at Mr. Lucas and murmur, “But … but …” And then finally, “What the fuck?”

“So this is why you were so insistent on seeing the garden!” said Mr. Campbell. The others just looked at him. “With Reglof alone in the bathroom, this was the perfect chance to kill him! No wonder you seemed so distracted. While you were standing in the gateway, Mr. Lucas snuck out from under your skirt, went into the house, killed Reglof, then came back!”

“And why you wouldn’t sit down!” added Mrs. Ringer. “You were only faking the sprained ankle when you stumbled.”

“Must have been difficult to walk with Mr. Lucas under there.” said Mr. Campbell. “And pretending not to know Reglof. How would you have known he owned Koffee-normous?”

“But why?” said Mr. Baxter. “What did Reglof ever do to them?” They all thought for a moment.

The silence was finally broken by Mr. Lucas, who had broken down in tears. “Wrinkles! Wrinkles!” he sobbed.

Mrs. Ringer looked at her white gown. “Where?”

“Mrs. Lucas,” said Mr. Campbell. “What did you mean when you started to say, ‘It’s a little quiet around the house now, ever since …’ Ever since what?

Mrs. Lucas had climbed out of her skirt and knelt by Mr. Lucas, cradling his head in her arms. “Wrinkles … was our shar pei. Mr. Lucas had him ever since he was a puppy, about five years before we married. He loved Wrinkles.”

“But what does that have to do with anything?” said Mrs. Ringer, looking up from her gown inspection.

“Reglof killed him. Wrinkles got out of the yard and ran into the street. Reglof hit him with his car. It was an accident, but Reglof didn’t even stop. He just kept going. And Mr. Lucas swore revenge. He figured nobody would miss Reglof. And when Mrs. Ringer announced her costume party, we knew this was the perfect opportunity.”

“I knew nothing about this!” protested Mrs. Ringer.

“We knew Reglof would bulldoze his way into the party. We knew he’d be drinking. The costume provided a hiding place. And if I said Mr. Lucas was out of town, and I had an alibi in the garden, we would get away with it.”

“I should’ve realized he wasn’t out of town.” said Mr. Campbell. “I checked out his car on the way over.”

“Yes, not moving the car out of sight was an oversight.”

“So now what do we do?” said Mr. Baxter.

“Well,” said Mrs. Ringer. “None of us care that Reglof’s dead. We can swear, all of us, to secrecy. If you’ll help me hide the body and the knife, perhaps in the big hole in the garden?” She stripped off her angel gown; underneath she was in a t-shirt and shorts. “Let’s use this to clean up the blood, and I’m sure I can find another bottle of gin.”

“But Reglof is a major CEO!” said Mr. Campbell. “Someone will come around asking ques …”

“I said, I’m sure I can find another bottle of gin!” repeated Mrs. Lucas insistently. The others grunted in agreement and headed to the bathroom with the gown. “And toss that gown in the hole, too!” she added. “Now let’s see, where did I put that bottle?”

The End

Roadtrip Playlist

I’m about to embark upon a nearly 1100 mile road trip.  To where?  I’m going to keep that a secret for now, except to say it’s one-way.  😉  To keep me going, I’m taking some CDs along.  These aren’t necessarily my all-time favorite albums, but these will keep me energized, alert, and happy on the long drive.  These should also be enough albums that I can listen to them all without having to repeat any.

Artist Album Title
Björk Homogenic
Chelmico EP
Cibo Matto Hotel Valentine
Matthew Dear Bunny
Matthew Dear DJ-Kicks
Jimmy Edgar Color Strip
Elbow Giants Of All Sizes
Filter Amalgamut
Jamiroquai Automaton
Chaka Khan I Feel For You
King Krule 6 Feet Beneath The Moon
Lush Gala
Erlend Øye DJ-Kicks
Parliament Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome
Perfume Triangle
Pizzicato Five Happy End of the World
Robyn Honey
Safety Scissors In A Manner of Sleeping
Siouxsie Sioux Mantaray
various artists Even A Tree Can Shed Tears (Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973)
X-Ray Spex Germ-Free Adolescents

An alternative to Kouhaku?

