#TBT: The Nun Who Ruined My Spelling Bee Career


Back in the sixth grade, I was an enormous bookworm.

This is not news for the few of you who witnessed my reading habits firsthand during my junior high years at Blessed Sacrament Elementary (and still do to this day). My voracious appetite for horror novels, as well as an occasional bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, was obvious.

Being a rabid reader arguably correlated with my sterling spelling skills in school. There was no spelling test on which I scored below 100%, and if you need proof, I'm sure I have some old papers buried in boxes labeled "Hiko's Old Spelling Tests On Which He Never Scored Below 100%."

Before I turned 12, Blessed Sacrament Elementary held a spelling bee for Grades 6 through 8. Each class conducted its own preliminary round, and from there, entered its top ten spellers into a schoolwide competition, which took place on the stage of our auditorium.

Up until this moment, this was the most nervous I had ever been in my Catholic school education. I sat in the back row, watching the 29 of the best spellers in the school go up to the microphone and carefully pronounce the letters of words. Sometimes I thought to myself, I could totally spell those. I made it through words like "subtle," "conflagration," and "abstract." Every time a student misspelled a word, one of the faculty members rang a bell, and said student would walk off the stage and take his or her seat in Reject Row.

As I watched the group shrink as the minutes went by, I felt my confidence grow. You got this, Mitsuzuka. Before I knew it, we were down to ten survivors. We changed seats, the remaining spellers shifting up to the front row. And then there were six...then three...

My competition was a pair of eighth graders. We'll call them Luke and Abby. Luke was a jock, the older brother of someone from my grade. Abby was a tall nerdgirl who seemed nice; I just knew her as That Tall Girl. We took turns at the mic, spelling out words we would never use in our everyday conversations. Apparently -- and I just found this out the day of the competition -- the two remaining spellers would advance to a citywide spelling bee. This only added to my nerves.

And then, just like that, Abby was out, incorrectly spelling a word that I would have gotten wrong myself. (Whew!) The crowd applauded. I shook hands with Luke. We were the Blessed Sacrament champions.

Next up: The City Spelling Bee!

Blessed Sacrament hosted this competition, so it helped that I got to compete on the same stage in a familiar setting. But it only helped so much. I knew I would have to go up against kids from other schools (public schools?), faces and names I didn't know. I wouldn't be familiar with their strengths and weaknesses. I would be going into this with even more uncertainty. During the days leading up to it, I had to study a book of words, all listed in alphabetical order. I absorbed as much as I could.


Luke and I hardly had any interaction the days before the city spelling bee. After all, he was two years older than me, and in elementary school, that's like a decade in age. We did exchange a few words of encouragement here and there. I wondered if he was preparing as much as I was, but something told me that he didn't take the whole thing seriously. He probably had basketball tournaments to worry about, girls to flirt with.

The night of the city spelling bee arrived. It felt weird to be back in school at night. Everything looked different. Dark classrooms took on an ominous feel. (I also loved horror movies.)

The whole competition went by in a blur. I kept to myself before we started. I didn't want to look at who I was up against. A new group of us all took the stage, and we quickly started dropping like flies. Luke only made it halfway through. He misspelled a word I remembered from my study guides. I felt bad for him.

Long story short (too late, I know), I won the city spelling bee. Next up: Districts!

And here's where the devastation comes into play...

Districts -- it sounded so official and grown-up to me -- took place at Stepinac High School in White Plains, a 25-minute drive from New Rochelle. My mom drove me on a blustery late afternoon. We checked in; I was given a numbered badge that I wore on my chest like a marathon runner. This is legit, I thought to myself.

The auditorium was also legit, with real theater seats and a balcony. The judges table stood front and center, just below the stage. Sitting there was a man in a tweed jacket, a middle-aged woman who looked like she shopped at Ann Taylor, and an elderly nun. Let's call this nun Sister Dementia.

The competition started off well. I breezed through my first two words. However, my third word was where things went awkwardly wrong.

