Dealing with Double Negatives in a Negative World


"He knows it is a graceless and condescending thing to do, correcting someone’s spoken grammar. Like being at a party and criticizing someone for not being well-read enough…” 

– Nathan Hill’s The Nix 

I have a superpower.

I have only been aware of this ability until recently. However, what I perceive to be a superpower may be seen by others as an insufferable nitpick. So, it is both a blessing and a curse.

Whenever I hear a double negative, whether it’s in a song or in conversation, an alarm goes off that only I can hear. It is a blaring noise alerting me that grammar is being abused, so naturally, I find myself compelled to come to the rescue and right these wrongs.

Back in 1999, TLC’s “No Scrub” was a definitive summer jam. Back then, I bounced along to the She'kspere-produced beats, marveled at the Hype Williams-directed video, and attempted to learn Left Eye’s rap bridge. But now, if I hear it come through my car radio or through the speakers at my local supermarket (because that's how old I am; the songs of my youth are now relegated to the homogenized aisles of brightly lit retailers), I want to yell back, “I don’t want ANY scrub! You can’t use ‘don’t’ and ‘no’ in the same sentence while referring to the same object! A double negative actually expresses a positive! ARGH!”

Additionally, if "a scrub is a guy that can't get no love from me," then I am basically saying that a scrub is indeed someone I will give love to! Double ARGH!

In some cases I imagine myself going on a rampage, releasing my rage over this grammatical injustice, flipping over my shopping cart, and knocking over boxes of crackers that have been stacked neatly in a pyramid. From there, a pair of security guards would come out, restrain me, and forcefully escort me out of the supermarket while I scream at the top of my lungs, "It's a double negative! Don't you people hear it? It's a double negative!"

That TLC single isn't the only guilty party either. "We don't need no education"? Really, Pink Floyd children? You clearly do need a proper education based on your poorly structured chorus.


This ability, this skill, this "superpower" is clearly a result of twelve years of Catholic school training and several English teachers instilling in me proper sentence construction. Being an enormous bookworm who didn't have much of social life probably had something to do with it as well. Reading five to six novels per month, I absorbed the written word and became very familiar with the mechanics of language as it appeared on the page. I quickly learned how to speak good...I mean well! Speak WELL.

But sometimes I wonder...what does this say about me? Have I become one of those overly critical Grammar Snobs prone to eye rolls whenever they hear the improper use of a prepositional phrase or subject pronouns? He and I attended the Dua Lipa concert together -- NOT "him and I!" Do I secretly get a kick out of making these corrections because it makes me feel somewhat intellectually superior? Probably.

It's so easy to be critical nowadays. I am constantly inundated with news feeds displaying people's opinions on matters both important and mind-numbingly trivial. Every day I am guilty of interacting with the vast digital echo chamber that is social media, where everyone has something to say, and it's hardly positive. And with every knee-jerk reaction I have, I have to step back and practice some restraint, reminding myself that it may not be worth engaging in a comment pile-on that has metastasized into an ugly Ignorance Monster, especially when there's incorrect grammar or misspellings involved. (People's true colors come out as well as their socioeconomic status sometimes.)



Top 40 radio, as little as I listen to it nowadays (ever since the dawn of digital streaming services) is a hotbed of double negatives. It has reached a point of no return, and I am certainly critical of a lyric that refuses to adhere to the Rules of Grammar. It makes no sense to me why it has to be sung incorrectly when a simple rewrite can keep the song's melody intact. "I don't want nobody but you"? Puh-lease. Of course, overall production value is also a determining factor in whether or not I will enjoy a song, but if it sounds dumb -- no matter how many arguments you can make about its earworm potential -- the Grammar Snob in me will think the song is for dumb people.

And there I go again, acting all high and mighty, contributing negatively to the world because I have no tolerance for what others may find tolerable.

Feel free to slap me the next time you see me. Actually, on second thought, don't.

I don't want no slaps.

@TheFirstEcho

The Santa Sessions: The Ultimate Christmas Playlist


Sure, Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole are great and all, but there are only so many times you can hear them on your easy-listening station around this time of year. That's why I present to you this big bag of yuletide goodness, 50+ songs that'll have you prancing and dancing around the house in your slippers in between sips of peppermint hot cocoa.

