July 20, 2017

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.


#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.
“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.”
“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.


July 12, 2017

A Letter to the Stranger Moving Into My Childhood Home

As I've written before, my parents have sold my childhood home in New Rochelle, NY and are currently in the process of moving to the land of retirees, alligators, and affordable outlet shopping: Florida. The last month has been a mix of emotions, full of nostalgia, and ultimately, undeniably bittersweet. It's hard to imagine that some stranger will occupy the space where so many personal memories were created. To help cope and put one last stamp of closure on this experience, I mailed the following letter to the woman who will be starting a new life where my family once started one three decades ago...

Dear New Resident of Apartment 3D,

My name is Hiko. I realize we have never met, and we probably never will.

I am the son of Sandy and Tatsuya Mitsuzuka, the previous owners of the comfy third-floor, two-bedroom corner space you now call home.

First of all, congrats. I wish you the best of luck and hope you make as many memories here as my family and I have throughout the past 31 years.

31 years. So much has happened within these walls. This apartment was once the epicenter of nearly every family holiday celebration: Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, birthdays, even Meatloaf Wednesdays, a weekly tradition my mother upheld throughout most of the late 80s and early 90s. (Believe it or not, 22 people once filled this dining room and living room.) And then there were those other occasions: elementary school sleepovers, movie nights, baby showers, post-funeral gatherings, post-graduation lunches.

In other words, there's a lot of history embedded in this space, and I know there's more to be made. The end of our era is the beginning of yours. It's exciting, it's a little sad, and it's a whole other jumble of emotions worth feeling as I realize this is the last piece of mail I will ever send to this address.

If you're new to New Rochelle, you've arrived at just the right time. Downtown seems to be booming (Enjoy that new Barnes & Noble cafe at New Roc City), and it looks like there are big plans to develop the Echo Bay district (down by the McDonald's). If you want a good breakfast served with a smile while supporting local business, sit at the counter at Starlite Diner II on Main Street. If you're a reader, say hello to the New Rochelle Public Library on Memorial Highway (around the corner from Starlite II), where I once worked as a "tech page" during the summer of '99. And if you're a jogger or cyclist, take a quick trip down to Glen Island Park, where I also worked during the summers of 2000 through 2002.

Again, best of luck in your new home. I hope you make it your own. (Actually, you may want to keep that original black tile in the bathroom; it's vintage and provides a lot of character, don't you think?) But most of all, treat Apartment 3D well and savor every moment you spend in it. I was fortunate enough to come back earlier this summer and say goodbye one last time to the rooms and spaces that held so many memories and so much love and support.

I wish you just as many warm memories and trust that it's in good hands.

Hiko Mitsuzuka

P.S. -- Beware the vengeful ghost of the old woman who was brutally murdered in the master bedroom back in the 1940s...totally kidding.


July 09, 2017

'Melrose Place' Turns 25: Revisiting L.A.'s Most Scandalous Apartment Complex

On July 8, 1992 a young woman named Natalie ran out of a West Hollywood apartment complex in the middle of the night -- suitcase in hand -- leaving behind roommate Alison Parker without enough money for rent...

And so began the convoluted chronicles of several twentysomethings who resided at a Los Angeles address that would soon become one of the most popular destinations in primetime television.

During that summer, I was a 12-year-old bookworm who had nothing else better to do than stick my nose in horror novels and rent movies from Blockbuster Video. All I knew was that MP was a sexier spin-off of the hugely successful Beverly Hills, 90210 (remember when Kelly hooked up with older handyman Jake before her mom's wedding?) and featured older characters, which I preferred. (I wasn’t your average pre-teen; while my peers obsessed over the latter, I found entertainment in more adult fare like Knots Landing reruns and Picket Fences.)

Melrose was unlike most dramas in terms of its production. While most one-hour shows produced 22 episodes within a full season, MP pumped out 32. This proved to be both beneficial and detrimental for viewers. Those extra episodes per season meant less reruns but also a higher demand for creative storylines. It may have run for seven seasons, but in all actuality, it felt more like ten. Maybe that's why many felt it depleted its creative juices towards the end of its run (we'll get to this later)...

For more on the TV show that helped define the 90s and left an indelible mark on my adolescence, check out my retrospective at HuffPo here.


July 07, 2017

Dua Lipa's "New Rules" Is The Anti-F**kboy Anthem We Need

For the past couple of months I haven't shut up about Dua Lipa, and here's another reason why I won't stop talking about the rising British pop diva...

"New Rules," the latest single from her fantastic debut album, benefits from a simple yet effective video that takes place at a Miami hotel where Dua and her squad support each other through the steps needed to avoid the mistake of falling for guys who are no good for them -- nifty choreography included.

Consider this the anti-fuckboy anthem. And it is a perfect summer jam that needs all of your attention.


STFU: A Special Pop Culture Rant of the Week

STFU: We get it. Katy's album is a mess. Kesha is doing "cathartic" existential ballads. Yet that Camila Cabello jam is surprisingly hot. Face it: we live in a world where up is down, right is left, and before you know it, we're living in Children of Men.