For the past seven years or so, I’ve watched Kouhaku Uta Gassen  (紅白歌合戦 literally, Red and White Song Battle), Japan’s big annual New Year’s Eve musical extravaganza. Kouhaku runs from about 7pm to midnight in Japan, which is roughly 2am to 7am California time. Usually it’s a lot of fun, but the 2018 edition seemed to be a little tedious, and it seemed even more so this year—a combination of spectacle over substance, too many references to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics (and I get it, the Olympics are a big deal), and not enough variety in the music.

After the 2019 show, I was heading for bed (having been awake for over 24 hours) when I saw what seemed to be another music show coming up on NHK, so I taped it to watch later. The show turned out to be Masashi Sada’s Midnight Talk Show (今夜も生でさだまさし). It was held in a large auditorium—possible a sumo venue—with the host and co-hosts sitting in the center. In some ways it was like a town hall, with the hosts fielding questions from the audience.

However, Sada and some guests did perform some music.

1. Sada sang and played guitar, accompanied by a small band.

2. Guest Hiromi Iwasaki (岩崎宏美) sang a song.

3. Sada sang again.

4. Guest Nira Shinji (新羅慎二) sang a song and played guitar.

5. Everyone returned to sing an ondo style song, and were joined by an older man (who was undoubtedly someone famous, but I didn’t catch his name) and four young women in sparkly dresses. The audience also sang and danced along.

I had never heard of Iwasaki or Shinji before—both were good but I was particularly impressed with Iwasaki.

Compared to Kouhaku, Sada’s show was a considerably more laid-back and casual affair. There were no screen captions, not even the usual karaoke style lyrics seen on every Japanese musical show. The guests carried handwritten cards with their names on them to show to the camera, and as each song began, someone off camera held up more handwritten cards bearing the song titles. While these performances weren’t nearly as glitzy as those at Kouhaku, they seemed much more sincere, and I would rather see an evening of performances like these than another overblown Kouhaku spectacle.

Romaji vs. Hiragana

For students of Japanese, unless you’re only learning enough to go on vacation—“Hello! Nice to meet you! Where’s the bathroom?”—you’ll eventually need to learn hiragana.

Japanese uses four writing systems: hiragana, a set of 46 characters and their combinations that represent syllables; katakana, a similar set usually reserved for writing foreign names and words; romaji, or the western alphabet of ABCs; and kanji, logograms that represent words and concepts.

Yokohama written in hiragana よこはま
Yokohama written in katakana ヨコハマ
Yokohama written in romaji Yokohama
Yokohama written in kanji 横浜

Adults typically know 2000-3000 kanji and learn them starting in first grade and continuing through high school. But first, everyone learns hiragana. Kanji found in children’s books, important signs (such as in a subway station), and kanji that’s rare or have nonstandard pronunciations often have small hiragana—known as furigana—next to them so they can be read by anyone.

But after Japanese-language students have learned hiragana, the continued use of romaji creates more problems than it solves, and can be a hindrance to learning new words and speaking Japanese properly.

Japanese uses double vowel sounds in many words. When an O sound is doubled, this is usually represented by adding a hiragana U (such as in the word Toukyou, the phonetic spelling of Tokyo), but there are many times when a doubled O is represented by adding another O (such as in the word Oosaka, which is the city of Osaka).

Japanese language books that use romaji do not always use the same system to represent doubled vowel sounds. You might see Toukyou in some books, but I’ve also seen Tohkyoh, Tōkyō, Tôkyô (or any number of other diacritical marks), Tookyoo (which looks like it should sound like “two cue”), or just plain Tokyo.

When an English-language publication that’s not a dictionary or teaching guide uses a Japanese word—for example, the city of Kobe—I have to look it up in a Japanese dictionary to see if it’s really Kobe, Koube, or Koobe (the answer is Koube) so I do not pronounce or spell it incorrectly. Similarly, bento is bentou, Noh is Nou, ramen is ra-men*, jiu-jitsu is juujutsu, sumo is sumou, tofu is toufu, and so on. A similar situation happens with double N syllables, which may be spelled with a single N. Someone not checking the spelling may say feathers (hane) for half-price (hanne), or ask a store clerk for his or her hand in marriage (kon’yaku) when all they really wanted were some yam cakes (kon’nyaku). And even romaji is not rendered properly in romaji:  it’s really ro-maji*.