Merry Non-Denominational Holiday to you and your loved ones.


@TheFirstEcho

My Pop Culture Saviors of 2017


2017 was...not the best year.

Amidst all the heartbreaking headlines that bombarded our news feeds, there were moments reminding us that the world isn't a flaming, poo-covered garbage heap. And these moments were brought to us by individuals who had amazing things to offer. These are the men and women who entertained and enlightened when we so desperately needed it. They made a rough year tolerable, comforting us and demonstrating, through their artistry, how we're all going to be okay. They are more than just your standard breakouts of the year. These are my pop culture saviors.

Lena and me at Vulture Festival Los Angeles on November 19, 2017

1. Lena Waithe - She became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing, and she's not stopping there (her Showtime drama, The Chi, premieres in January). She first made a splash in the inaugural season of Aziz Ansari's Master of None, playing Dev's gal pal Denise, but TV historians will probably tell you that Lena Waithe officially arrived with the beautifully told Season 2 episode "Thanksgiving," Denise's compelling, 34-minute origin story directed by Melina Matsoukas, co-written by Waithe herself, and guest starring the fabulous Angela Bassett. It was one of 2017's best episodes of television.


2. Ben Platt and the Cast of Dear Evan Hansen - You already know him as the nerdy magician from the Pitch Perfect movies, but Broadway audiences and musical theater geeks will forever see Ben Platt as the titular character in Dear Evan Hansen, this year's Tony winner for Best Musical. His indelible, Tony-winning performance as a socially anxious teen never left a dry eye inside New York's Music Box Theater, and the emotional music (from lyricists Pasek and Paul) will continue to play in the hearts of anyone who has ever "felt forgotten." #YouWillBeFound indeed.


3. Dua Lipa - The London-born Albanian singer-songwriter kicked off 2017 by providing her sultry vocals to Martin Garrix's "Scared to Be Lonely" and is responsible for one of the best pop albums of the year (her self-titled debut), delivering irresistible bangers like "Hotter Than Hell," the Miguel-assisted "Lost In Your Light," and one of summer's few highlights, "New Rules," her biggest hit, thanks in part to its highly rewatchable music video.


4. Hasan Minhaj - He shined on his moving, insightful, and hysterical Netflix special, Homecoming King, and is on the verge of becoming a name everyone will be talking about when it comes to a much-needed voice in comedy. And of course he was the featured speaker a a Trump-free White House Correspondents Dinner, where he became a defender of the press with the following rousing speech: "We are here to talk about the truth. It is 2017, and we are living in the golden age of lying. Now's the time to be a liar, and Donald Trump is liar in chief. And remember, you guys are public enemy number 1. You are his biggest enemy. Journalists, ISIS, normal-length ties. And somehow, you're the bad guys. That's why you gotta keep your foot on the gas."


5. Tobin Low & Kathy Tu - The hosts of Nancy, the extraordinarily produced podcast exploring LGBTQ issues from unique perspectives, are a warm, thoughtful, adorable, and funny pair. They provided a much-needed safe space for the discussion and celebration of otherness -- From a study on the widespread appreciation of The Golden Girls to a shocking and insightful look at Orlando's Pulse nightclub shooting one year later...from a fascinating profile on Oliver Sipple, the man who prevented the assassination of President Gerald Ford, to a revealing dive into the Pentagon's secret "gaggle of gays." Subscribe now before Season 3 kicks off in 2018.

For more men and women, check out my Huffington Post piece HERE.

@TheFirstEcho

Dream Casting the New "Death on the Nile"


Earlier this year, when the trailer for the most recent Murder on the Orient Express remake was dropped, I was hoping that someone at 20th Century Fox would have the foresight to concoct an Agatha Christie Cinematic Universe. After all, this is the world we now live in -- where every property coveted by a major studio must have the potential to be milked for all it's worth. Plus, as a former child raised by an Agatha Christie fan, I am somewhat familiar with this world, and experiencing new renditions of these titles as an adult is exciting.

And now that Kenneth Branagh's version of the Hercule Poirot mystery has been released (and raking in $150 million-and-counting worldwide), it seems like my prayers are being answered. The studio is going ahead with a "sequel" in the form of a remake of Death on the Nile, another death-filled destination about the Belgian detective taking a river cruise in Egypt and coming across another corpse and another group of suspects.