I walked up to the mic and looked down at Sister Dementia who was to give me my word. She consulted a sheet of paper with a bony finger, looked up at me, and said into her mic, "Pursue." Her voice was a little shaky, probably tired from teaching all day at the all-boys high school we were currently congregating in.

"Pursue?" I repeated.

"Pursue," she confirmed.

Easy enough, I thought to myself. I knew what the word meant. I didn't need to ask for a definition or for its origins. Pursue: as in, "to chase or go after something." No one had to use it in a sentence for me. I got this.

"Pursue," I began. "P-U-R-S-U-E. Pursue."

Sister Dementia looked at her judging colleagues. A dramatic pause followed. And then, a bell rang. The bell. The sound that killed all spelling bee championship dreams.

I let out an audible, surprised "oh" and looked out into the crowd. There were a few murmurs. I could hear my mother in the audience let out a "tsk" of disappointment, but she wasn't disappointed in me, because she, along with the entire auditorium, knew that I spelled the word correctly.

I started to walk off the stage. Someone in the crowd said, "He spelled the word correctly!" I immediately felt a tension in the large room. Before I could take a seat next to my mom, who was clearly frustrated, the judge in the tweed jacket spoke into his mic to offer some clarification: "We had to let Competitor Number 35 go because he spelled the wrong word. The word was pursuit. P-U-R-S-U-I-T."

11-year-old Hiko didn't know what to say. But today's Hiko would've said, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

I felt numb. The fact that I was taken out of the competition for spelling the wrong word correctly was later infuriating, especially for my mom. I was let go because an elderly woman, who clearly missed her Metamucil shot earlier that day, didn't clearly pronounce my word. "If she can't speak up and annunciate," my mother later said to another parent in the hallway, "then she needs to retire." In other words: Nun, bye.

Apparently there was nothing we could do afterwards. I didn't use my life lines and ask for the word to be used in a sentence to make sure the word I heard was the word being said. For the next several days, I was haunted by the word "pursue" as well as the "what ifs" that eventually followed. What if I had asked for it in a sentence? What if I had spelled it correctly? Could I have won that spelling bee? Could I have advanced to County? To State? To Nationals? Could I have been invited to the White House? I'll never know. It's a minor regret that still lingers throughout my adult life. Lesson learned, I guess: If you're not sure about something, always ask for help.

Whatever. I hope that Sister Dementia later realized the gravity of her poor speaking skills that day. I hope she went back to her convent, cried into her pillow, and asked God to forgive her "for misleading that adorable, chubby Asian boy."

But then again, that was so long ago. She's probably dead now.

@TheFirstEcho

VICE News in Charlottesville: The Horrifying Coverage


This is the scariest piece of television I've seen in a while -- absolutely horrifying, disgusting, infuriating, and soul-crushing.

That said, I usually try to use the right words during sensitive situations like these, but if it wasn't clear before, here it is: I hate our president.

I hate that I have to even use that word because it breeds nothing good, but it is what I'm feeling right now.

I hate that this cruelty has been exercised in his name.

I hate that his reaction to this evil is a mediocre, cowardly, and selfish attempt at being neutral.

I hate that, in less than a year, the escalation of evil in this country -- and in some parts of the world -- is undoubtedly a direct correlation to his rise in power. (It all trickles down from The Top.)

I hate that my friends in other cities will have to brace themselves for similar acts of evil planned for this weekend.

But I don't want this hate I'm feeling to inform what I do next. And at least I can take comfort in knowing that the hate I'm feeling will never manifest into what was displayed in these horrific 22 minutes of footage on HBO's Vice. It may very well turn into hopelessness, because right now, I can't see any light at the end of this long and dark tunnel.

Sorry, "Despacito," THIS is My Summer Jam


The music video for Jax Jones's "Instruction" (featuring Demi Lovato and Stefflon Don) dropped a week ago, and finally, I have some visual evidence to support my argument for the Summer Song of 2017.