But don’t these variations sound pretty much the same? Wouldn’t context tell the listener what the speaker means? It could, but you might still say to your friend that you spent a wonderful afternoon under the clouds experiencing a kuusou (daydream) but he might think you soiled your pants (kuso means shit). Or you may wish to tell the police you were the victim of an oshiiri (break-in) but leave them with the impression someone sat on you (oshiri means buttocks). Even if a mispronunciation doesn’t render an embarrassing word, it does sound odd to the Japanese ear, not unlike Allo Allo’s Officer Crabtree wishing everyone a “good moaning”.

Someone in favor of romaji said to me that each dictionary and study manual usually have guides at the beginning indicating how words are to be spelled or read in Japanese. That’s fine, but different books may use different systems, and many serious students of Japanese will use multiple dictionaries. It takes far less time to learn hiragana than an endless series of romaji systems.

Even if we get past the problem of proper spelling, by seeing words written in romaji, the learner may be tempted to pronounce it according to the rules of his or her native tongue. For example, mitsu (honey) consists of two Japanese syllables, MI and TSU, but seeing it in romaji makes it tempting to pronounce it MIT-SU. Doing so also makes the T sound like a germinate consonant, making it sound to Japanese ears like MITTSU (three). Arimasu (to exist) is A-RI-MA-SU, not AR-I-MA-SU; combining an R sound with the first A gives the speaker a distinctly Western accent, since Japanese R sounds tend to be flicked with the tongue, and it’s difficult to do this with a preceding vowel.

And despite our best intentions, it’s still easy to want to say the English spellings of shogun as show-gunn, Kyoto as KEE-yoto, futon as foo-TAHn, karate as kuh-RODDY, and karaoke as carry-oh-kEE. Seeing words in hiragana, even ones familiar to English speakers, forces one to sound them out and pronounce them correctly.

The more you rely on romaji, the more mistakes you’re likely to make (which can be difficult to unlearn), and the longer it will take to get used to reading Japanese. If you see Japanese words in newspapers or magazines and want to learn them, look them up in a furigana dictionary for the proper spelling and pronunciation. After all, if you work as a consultant for your boss and you make a trip to Japan and you’re eager to show off your new language skills to your Japanese hosts, you definitely do not want to introduce yourself as your boss’s koumon. Komon means consultant, while koumon means gate … or anus.

*In katakana words like ra-men and ro-maji, doubled vowels are often rendered not with a second vowel, but with a line called a chouonpu.

Creating Art with S Memo

In the last year or so, I’ve been creating art—mostly portraits—using S Memo on my cellphone. S Memo is like a simplified version of Microsoft Windows Paint: you get some drawing tools (pencil, brush, marker), an eraser, a text tool, a customizable color palette, and an undo function.

The whole thing began when I decided to surprise my friend Steve with a portrait of him. He has a bright smile and wears John Lennon glasses, so I did a quick portrait and texted it to him. He loved it, so I began doing other pictures and sharing them with him, and he encouraged me to keep doing them. He had a visitor from France and showed her some of my pictures, and she even commissioned me to do her portrait!

Left: the first S Memo portrait of my friend Steve. (Sep 2016)
Right: portrait inspired by Japanese entertainer Akiko Wada. (Dec 2017)

Alas, when I finished Steve’s friend’s portrait, I moved my finger to hit the save button. It got too close to the screen without touching it, but close enough to draw a gash of color right across her face just as I hit save. This is because my phone has a capacitive touchscreen, which relies on an electrical charge in my finger, so direct contact isn’t always necessary. This is also why I can’t use a stylus on my screen, thus limiting precision for drawing or creating custom colors. You can only save one custom color at a time and there’s no eyedropper tool to retrieve it if you need to use it again later. Even if I come close to recreating the custom color, the act of merely lifting my finger away from the screen is usually enough to cause the color to shift slightly.