The 1978 film adaptation was a star-studded affair -- Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, oh my! Therefore, this remake needs just as many big names to fill up the marquee...and I have some in mind.

Casting directors, you're welcome.

CHARLIZE THERON as wealthy heiress -- and first murder victim -- Linnet Ridgeway Doyle (originally played by Lois Chiles):


EMILIA CLARKE as Jacqueline de Bellefort (originally played by Mia Farrow):


TOM HIDDLESTON as Simon Doyle (originally played by Simon MacCorkindale):


MAGGIE SMITH as Marie Van Schuyler (originally played by Bette Davis):


TILDA SWINTON as Miss Bowers (originally played by Maggie Smith):


ANGELA BASSETT as Salome Otterbourne (originally played by Angela Lansbury):


SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN as Rosalie Otterbourne (originally played by Olivia Hussey):


JEFF GOLDBLUM as Colonel Race (originally played by David Niven):


PAUL GIAMATTI as Doctor Bessner (originally played by Jack Warden):


JAVIER BARDEM as Andrew (Andres) Pennington (originally played by George Kennedy):


LILY JAMES as Louise Bourget, Linnet's maid (originally played by Jane Birkin)


BEN WHISHAW as James Ferguson (originally played by Jon Finch):


Thoughts?

@TheFirstEcho

Christina Aguilera's "Stripped" 15 Years Later


It was the highly anticipated album known for transforming a sugary-sweet pop princess into a feisty, cornrowed, assless chaps-wearing wild child.

Stripped, Christina Aguilera's sophomoric follow-up to her self-titled debut, was released this week in 2002. From the lead single and its grimy music video ("Dirrty" -- cue the STD jokes!) to the provocative black-and-white cover, it flaunted its ambition from the get-go. It was the then-21-year-old singer's attempt to break out from the teen pop mold that had its grip on her at the turn of the 21st century. The introductory track made the message abundantly clear: "Sorry you can't define me/ Sorry I break the mold/ Sorry that I speak my mind/ Sorry don't do what I'm told." Behold "Xtina" and her bold, new sounds!

Some critics were quick to dismiss the disc, calling it a kind of schizophrenic mess as it jumped from hip-hop-flavored dance anthems (the aforementioned single, which still gets club play today) to rock-tinged foot stompers ("Fighter") to inspirational ballads ("Beautiful," "Soar," "The Voice Within"). What other artist her age (remember, 21) had the gall to experiment with such range at the time?

Back then, she was damned if she stayed predictable, and she was damned if she moved away from formulaic fodder. And now, in hindsight, we're glad she took the risk, showed off those piercings, and layered on the "hooker" makeup.

For more on this special pop anniversary, check out my latest at Huffington Post HERE.

Obsession of the Week: Scandroid


If you've ever fantasized about being in your own personal Blade Runner or Tron adventure, then I highly recommend listening to the supersonic sounds of Scandroid, "the modern Synthwave project from Detroit-based artist/producer Klayton Celldweller."

His first self-titled album (below) is clearly a musical love letter to 80s New Wave and includes a cover of Tears for Fears's "Shout" (at 16:04) that will tide you over until his second album, Monochrome, drops on October 27.


Also worth trying out is Scandroid's rendition of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," which would normally seem blasphemous, but this cover surprisingly works and is screaming for some rotations at Halloween parties everywhere:


Oh, and did I mention his remake of the Star Wars theme?


@TheFirstEcho

Passport Alert: I'm Going to Los Cabos


Forgive me in advance for the obnoxious travel photos and stories I will inevitably post on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter next month.

I am fortunate enough to have been invited to cover and write about the 2017 Los Cabos International Film Festival down in Mexico while staying at Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf and Spa Resort. I am anticipating four days of food, films, festivities, and overall decadence that will undoubtedly add a few pounds -- just in time for the holidays. Great.

Although...it would be nice to have a suntan in time for Thanksgiving...


@TheFirstEcho

ICYMI: I Was Invited to Talk About 'Roseanne' on a Podcast


Since I'm a TV junkie who's a sucker for nostalgia, I was invited to be a guest on Very Special Television, a podcast that discusses "a very special episode" of a sitcom from the 80s or 90s.