The 30-year-old English DJ enlisted the "Sorry Not Sorry" singer for this reggaeton-infused, cardio-friendly single, which is sadly only burning up the UK and being delayed to officially make a splash on our American summer charts. Get with it, people.

@TheFirstEcho

This is Charlottesville, VA in 2017 -- Not 1957


Today in WTF is Going on in America?: This story right here. And here.

And in response, @JuliusGoat had some words to say on Twitter this morning:

“Imagine if these people ever faced actual oppression.
Nobody is trying to legislate away their right to marry. Nobody is trying to make them buy insurance to pay for 'male health care.'
Nobody enslaved their great-grandparents. Robbed their grandparents. Imprisoned their parents. Shot them when unarmed. There is no massive effort at the state and local level to disenfranchise them of the vote. There is no history of centuries of bad science devoted to 'proving' their intellectual inferiority.
There is no travel ban on them because of their religion. There is no danger for them when they carry dangerous weaponry publicly.
Their churches were never burned. Their lawns never decorated with burning crosses. Their ancestors never hung from trees.
Their mothers aren't being torn away by ICE troopers and sent away forever. They won't be forced to leave the only country they ever knew.
The president has not set up a hotline to report crime committed at their hands.
They are chanting 'we will not be replaced.' Replaced as ... what? I'll tell you.
Replaced as the only voice in public discussions. Replaced as the only bodies in the public arena. Replaced as the only life that matters.
THIS is 'white people' oppression: We used to be the only voice. Now we hold the only microphone.
THIS is 'white man' oppression: We face criticism now. We were free from it, because others feared the consequences.
THIS is 'oppression' of white Christians in this country: Christmas used to be the only holiday acknowledged, now it's not.
I would so love to see these people get all the oppression they insist they receive, just for a year. Just to see.
Give them a world where you ACTUALLY can't say Christmas. A world where the name "Geoff" on a resume puts it in the trash.
Give them a world where they suddenly get a 20% pay cut, and then 70 women every day tell them to smile more.
Give them a world where their polo shirt makes people nervous, so they're kicked off the flight from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis.
Give them a world where they inherited nothing but a very real understanding of what oppression really fucking is.
Give them a world where if they pulled up on a campus with torches lit and started throwing hands, the cops would punch their eyes out.
-->
Put THAT in your Tiki torches and light it, you sorry Nazi bitches. Good morning, by the way, how is everybody?"

A Letter From The Stranger Who Moved Into My Childhood Home


Last month, I posted a letter I had written to the woman who purchased the apartment my Florida-bound parents have called home since I was 6 years old. (You can read it here.)

Today, I was pleasantly surprised to find her response waiting in my inbox. And after reading it, I was even more pleased to hear that this stranger and I have a few things in common.

Here's what she wrote...


Subject: Greetings from Apartment 3D

Dear Hiko, 

Thank you so much for your congratulatory wishes! It took me over a year to find a home that I loved as much as Colonial House. The building, the neighborhood, and especially the apartment itself, has real charm! Thank you so much for the tips about the area. It's been fun exploring all the different restaurants and shops. If the weather is nice this weekend, I'm definitely going to take your advice and head to Glen Island Park.

I really enjoyed reading your letter. I can certainly relate to your feelings because I am in a similar situation with my own family. After almost 30 years, my parents are selling the house that I grew up in. They will be moving to Florida early 2018, and as we clean out the house, I start to recall lots of memories - holiday dinners, birthday parties, fighting with my brother and sister, the day my hamsters got out of their cage... you get the point. We didn't have Meatloaf Wednesdays, but we did have Turkey Burger Thursdays! Either way, I understand your sentimental attachment to the home you grew up in, and you've inspired me to write a letter to the future owners of that house. It might give me a little closure when I have to say goodbye.

It was a real pleasure meeting your parents. We had the opportunity to chat a little during the closing and they are very lovely people. Your mother even left me all the takeout menus - which have certainly come in handy!

