March | May | September
March 26, 2022 — Love Quirks returns off-Broadway this summer + Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City
Happy Caturday! Pardon the double subject, but I didn’t want to bury the lede. For those of you who aren’t on social media, you might not have heard that “Love Quirks” is returning off-Broadway this summer! But also, I wanted to mark this update as a trip recap, as well, because so many people enjoy those the best. So, this ledger will have both plus some more exciting news!
EVEN WHEN LOVE WORKS, THERE ARE ALWAYS LOVE QUIRKS
After 27 months, “Love Quirks” returns off-Broadway with its original cast! I have spent the last 2 years so depressed over the fact that we had to shut the show down before it could really find its life, and now I’ve gone from depressed to stressed… which I believe is better. The show is going to have a limited 12 week run for 3 months at the brand-new AMT Theater on W.45th St! We are beyond thrilled to christen this new space with our little show. Our performances are going to be (with a few exceptions) Thursdays at 7PM, Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 3PM from Thursday, June 16th through Friday, September 2nd.
I was going to wait to send this till tickets are available, but I actually have time today to write this, and I didn’t want to hold it indefinitely then have to go back and add extra updates or revise tenses, etc. So just check out lovequirks.com and theoretically a ticket link should magically appear very soon. If you would like a personal note when tickets are available, please let me know.
Everything seems to be opening up here in NYC, and there are tourists all over Times Square again. We are cautiously optimistic that this summer is going to be a boom time. We also intend to get the show licensed so that we can send it around the country (and the world) and get productions of the show every and anywhere. We are obviously tremendously dedicated to the show, and we will be doing whatever it takes to make this little show that could not be extinguished into a cult classic.
I do hope that you all can come see the show, and those of you who have moved away from NYC have a perfect excuse for a visit this summer because it’s been too long since I’ve seen all of you!
I am happy to say that my THIRD published crossword will appear in the LA Times, and many papers near you, on Wednesday, March 30th! Given the amount of rejections I get, I think it’s a miracle that I managed to get 3 into the paper. Crossword crafting has become exceedingly popular during the pandemic, and it has gotten exponentially harder to get an accepted puzzle. But I’m nothing if not persistent! Plus, I find writing puzzles to be extremely relaxing, so it’s just a nice surprise when one makes it into a paper.
If you missed my other puzzles, you can always to go sethbh.com/puzzles to find PDFs of them, and of course, on late Tuesday night, the third one will magically appear there, too!
Speaking of puzzles, I have joined the Wordle bandwagon. All in all, it’s basically just an app version of the old game Jotto, and it’s pretty easy, but it’s super fun to compare scores daily with people, and when I get the word in only 2 tries (which has happened 7 times!), I feel very good about myself. Though, today I didn’t get it till the 5th try, but it wasn’t an easy word today…
Speaking of popular, the turnout for my Don’t Tell Mama showcases this season has been tremendous both in quantity and quality. I do think that bodes well, in general. I am showcasing dozens of performers, a lot of them from the classes of 2020 and 2021 who had their college showcases canceled. I got so many submissions that I am doing 7 performers per show instead of 6. Additionally, I have added 3 extra non-Tuesday shows. And if that wasn’t enough, I actually have a waiting list for if performers drop out. At some point soon, I probably have to start booking the summer. But that point is not here yet!
I started the year with 4 Sondheim Tribute cabarets. If you missed it, here’s my rendition of “Good Thing Going” from “Merrily We Roll Along”:
On May 3rd and 6th, I am doing Ahrens/Flaherty cabarets, which should be super fun.
In terms of writing, “The Secret Adversary” is down to only 5 songs that we haven’t started. We hope to do a reading either in the fall or next spring, depending on how the rest of the year shapes up.
And the fourth season of my podcast, “Millennials are Ruining the World? an Xennial perspective: bridging the gap between generations X & Y. I’m not woke, but I’m awake!” returns for 8 episodes this summer starting June 1st! We have some great eclectic topics this year including puzzle writing, astrology, toxicity and cats!
I GOT TO KANSAS CITY ON A THURSDAY, BY SATURDAY I LEARNED… NADA
So, as I mentioned last time, I have been touring the country with the “Fabulous Fanny Brice” show starring Kimberly Faye Greenberg. We did a weekend in Tucson, AZ, where it was unusually freezing just for the time we were there. But at least the resort they put us up at had a hot tub! But even more exciting, we did a show in Kansas City, which gave me the opportunity to check off 2 more states: Missouri and Kansas! Here is a brief rundown of the trip.
On Thursday, I splurged on a Lyft to my AirBnB since the flight was covered by the show. I had decided to come in a few days early so I could see the downtown area of KC in Missouri since our show was in Kansas. I found a really cheap AirBnB, and when I got there, it became pretty obvious that’s because it was in a very sketchy neighborhood. Spoiler Alert: we survived! But yes, I was really glad I took a car there. I was starving, so I found BBQ at Gate’s BBQ about 10 minutes away. I had some delicious ribs and french fries.
On Friday, I walked into down — though I later found out buses were still free because of covid — but I prefer walking whenever possible, anyway. I went to the American Jazz Museum, which I quite enjoyed until there was a school trip that destroyed my zen. Before that I was the only one there. They have lots of listening stations set up with obscure recordings from all the greats: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstong, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, etc. They also had a special exhibit on the Pixar film “Soul”.