However, due to the recent trend of #MeToo on social media, I realize the sensitive topic discussed within this episode (which was recorded over a week ago) eerily aligns with recent Weinstein-stained headlines. The timing of this episode's release is odd, to say the least.

Since I was the guest, I got to choose the episode. It comes from one of my all-time favorite sitcoms, Roseanne, which dealt with abuse in a way I had never seen on television at the time. It stuck with me as a kid, and 24 years later, it still resonates and holds up as a brilliant piece of television.

Give it a listen, and if you like (despite the bad jokes at the top), subscribe to these guys on iTunes or Soundcloud:


@TheFirstEcho

Nerdgasms of the Week: Gillian Anderson in 'Crooked House' and 'The X-Files'


As I settle into old age ("old" by Los Angeles standards) there are few things that'll make me squeal like a girl being serenaded by Shawn Mendes during her sweet sixteen.

First, there's the trailer for Crooked House. It stars a bunch of veteran actors (Glenn Close, is there no scene you haven't chewed up?), but most notably, it features Gillian Anderson in a dramatic Cleopatra wig trying not to look suspicious while a hottie detective investigates a creepy family in the British countryside. Throw in the words "based on Agatha Christie's most twisted tale" and a title card that basically says, "adapted by the bloke who gave us Downton Abbey," and you have Anglophile catnip. In other words, I. AM. IN.


And then there's the return of The X-Files in which Anderson's Scully, after 25 long years, finally gets up close and personal with some extraterrestrial baddies, kicks ass, takes names, and proceeds to kick more ass -- all accompanied by a nifty cover of The Cranberries' "Zombie."

I was lukewarm on the previous round of this reboot, but I am more cautiously optimistic for these next installments.


@TheFirstEcho

On the Mass Shooting in Las Vegas


When someone says "prayers aren't enough" during a horrific tragedy like this, please don't construe this as an attack on religion.

Of course, thinking about the victims and their families -- having that moment of sympathy -- is natural. It's human. You can certainly keep them in your thoughts, and if you refer to those thoughts as "prayers," then so be it. But then take a moment to realize that won't be enough. Because a "prayer" is a conditioned, Puritanical response that was created hundreds of years ago to deal with horror in this country.

At this point, in this nightmarish day and age, we should be smarter, more sophisticated, to know that a prayer does not hold the same weight as taking action. A prayer does not get a bill signed or a law passed. A prayer does not stop more bullets from being fired. A prayer does not create physical, tangible change for the better. (And, I realize, neither do self-indulgent online rants like this one.)

Responsible action does.

Next up: ask yourself why this country has such a long, drawn-out, unhealthy, codependent love affair with guns.

Is it because a bunch of men said it was our "right" hundreds of years ago, sealing the deal on a piece of parchment that was written to protect our ancestors from invaders?

Is it because that law has been ingrained into our minds -- embedded in our culture -- so much that it has transformed into a warped and dangerous sense of entitlement?

Is it because we have a government that has devolved to the point where it ultimately doesn't care about the physical and mental well-being of its citizens, therefore leading to more people taking matters into their own hands, therefore leading to more people suffering at the hands of those who react violently, victims themselves of a corrupt power?

Is it because we constantly seek thrills on the big screen, month after month, year after year, numbing ourselves while watching an indestructible hero blast bad guys with an obscene arsenal, igniting our own fantasies in which we blow away our enemies?

Is it because we don't know how to process negative feelings because we've created a culture that has failed to teach us how to properly process them, and as a result, has trapped us in a vicious cycle?

Is it because we've reached the point of no return?

Ask yourself all of this. And then ask it again. Because we know the opportunity to ask these questions will sadly present itself again.

@TheFirstEcho

#TBT: Paying Respects to Christina Aguilera's "Your Body" 5 Years Later


On September 28, 2012, Christina Aguilera dropped the video for "Your Body," the lead single from her seventh studio album, Lotus. The song would (sadly) go on to peak at number 24 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. However, it would peak at the top spot on my iPod for several weeks during the fall of 2012, receiving heavy rotation at one particular Halloween party I DJed in Santa Monica (naturally).

The music video, however, should have given it a boost in sales. Why? May I present to you...Serial Killer Xtina!