I am happy you got to say your goodbyes to 3D, but if you find yourself in the area and would like to visit, please feel free to reach out. In the meantime, I promise to take great care of your childhood home. Please tell your parents I said hello. 

Take care! 

Sincerely, 
A.

P.S. The ghost says hello!

*     *     *

That all said, the fact that she plans to pay it forward with a welcome letter of her own? Kind of warms my heart. It's like a lovely bow on top of this act of closure. And even better, I'm thankful for her open invitation to come back someday and revisit the rooms that held so many memories for me and my family.

I'll gladly accept it.

@TheFirstEcho

5 Things The 'Fear Street' Movies Should Include


Ever since news dropped that Fox is developing not one, not two, but three (3!) theatrical films based on R.L. Stine's uber-popular YA horror book series from the 90s, Fear Street, my mind has been a whirlwind of fanboy-fueled possibilities.

To say I'm well-versed in this horror universe would be an understatement. The history and proof of my devotion can be found HERE and HERE -- in addition to the below photo of one of my bookcases at home and a framed, signed letter from R.L. Stine from 1992. Therefore, I would like to offer some unsolicited advice and guidance for the producers and Hollywood puppet masters behind this ambitious adaptation. I hope I speak for millions of others who came of age while reading these books when I say: please don't fuck this up.

There's still time to ensure that this impending franchise will live up to the enormous fanticipation surrounding it. Director Leigh Janiak is reportedly overseeing "a writers room of sorts" as she develops three stories simultaneously for Chernin Entertainment, the production company responsible for bringing this series to the big screen. That said, if there is room for a consultant on the Fear Street team, please feel free to contact me. (My bio can be found on the right side of this page, and my day rate is reasonable.)

In the meantime, here are five things to keep in mind...

A mere sampling of my R.L. Stine collection.

1. ESTABLISH A SHADYSIDE CINEMATIC UNIVERSE -- While most of the Fear Street novels each included a self-contained story, there were rarely any recurring characters mentioned in other books. Notable hotspots within the town of Shadyside were revisited (Pete's Pizza! The Division Street Mall!) but it wasn't until Stine introduced the Fear Street Seniors in 1998 when readers were able to follow the same characters throughout multiple novels (notwithstanding trilogies like 99 Fear Street and Fear Park). It can be assumed that these "bingeable" movies will set up a world in which characters are linked together by one overarching story -- and this could be a good thing. With so many titles in the series, Fear Street has the potential to be the Marvel of YA horror pulp fiction on the big screen. Just think: what would it look like if Silent Night's spoiled rich girl Reva Dalby were invited to vengeful Justine Cameron's Halloween Party where she can brush shoulders with some of those possessed Cheerleaders?

2. FEATURE A DESCENDANT OF THE FEAR FAMILY -- Anyone familiar with the mythology of the series knows that the titular street of horrors was named after the Fear family, a dynasty dating back to colonial times. (It's all chronicled in the 1993 Fear Street Saga trilogy and spinoff series of the same name.) And since it's been reported that the three films will "take place in different time periods," one would assume that an origin story surrounding this troubled family could very well be told, either in flashbacks or in its own singular movie. Either way, it would be a great way to pay respects to the past.

3. DESIGN A PRINT CAMPAIGN THAT PAYS HOMAGE TO THE ARTWORK OF THE ORIGINAL PAPERBACKS -- Bill Schmidt, the artist behind most of Fear Street's iconic book covers, managed to capture the pulpy and melodramatic sensibility of the stories. Characters were posed in dangerous situations behind titles that were printed in a paint-slashed font. (*Fun Fact: I went to high school with a girl who modeled for the covers of The Confession and 99 Fear Street: The Second Horror. It always felt as if I were one degree of separation away from R.L. Stine.) Therefore it would serve fans well to create movie posters that paid tribute to these memorable pieces of cover art. **Another Fun Fact: I happen to know and work with the talented team at the busterINK division of promo powerhouse Stun Creative. (Again, see my bio to the right.) Hint, hint, Chernin Entertainment.