Anyway, I told Steve’s friend I’d fix the mistake in GIMP and send it to her. After that, I began using GIMP to fix minor errors and mistakes, but Steve insisted that was cheating. The whole point of these portraits, he said, was they were done on a cell phone app with all the its limitations. Fixing them in GIMP was akin to fixing vocals in Autotune. I agreed and stopped using GIMP.

Since then, I’ve had to rethink how I do art with S Memo. I have to plan the order in which elements are drawn. I’ve gotten better at recreating custom colors, though they are never exact. I am much more careful about how I hit the save button. But despite these limitations, I can be more spontaneous and thus better enjoy the process, and not worry as much about creating an exact portrait of anyone.

Recently on Radiopanik (Dec 4 edition)

Here’s a selection of music I heard recently on Radio Panik, an online radio station based in Belgium.

“Grues” by Moussu T e lei Jovents

“Green & Gold” by Lianne La Havas

“Points” by Ruth Anderson

“Neon” by Baleine 3000

“En Léger Différé” by Mickey 3D

“Eight Corners” by Gastr del Sol

“Hot Tea To Tepid Tea” by Inaniel Swims & Sorry Sorrow Swims

“Metatron(ic) Rock” by Richard Pinhas

“Aubade” by Miya Masaoka Trio

31 Days, 31 Horror Films

Inspired by my friend @crisismattie, who tweeted his favorite 31 horror films in celebration of October and Halloween, I’ve created my own list.  Because there are more than 31 horror films I like, I’ve excluded some of the most popular and well-known titles (such as The Bride of Frankenstein, Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Exorcist, and The Omen) in favor of more obscure or lesser-known films.  I’ve also thrown in a few Honorable Mentions at the end.

Click image to enlarge!
Click image to enlarge!

The films are, in chronological order:

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 1920
2. Nosferatu 1922
3. Freaks 1932
4. White Zombie 1932
5. Island of Lost Souls 1932
6. The Old Dark House 1932
7. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948
8. Them! 1954
9. The Mole People 1956
10. The Giant Claw 1957
11. The Tingler 1959
12. The Manster 1959
13. Village of the Damned 1960
14. Gorgo 1961
15. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die 1962
16. Attack of the Mushroom People 1963
17. Manos: The Hands of Fate 1966
18. Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell 1968
19. Yōkai Monsters: Spook Warfare 1968
20. The Invasion of the Bee Girls 1973
21. Theater of Blood 1973
22. The Incredible Melting Man 1977
23. The Hunger 1983
24. Ravenous 1999
25. Bubba Ho-Tep 2002
26. Ju-On: The Grudge 2002
27. Taxidermia 2006
28. The Host 2006
29. Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl 2009
30. Rubber 2010
31. Dead Sushi 2012
HR The House in Cypress Canyon (radio play: listen) 1946
HR Beasts (television series) 1976
HR You’re Going To Like Rodney (radio play: listen) 1980

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Eurovision Song Contest 1963

Here are my choices for best songs at the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in London, England on March 23. Except for the winning entry from Denmark, I had not heard any of these songs until now.

My Rank Country Title, Artist Eurovision Final Ranking
1 Sweden “En gång i Stockholm”, Monica Zetterlund 13 (tie)
2 Denmark “Dansevise”, Grethe & Jørgen Ingmann 1
3 Austria “Vielleicht geschieht ein Wunder”, Carmela Corren 7
4 Germany “Marcel”, Heidi Brühl 9
5 Yugoslavia “Brodovi”, Vice Vukov 11

Jogobiz—The Case of the Missing Sales Rep

I used to work for a drug store chain and was in charge of ordering sodas. Once a week, a rep from each of the major companies would show up, check our inventory, ask if we had any sales coming up, place an order, and then a day or so later a truck would appear with our order.

Once, a rep from one company (let’s call it Dyspepsia) had not appeared on his usual day. I wasn’t overly concerned; we had plenty of stock and no sales coming up for Dyspepsia products. But on his regularly scheduled day the following week, he did not show up again. I called his number and spoke to the company operator, who put me through to his voice mail. I left a message.