Beautifully directed by Melina Matsoukas ("We Found Love," Insecure, "Pretty Hurts") the singer seduces three chiseled victims (one of them played by General Hospital beefcake Ryan Paevey), leading the final one to a pink motel in the desert, which looks a lot like the place where those lady wrestlers resided in Netflix's Glow. (Someone hired the same location manager!)


"Your Body" had the makings of a hit. Uberproducer Max Martin was the mastermind behind the irresistibly synthy, pulse-pounding track. The visual treatment played out like a dirty-sexy short film about a femme fatale with some killer...pipes. And even an explicit version of the song existed to make it even dirtier (just replace "love" with another four-letter word). But alas, not much love was given. File this one under "Underrated Pop Gems of the 2010s."

@TheFirstEcho

Surviving Hurricane Irma: Six Days of Fear, Family, and Farting


Sunday, September 9, 1:05 am: I'm sequestered in an elementary school classroom, trying to fall asleep on a twin-sized air mattress, but the middle-aged man who is sprawled out on an inflatable pool raft across from me keeps passing an unusual amount of gas, and his thunderous snoring suggests that he suffers from sleep apnea. If this Human Fart Machine isn't keeping me awake, there's the gaunt 97-year-old Ukrainian man in the corner who occasionally (and loudly) mumbles in a foreign tongue to his equally ancient wife who keeps shushing him. He hasn't moved from his sleeping pad all day, and I wonder if he needs to use the restroom, or perhaps he had already used his sleeping pad as a restroom. (Luckily, I don't smell anything.) I also wonder if we will wake up in the morning to find his corpse wrapped up in sheets underneath a rainbow-colored display of the alphabet and first grader fingerpaintings...

My travel luck at the beginning of September may have helped me narrowly miss the raging fires near Portland, Oregon, but it stopped shortly thereafter, because days later, I found myself heading towards one of the largest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

The original purpose for my visit to Florida (40 miles south of Tampa, in the towns of Ellenton and Parrish) was to pay my respects to my aunt who had lost her husband of 50+ years (my uncle and godfather, beloved by everyone). He lost his battle with cancer several weeks prior, and a memorial service was scheduled for September 10. I booked a non-refundable flight to attend the event and to spend time with my parents who had left New York and recently closed on a new house in a pleasant, retiree-friendly community called Veranda Springs, a five-minute drive from my aunt. The interiors were given a fresh coat of paint, the floors were renovated, and my mother was excited to show off their new digs. (“It not only has a TV room, it also has a spacious lanai overlooking a pond with fake swans!”) We call it a "lanai" because, hello, The Golden Girls.

However, Hurricane Irma was brewing in the Caribbean and poised to move up to Florida after devastating several resort islands. Words like "Category 5," "life-threatening," and "billions in property damage" were being tossed around the news much like the palm trees and debris in the storm itself. The timing for this natural disaster was, for lack of a better word, shitty.

And yet, despite coworkers and friends calling me "crazy," I still went. And I'm glad I did.

A post shared by Hiko Mitsuzuka (@thefirstecho) on
The funny thing about the 48 hours leading up to an impending natural disaster (if you want to call it "funny"): Those hours are filled with a strange combination of excitement and nauseating anxiety. You don’t want to be that dumbass who says he’ll “ride it out” and see the storm firsthand and up-close, only to end up getting flattened by a projectile pickup truck, just like one of those disposable, obnoxious characters in any given disaster movie. (And yes, tornado warnings were also in effect.) You want to be as safe as possible, especially since this is your first natural disaster experience -- my parents already survived Superstorm Sandy in New York five years ago -- and you’ve watched plenty of those movies as a kid to conjure up every worst case scenario in your over-imaginative mind.

The preparation was exhausting. A trip to Publix, the local supermarket chain, led to empty shelves; no bottled water in sight. Gas stations ran out of fuel due to the hundreds of thousands of cars that jammed all northbound routes. Shutters needed to be set in place. Valuables needed to be secured. Non-perishable food needed to be packed. And me being me, I couldn't help but flashback to those panicked scenes in 1998's Deep Impact.


However, the fear of losing not only my parents' current home but their new one was even more emotionally and physically draining. No insurance policies had been put in place for the new house. Had they purchased a plan two weeks ago, it still wouldn't have gone into effect because those take a full 30 days to kick in. Therefore, STRESS.