4. AN R RATING WOULD BE NICE -- Unlike Stine's kid-friendlier Goosebumps series, the Fear Street novels were filled with bloody details of teens dying at the hands of vengeful spirits, maniacal madmen, and each other. Murder was always on the menu in every installment, but given the box office potential of this new franchise, it seems most likely that the studio will want a PG-13 rating to reach the broadest audience possible. Sure, PG-13 thrillers could work, but they run the risk of watering down the content, especially if it's adapted from an existing property known for its violent material. That said...

5. DELIVER SOME STRAIGHT-UP SCARY FUN -- There's an opportunity here to make horror exciting again, just like Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson did with Scream 21 years ago. Sure, there could be some irreverent winks to the genre peppered throughout, but overall, it's all about striking the right balance in tone. Most importantly, it should be scary and deliver thrills that can reach old fans and titillate a new generation. And if Leigh Janiak's creepy Honeymoon is any indication, this franchise should be in good hands.

@TheFirstEcho

Tiffany Haddish Just Gave One of the Funniest Interviews of 2017


Tiffany Haddish, the breakout star of Girls Trip, went on Jimmy Kimmel Live to promote the R-rated comedy (already got my tickets for tomorrow night), and she told a story about Will and Jada Pinkett Smith that needs to be seen and heard to be believed.

It involves getting high, a Groupon for a swamp tour, and a 20-dollar-a-day rental car. Just watch:


Needless to say, this isn't the last time we'll be seeing her.

@TheFirstEcho

#TBT: Buttered Rolls and Bible Readings


Sundays in the early 90s were all about Jesus, Jerry O’Connell, and jamming to Toni Braxton’s “Just Another Sad Love Song.”

And since my Catholic education dictated that you weren’t supposed to eat before receiving Holy Communion at Mass, my post-church breakfasts usually consisted of buttered rolls purchased at Caruso’s Delicatessen on Centre Avenue in New Rochelle, New York. Just two for a dollar! Sometimes these rolls were accompanied by a side of fluffy, buttery scrambled eggs – because you gotta have some protein.

It became a Sunday morning ritual – walk out of Blessed Sacrament Church with my father (a Japanese Buddhist, mind you), cross the street to the deli, and walk the two blocks back to our apartment where my German-Irish-American mother (the real Catholic) was getting ready to go to work at the furniture store she co-owned three towns over in Port Chester. Working on a Sunday, the Lord’s day, was the perfect excuse for her to miss Mass. So convenient, right?

But back to the buttered rolls: I would consume these while watching old Abbot and Costello movies on the TV in my parents’ bedroom. They were also a childhood favorite of my mother’s (I was super old-school before anyone coined the term). She usually sat at her vanity table getting all made up for work, taking bites out of her own buttered roll and taking sips from her giant mug of Red Rose tea (two sugars, plenty of milk). I sat on the edge of my mother and father’s four-post, king-sized bed, careful not to get any crumbs on their floral comforter.

As I got older we changed the channel to VH1’s Top 20 Countdown because we both had an appreciation for adult contemporary music and any pop hits that didn’t involve rap or grunge. We both became mesmerized by the smoky-voiced sensibilities of a young, up-and-coming R&B songstress named Toni Braxton. Her debut single, “Just Another Sad Love Song” soon became my jam during the spring of ’93 while my mother, along with the rest of America, thought they had discovered the next Anita Baker – only sultrier.


Sunday Mass may have ended, but here in the Mitsuzuka household, mother and son broke bread over music videos for Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass” and Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby” (from the album Heart in Motion, which, if you ask me, is one of the best pop albums of the 90s).

On one particular Sunday, after several years of attending Mass, listening to numerous bible readings, and watching the entire congregation consume those little wafers during Holy Communion, my very curious father (again, a Japanese Buddhist) declared that he wanted to see what “the body and blood of Christ” tasted like. Just like with any exotic dish or new food, his culinary curiosity got the best of him.