STFU, Anthony Bourdain: I didn't think Baby Driver was one of the best movies of the year, but I at least appreciated the sound mixing, editing, and music supervision. Dude, your curmudgeon is showing.

STFU: I don't need to see a "sneak peek" of your smoothie tutorial video on Instagram. Go shove a scoopful of that protein powder up where the sun will never shine. It wouldn't be the weirdest thing that's been up there (so I've heard).

STFU: I could give two dried turds about the Rob and Chyna saga.

STFU: If you keep boycotting airlines whenever they do something shitty to passengers, then soon you won't be able to fly to those exotic locales where you can take selfies and beach photos of your tanned feet with the caption "Today's office."

STFU: I'm sorry that the most exciting thing in your life right now is the glazed chicken and grilled asparagus you made for dinner last night. Your #foodielife is still nowhere near as fabulous as the Food Newtork stars you're desperately trying to emulate.

Speaking of recipes, STFU, food delivery services: I don't want a Blue Apron. I've said goodbye to Hello Fresh. And Freshly has gone quickly.

STFU: Do you go anywhere else besides your Crossfit gym? Do you go to movies? Do you eat at nice restaurants? Do you shop at stores? Do you, y'know, interact with regular humans? Because I couldn't tell based on the 134 photos you took of yourself posing and lifting with your "team" in the past five days.

STFU, anyone who insists on addressing their "haters": This only implies that you have the ego to think you're significant enough to have haters and the audacity to preoccupy yourself with people who don't like you when, in fact, you shouldn't give a shit about them.

STFU: I haven't watched Glow on Netflix yet.

STFU: I realize there are worst things happening in the world, but the construction on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills is killing me. So maybe I should just STFU too.


July 04, 2017

15 Years in L.A.: Looking Back at How Insufferable I Was

More than 5,475 days ago, when Avril Lavigne was relevant and the nation was becoming obsessed with a new singing competition show called American Idol, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. Like many before me (and many after), I booked a one-way ticket to the city of Los Angeles -- with how much money in my bank account, I can't remember.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

History. I've lived here long enough to have created a legit history, a past full of countless stories, faces, moments, experiences -- memories that now represent a good chunk of my existence.

[Old Man Voice] Back in those days, nobody had plans to become a YouTube star. Say the word "Instagram," and someone would probably look at you like you were speaking Klingon. Movies and TV shows didn't have to rely on a godforsaken superhero franchise or a book series for young adults. And streaming? That's probably something you did in your pants when you couldn't hold it in any longer.

If you know me, you've probably read about my journey around this time of year (when I hit my L.A. Anniversary and blast it all over social media). And every year, in a different way, I try to reflect on my time spent in this city. I try to say something new about the life I built for myself in a place known for building you up as quickly as it tears you down. And every time the moral of the story is this: I'm in it for the long haul.

Having established a history here, I can now look back and distinguish three distinct eras of my Los Angeles life. They are as follows:

2002-2007: THE NEWBIE YEARS - Fresh-faced and naive, I paid my dues as an assistant of many kinds: production, art department, showrunner, executive. I bought into what was fashionable or trendy when I couldn't afford it, took things for granted, briefly dabbled in Friendster, became smitten with MySpace, and could make forty dollars in cash last for an entire weekend. (Primary Employment: Carsey-Werner and various productions)

2007-2012: THE ANGELENO YEARS - A little older, a little "wiser," I thought I knew shit. I gave parking advice and told friends which streets to take as a shortcut across town. I settled into my full-fledged Angeleno status. I Facebooked the hell out my friends. I also went through some growing pains. Post-quarter-life crisis, I found myself being slapped by Reality on numerous occasions. (Primary Employment: Anonymous Content and self)

2012-2017: THE JADED YEARS - I'm only half-joking when I say "jaded." Or am I? This is the period of my life during which I learned to let go and became more comfortable saying "no." Here is also where I made an effort to be more grateful for what I have and focus less on what I don't have. And if this sounds like I've been brainwashed by some self-help bullshit, then slap some handcuffs on me and charge me with being a cliche. (But seriously, shout-out to Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck). As a result, I can now look back at my life, connecting the dots to figure out why I am who I am. It's a pretty awesome thing, this getting older. (Primary Employment: Stun Creative)

I look back at these 15 years truly baffled by how quickly they went. If time flies when you're having fun, then by all means, bring on more of it.

And as much as people who don't live here joke about people who do live here, I can't express enough how grateful I am for those who have entered or passed through my life over the last decade-and-a-half. Just when I thought I was too old to make more friends, along came a few more. They're the good ones who prove that L.A. folk are more than just opportunistic, beach-loving health nuts whose hobbies include complaining about traffic. They're the ones who are also in it for the long haul, embracing this city for all of its perks and flaws and turning it into a place of their own.

If it's all about the company you keep, then I don't want to let go of mine.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go outside and enjoy this beautiful, sunny day. Whether or not I'll break out in a song-and-dance number depends on how much traffic may be clogging up Santa Monica Boulevard...


Catfights, Cleavage and Carrie-Anne Moss: 'Models Inc.' Turns 25

In the early 90s, as anyone familiar with the oeuvre of uber-producer Aaron Spelling knows, the successful  Beverly Hills, 90210 begat ...