The original plan was to hunker down in the new, unfurnished house at Veranda Springs simply based on the fact that it was away from the storm surge zones and was larger (maybe sturdier) than their current home in Colony Cove, another community for the 55+ set.

But then the forecasts came rolling in every three hours on every channel we tuned in to: CNN, The Weather Channel, the local NBC affiliate, and Bay News 9, a local station on which a tireless anchor named Veronica Cintron remained cool, calm, and collected during every hourly update. (Someone get that woman a spa package.) Now that Irma was shifting her path up the Gulf Coast, local authorities strongly advised residents of Manatee County to seek shelter, and that's when we realized Veranda Springs wouldn't cut it. We had to abandon ship.

A post shared by Hiko Mitsuzuka (@thefirstecho) on
While my aunt sought shelter with her grown grandchildren at a large compound of a house twenty miles away, we checked into the nearby Annie Lucy Williams Elementary at 5pm on Saturday. I had registered my parents earlier in the afternoon to guarantee us a spot in one of the classrooms. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner would be served in the school cafeteria. Dinner on the first night was a chicken sandwich with cups of baked beans, salad, diced pineapple, and chocolate pudding. It was just like being on a cruise ship but without any luxurious amenities -- and eventually electricity.

The following 40 hours were spent surrounded by evacuees, reading a hundred pages of my paperback novel, listening to the wind howl outside, and observing the eclectic characters who sat in beach chairs, curled up in sleeping bags, and attempted to follow the news on their devices while we still had wi-fi. More than half of the 1,200 or so people were elderly folks. The rest were families with kids, some placed in the gymnasium. Latecomers were shuffled into the hallways and told to set up camp on the linoleum floor. (This is where I give myself a pat on the back for checking us in earlier to secure our cozy classroom with 16 other bodies, even though one of them was the Human Fart Machine.) Even the cafeteria started to ration off meals due to the influx of people who showed up on Sunday, the day Irma made her way to the Tampa Bay area.

By Sunday night, the central air system in the school turned off. I lay on my air mattress and tried to remain still and cool, using my iPhone (98% charged) to listen to one of my Spotify playlists, hoping the cheery, uplifting sounds of Carly Rae Jepsen would whisk me away to a magical place where no fat, farting Floridians existed.

Then, the power finally went out. Our classroom turned into a stifling pit of darkness, illuminated by a singular emergency floodlight that eventually faded out in the wee hours of the morning. By that time, I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. The air was thick. I could hear coughing in one corner, probably from the redneck who was spooning what could only be his mail-order bride. (If you saw them together, you'd surmise the same.) Finally, one of the Marines who had been stationed outside entered the room and told us we could open the windows; the winds had died down, the storm had weakened. That wasn't enough for me. I got up, walked out of the room, and headed to the front entrance of the school where another Marine propped open the door so that I could breathe in some fresh, damp air.

By Monday morning, on September 11, a date which will now have another significant meaning, the sky had cleared. We were allowed to go home. But would we have a home to go back to?



The answer was yes. Both of my parents' home (and my aunt's) survived Irma unscathed. Cue the collective sighs of relief!

Colony Cove was one of the few places to have electricity. Cable and internet was out for a bit. Veranda Springs took a few hours to come back on the grid. Some of my parents' neighbors (pictured above) weren't so lucky, but fortunately Irma had weakened overnight and wasn't as destructive as it was in the Caribbean.

The well wishes and messages I received via Facebook, Instagram, and old-fashioned texts were greatly appreciated. A big thanks goes out to the well-organized staff, authorities, and Marines at Williams Elementary in Parrish that took us in. A special shout-out to Vice Principal Nicole who was particularly helpful getting us settled after a slight room switcheroo. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Now, if you'll indulge me for a bit and take a look at this meme...


As someone who has now lived through the above experience, I have gained a new perspective. No one ever asks to be pummeled by Mother Nature year after year. No one ever asks to have their home wiped out by swelling oceans. But there are those who ask their leaders to pay attention to what's happening on this planet of ours. People who ask their leaders to face scientific facts and wake up to the reality that this little thing called global warming isn't a little thing. And it's certainly no myth.