“I wanna go up and get Communion,” he told me matter-of-factly while Monsignor Richard performed the Eucharist at the altar in front of the crowd of parishioners, most of whom were families of kids I went to school with at New Rochelle Catholic Elementary.

“You can’t!” I told him in a panicked 10-year-old whisper.

“I’m so hungry,” my father whined. “I wanna see what it tastes like. I gotta have it.”

I wasn’t sure if he was kidding because his sense of humor was both odd and often inappropriate, and he usually said ridiculous things just to get a rise out of my mother and me.

“You’re not Catholic!” I said, stating the obvious.
“So?”
“Only Catholics can receive Holy Communion.”
“How long have I been coming to church with you? I earned it.”
“It’s a sin!” God, I was such a Catholic school sheep.
“I want some wine too.”
“No.”
“I’m gonna do it.”
“Papa, don’t.”

At this point I was already embarrassed by this whispered exchange. I thought someone was going to shush us. I bowed my head, afraid to look up and see some spinster parishioner giving us a death stare that screamed “This is God’s House! Show some respect!”

Thankfully, on that Sunday, my father didn’t do it. But the following Sunday was another story.

As we took our seats in a left rear pew of the church, my father said, “Today’s the day. I’m gonna get Communion.” I couldn’t convince him to restrain himself. So throughout the entire Mass, my anxious and hyper-imaginative 12-year-old mind conjured up different scenarios that could unfold when my father went up to receive Holy Communion. Maybe there were snipers on the parish payroll, waiting in the balcony, positioned next Mr. Gearhart the organ player, ready to take out imposter Catholics in the Eucharist line. (How could they detect the fakes? Maybe some kind of God-sponsored ray gun that beeped whenever a non-Catholic got too close to “the body and blood of Christ.”) Maybe Monsignor Richard would look my father in the eye, see right through him, and then snap his fingers, signaling a couple of Blessed Sacrament henchmen to come out of the shadows and take my father to a secret backroom where he’d be held for an indeterminate amount of time and forced to confess his sins and learn how to Hail Mary his heart out. Or perhaps the blessed wafer would instantly burn his non-Catholic tongue upon contact and send him into convulsions on the floor of the church while parishioners looked on, tsk-tsking: “We got another one.”


After a few somber numbers from the choir, a reading from a few bible passages, and one tedious homily, the moment of judgment soon arrived. As churchgoers began to get up from their kneeled positions, I did the same and got in line for Communion. I was relieved to see that my father stayed behind. Maybe he was all talk and had no intention to make an embarrassing trip to the altar. I let out a silent “Whew.” Things would be fine.

However, when I returned to my seat, my father got up and joined the last remaining parishioners in line. I froze. As he inched closer to Monsignor Richard, I looked around to see if anyone else noticed him. No snipers were poised up in the balcony. No henchmen were stepping out of the shadows behind the altar. All was okay when my father received the small circular wafer, slipped it into his mouth, and made a half-assed attempt at the sign of the cross with one hand when he turned around and headed back to his seat. I looked at him and shook my head, trying to silently communicate my utter disappointment. But he didn’t care. He glanced at me, raising his eyebrows and giving me one of his goofy smiles. The sonofabitch was proud of himself. 

“Ah,” he uttered, snapping his fingers.

“What?” I asked.

“I forgot to get a sip of the wine.”

When we got home with fresh rolls from Caruso’s wrapped in a brown paper bag, I told my mother about what happened at Mass. She was just as disgusted as me. “Give me strength,” she muttered while sitting at her vanity table, putting on foundation. This was one of her trademark responses to any frustrating or stressful situation. It was also a phrase I used to mimic when I was seven or eight. I usually did it for an audience of aunts and uncles in order to up my Cute Quotient.