The next day, I hadn’t received a response, so I called again. Spoke again to the operator, who put me through to his voice mail again. I left another message.

And the same thing the next day.

And the same thing the day after that, only this time I was unable to leave a message because the voice mailbox was full. I pressed “0” to return to the operator and told her I was unable to leave a message with my rep because his voice mailbox was full. She sent me back to his voice mail.

Again, I pressed “0” to return to the operator and told her again I was unable to leave a message with my rep because his voice mailbox was full, and please not to send me back there—was there someone else to whom I could speak? She said to hold on a minute, then sent me right back to my rep’s voice mail!

We were now running low on Dyspepsia stock—not only were we losing sales, Dyspepsia was also losing sales, though they were probably unaware of this.

I gave it one last try. I called Dyspepsia again, explained again to the operator that my rep’s voice mailbox was full, implored with her again to let me speak to someone else, but she sent me again to my rep’s voice mail, which was still full.

Not knowing what else to do, I called a Dyspepsia office in the nearest major city, which was Los Angeles. I explained what had happened and said I didn’t know whom else to call. The operator took my name and number and said she have someone contact me.

An hour later, I received a call from the secretary for the Dyspepsia VP of Marketing for the West Coast. She apologized profusely for what had happened and said she had gotten hold of my rep, and I should be hearing from him very soon. She gave me her direct number and said if I ever had problems like this again, to give her a call.

An hour after that, a Dyspepsia truck arrived, as did my rep. He looked at me sheepishly and said, “Why didn’t you call me?”

I countered, “Why weren’t you checking your messages? Why haven’t you been coming to check my inventory? Didn’t you think it was odd that you hadn’t heard from me?”  He merely shrugged and walked away to supervise the delivery.

This rep had, until now, always done a pretty good job. I have no idea why he stopped visiting our store and wasn’t checking his voicemail. Even if he’d been in some debilitating accident or had been abducted by aliens, never to be seen again, didn’t anyone at Dyspepsia think someone should be handling his accounts? What if I hadn’t called the Los Angeles office? How much time would’ve passed before I heard from my rep? I bet Dyspepsia’s competitors would’ve been more than happy to fill those empty shelves with their product.

Though an iconic, major company like Dyspepsia is in no danger of going under any time soon, other companies may not be so fortunate. Even in times of optimal demand, a company can lose sales and customer loyalty through a series of easily preventable circumstances: in this case, a combination of an experienced sales rep having a major lapse of attention and a poorly trained operator. But both can be traced to apathetic, incompetent, or even arrogant management.

Official: List of Artists and Songs for next Jogovision Song Contest

The following is the official list of participating countries, performers, and songs for the next Jogovision Song Contest.

Country Artist
Language English Translation
Argentina Nieve y Niebla
Nací Para Boogie
Spanish I Was Born To Boogie
Australia Keylime Meringue
Don’t You Know It’s You I Like?
China (PRC) Jìng Lin
美丽的国家 (Měilì de guójiā)
Chinese Beautiful Country
Egypt Nabil Ramzy
Ma Grand-Mère
French My Grandmother
Finland Saarinen Sisarukset
Finnish The Fairies
Greece Zenon Papadakis
θεά (Theá)
Greek Goddess
Iceland Svanhildur Sigurðardóttir
Happy Happy
India Everett “Everybody” Singh
एक विनम्र पत्थर (Ēka vinamra pat’thara)
Hindi A Humble Stone
Israel* Natbag 3000
Waiting For Sunshine
Jamaica Prudence Moore
Every Time I Turn Around
Japan* Oto Collection
レインボーボーイ (Reinbō Bōi)
Japanese Rainbow Boy
Netherlands Oosten en Westen
Dance All Night
South Africa Jalamba Ladies
Ungathanda Ukudansa?
English, Xhosa Would You Like To Dance With Me?
United Kingdom* Leesa
Time For Jettin’
United States of America Wylmaaa B.
Mama’s Girl

*2011 Contest participant.

Venue and host to be announced.
Website: Jogovision Song Contest
Watch JSC 2011 on YouTube.