Right now, with the way our current administration is functioning, these pleas are falling on deaf, ignorant ears. The fact that two other hurricanes, Katya and Jose, were active during Irma's destruction -- three megastorms lined up within the same period of time -- should have been enough proof to make people sit up and draft up some serious legislation confronting these issues. But no. What we get is another round of prayers, another influx of social media commentary, and another televised event during which Justin Bieber and Julia Roberts ask you to donate whatever you can to the victims of the umpteenth tragedy.

As Amy Davidson Sorkin's insightful New Yorker piece discusses, our country remains unprepared for future devastation because, when you get down to it, there are powerful men and women who don't believe in spending the time and money on the well-being and safety of their fellow American citizens and their homes.

And that's the worst disaster of all.

@TheFirstEcho

HARVESTED: The 2017 Fall Playlist


With temps cooling and swimsuits drying, it's time to ease up on the summer jams (sorry, "Despacito") and settle in with some tracks that should complement the upcoming season...along with those darn Pumpkin Spice Lattes you'll be chugging in no time.

Listen up:

@TheFirstEcho

"Look What You Made Me Do," Taylor: Comment On Your New Single


When a new Taylor Swift single drops, the world pretty much stops (whether you love it or hate it). And it's a rare for a pop star nowadays to possess such power. I'll give Tay-Tay that.

So, upon giving her new single, "Look What You Made Me Do," several listens (you know, to be fair), I had several knee-jerk reactions.

But first, I feel I like need to provide some context with my assessment: I am not a diehard. With 1989, her epically successful previous album, I was actually a fan of tracks like "Style," "Out of the Woods," and "New Romantics," singles that, unfortunately, weren't as ubiquitous (read: overplayed) like the unrelenting "Shake It Off" and "Bad Blood." I appreciate some of her songwriting. She could deliver a good chorus. I could understand the passionate fandom.

However, we're entering a new era: the snake-filled social media teasers and black-and-white key art covered in newspaper headlines is positioning Taylor Swift as a newly born bad bitch who isn't afraid to address her "reputation" and come back with poisonous lyrics aimed directly at people who did her wrong. And according to her, she's "got a list of names." (David Mueller probably at the top.) How very Stripped, how very Revival, and how very I'm Not Dead of her, don't you think?

In other words, she's on the defensive, and that's...great?

I'm all for pop stars channeling their emotions into a song, but when you're on Taylor Swift's level, you run the risk of coming off as self-aggrandizing with your new material. And that's where "Look What You Made Me Do" is currently standing. She's fanning the flames of fan frenzy with this apparent clapback at her enemies, haters, whatever you wanna call them. And we've heard this all before, haven't we?

The repetitive title of the song is also very telling, echoing the growing sentiment of a generation that struggles with how to feel and react to negative forces and situations in their lives. "Look what you made me do?" No, girl. You are responsible for how you react, feel, and handle things. No one made you write this song. It's pointless to shift the blame on others for how shitty you feel. Also, "Look what you made me do" is a common phrase said by abusers after they release their rage. Just saying. The POV of this chorus makes me wonder...

Defending yourself is one thing, but being on the defensive is another. One involves protecting your dignity and standing for what's right, while the other involves a presumptuous attempt at lashing out at anyone or anything that threatens what you think is important. Maybe I'd enjoy this song more if it weren't so manufactured to manipulate millions into taking her side in her celebrity feud du jour (or broken heart). Maybe I'd enjoy this song more if it contained one iota of genuinely uplifting content rather than "dark" lyrics that border on promoting Mean Girlisms. (That said, thank God for Pink's new single.)

Plus, the reductive beat behind this semi-decent production (and the random, obscure "I'm Too Sexy" melody sample) does nothing but reveal how weak of a vocalist she clearly is. (I can say the same for other Top 40 artists, male and female.) And that music video sneak peek? Beyonce called. She wants her "Formation" pose back.

However, the ever-brilliant Louis Virtel does put a few things in perspective:


And while her army of fans will defend said single until their last breath (as any diehards would; I'm guilty of doing the same for one Miss Christina Aguilera, who hasn't met a defensive lyric she hasn't sung), I'm curious to see how long this mania plays out and how the rest of Reputation will sound like. I'm guessing there will be "collaborations" with other "hitmakers" and a catchy ode to all the fans who stood by her side through such "tough times."

Insert eye roll emoji.

Now, let's get back to more important matters.
@TheFirstEcho

#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