Years later, however, my mother would have a good laugh while recounting the story of my father’s “sinful” experience at Holy Communion to friends and relatives.

The rest of our Sunday morning carried on as usual. We buttered our rolls for breakfast, and I plopped myself in front of the TV. Like my mother, I usually layered on the butter so that there was an adequate bread-to-butter ratio. Once our routine of watching Abbot and Costello or music videos was complete, the rest of my Sunday viewing itinerary included various syndicated programming like Out of This World, a sitcom about a half-human, half-alien teenage girl who could freeze time by touching the tips of her index fingers together, and The New Lassie, a wholesome revival of the classic black-and-white series from the 50s that was too sentimental and corny even for my young tastes.

My favorite show from this kid-friendly lineup was My Secret Identity, a Canadian sci-fi-adventure comedy starring an adolescent Jerry O’Connell of Stand By Me and Piranha 3D fame. He played a teen named Andrew who gets zapped by a laser and develops superhuman powers like flying, running really fast, and incredible strength. For a good three-year period I was infatuated with Andrew/Jerry. I wanted to have superpowers like him. I wanted to be friends with him and hang out after school. I wanted to him to rescue me from sticky situations, whether it involved black-market smugglers or the dangers of teen drinking at a house party.


Once my mom left for work, I continued to sit in front of the TV for a good chunk of time. Sometimes I tried fidgeting with the set in my parents’ bedroom, not for the porny cable channels, but to see if I could get a clear picture of a local channel from Connecticut that played afternoon horror movies from the 70s and 80s. Slasher flicks like The Prowler and The Final Terror were my entertainment du jour, which later inspired me to write short stories with similar set-ups. If I couldn’t find anything on the tube, I took to my five-subject spiral notebook and wrote short stories about teens getting butchered at a sleepaway camp (Camp Nightmare, my Friday the 13th ripoff), teens getting slashed in their dreams (Frightmare, inspired by Nightmare on Elm Street), or teens getting stalked by a killer named Fred Michaels on Halloween (you figure that one out). Once in a while I would also try to mimic natural disaster epics (I was also a fan of flicks like Earthquake and The Towering Inferno) or write an occasional dramatic tale with a hint of international intrigue featuring “mysteriously handsome” characters with names like Alistair Kensington or Jonathan Weathersby.

During this time, on most Sundays, my father could be found doing a post-church round of eighteen holes at Pelham Bay Golf Course. If he didn’t come in time for lunch, my hungry ass would help myself to some Cup O’Noodles, those Styrofoam containers filled with dried starchy goodness and a “flavor packet” which was basically yellow sodium dust that either tasted like chicken or shrimp. Other times I would wait it out until he came home and cooked up a meal that included fresh buckwheat noodles, stir-fry meat, or a mound of steaming white rice with a dollop of soy sauce and a raw egg dropped in the middle.

Or if there were any leftover rolls from Caruso’s, I’d help myself to another buttered serving without hesitation. If they were getting stale, just throw them in the microwave for a few seconds, and voila, ready to eat.

This was just one example of the less-than-stellar nutritional education I received while growing up. It wasn’t as if we were poor and could only afford these fat-smeared loaves of bread as a meal. This wasn’t some Dickensian childhood full of struggle and strife. My mother, a native New Yorker, has waxed nostalgic on how she used to eat buttered rolls when she was young and growing up near the projects of Mount Vernon. My father, an immigrant who moved to the States from Japan in the late 70s, grew up with a starch-heavy diet in his rural hometown. So it appears that history has repeated itself, certain food habits from different parts of the world being passed down from one generation to the next. In no way do I blame my parents for the tastes I developed during my formative years. I was unconditionally loved, had that proverbial roof over my head, and was able to receive a private school education from the ages of 4 to 18. It just so happens that my eating habits and cravings as an adult were informed by what was fed to me so many years ago.

And oh how many eating habits and cravings there are...

*This has been another excerpt from How To NOT Stay Skinny.

@TheFirstEcho