After I walked to the main area with Union Station and the Liberty Memorial and World War I Museum and Monument. Not being a history buff, I skipped the WWI one, but I did go to the free Money Museum in the Federal Reserve Building. I had already been to the ones in Atlanta and Denver, but I can never turn down a free museum! I walked through downtown to go to City Market to see the Arabia Steamboat Museum, which was really cool. Basically, these men decided to excavate a steamboat that had sunk in the 1800s in the Missouri River. And when they found it, there was a treasure trove of antique treasures, which they decided to display. There was also a section about how steamboats worked, and overall, I quite enjoyed it.
By that point in the late afternoon, Kim’s flight had arrived and she had dropped her bags off at the AirBnB. She met me downtown to the Power & Light District (this time I took the free trolley down Main St instead of walking) and we went out to Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que at the County Road Ice House. I had the most delicious brisket burger EVER, and then we went to Insomnia for ice cream/cookies — I had a delicious cookie sandwich. Afterwards, we headed to the Green Lady Lounge for some jazz! It was only a $5 cover and no minimum, so I ended up buying the jazz trio’s CDs — 2 for $10 — so I can always relive that night now in my apartment! I also think it’s very important to support fellow artists.
On Saturday, we took a Lyft to our fancy hotel in Overland Park, Kansas, and as we crossed the state line, I marked off my 26th state on my Been App! They put us up in a Marriott in Park Place, which was basically an outdoor mall, so we could walk to a few restaurants and stores. We were starving so we had some Thai at Bamboo Penny’s. Then, we had a tech rehearsal at the gorgeous White Theater in the Jewish Community Center. Who knew there were Jews in Kansas!? We had around 300 people show up for the show Sunday afternoon, and it was just wonderful. A beautiful theatre, and it was so nice to just give everyone a break from world.
That night, with nothing much to do, I went to the movies, and then Monday we flew back. It was a really nice, quick trip.
Next up: my friend Sammy and I are going to Yellowstone National Park in May for 10 days before “Love Quirks” completely swamps my life for the summer. We are going to fly into Idaho Falls, then go up to see my friend Sherri in Missoula, Montana, then 4 days in Yellowstone & Grand Teton Parks in Wyoming, meaning I will be at 39 states soon! Only 11 to go!
Additionally, Emi & I hope to finally go to Japan this fall, and in February, we are going to Antigua, Guatemala for Celia & Victor’s wedding.
ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER BIRTHDAY
As most of you know, last month I had yet another birthday. It feels like the last 2 years were a bit of awash, but what can you do?
It was really nice to be able to see 7 friends at an Italian restaurant again, and while I didn’t do a larger bar party, I did have my final Zoom party ever. I say final b/c it wasn’t that well attended, and no one really wants to do virtual things anymore. But it was nice to virtually see some folks I never get to see in person.
Additionally, my friends and I did two escape rooms! The first was the Houdini room at Clue Chase, which was one of the hardest ones we’ve done. Thankfully, we got out with 2 minutes to spare! And then my lovely friend Teresa was able to get us a free room at the one where she works. Indeed, we played the Office room, which was the first escape room ever in this country! It was a bit old school, but you could see the seeds for a lot of the other rooms we’ve done. When Stephen Sondheim did the room, they only had 5 minutes to spare, but our team got out with 16! We are a well-oiled machine!
IT’S IN THE CARDS
A few weeks ago, I hired one of my showcase regulars, Ashley O’Neill to do my astrological chart and also a tarot reading.
Via my astrological chart, I learned I have 2 signs in common with Sondheim: using music to express myself (Mercury in Pisces) and having a super career drive (Moon in Aries). Also, I’m a perfectionist with major ADD who is into traveling & publishing. Finally, I’m due for tremendous longevity & major success in the next year after a long period of building towards it.
My tarot cards were The Magician, the 7 of Swords and the 3 of Pentacles. Basically that translates to: 1. I have done an amazing job putting things together 2. I should re-examine all my personal rules and 3. Collaboration will help bring me to a higher level of success.
Finally, I did a quick one card pull from her special cat deck, and I got the Cat Priest, which is about patience and accepting that everything will unfold at its own pace.
Ashley is also going to be on my podcast this season to talk about how she got into this stuff, and also to delve even further into my reading. If you’re interested in one, you can find her on Instagram: @tarotandashtrology.
JONI THE KITTY
Speaking of cats at their own pace, after 3 months of living here Joni is finally really feeling at home! She is very much into attention, so now there are 2 needy folks in this apartment… (me and her…) She has popped up on the desk to block the computer multiple times since I began writing this 3 hours ago! We love Joni very much. She is actually turning 1 year old in a week! She’s still tiny, but it seems like she has grown so much since we first got her. Here is a video of Joni interrupting Emi’s self tape audition:
And, of course, you can always find her Caturday photos on my Instagram and on her FB page: @jonithekitty.
I’ve gotten much busier than the last 2 years, so I don’t think I’m going to get to 50-60 books again, but here is what I’ve read since the year began.
The Guest List – Lucy Foley’s thriller about a murder at a destination wedding on an island was a fun, quick read.
The Lost Daughter – I read Elena Ferrante’s poignant novella so I could watch the movie – she is still one of my favorite authors!
Putting It Together – This lovely memoir by James Lapine about the making of my favorite Sondheim musical is a must-read for all theatre fans!
Memoirs of a Muppets Writer – This book had so many great stories about Jim Henson & Frank Oz, even if it could’ve used a best editor.
His Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell has written a modern “Lolita” from Lolita’s perspective, and it was a wonderful page-turner.
The Brothers Karamazov (second half) – Okay, so I had this on my 2020 list, but I finally got around to finishing this one in 2022. Phew! And Leah came over and we watched the movie with William Shatner and Yul Brynner!
The Perfect Nanny – Leila Slimani is another of one of my favorite new writers, and this dark story didn’t disappoint.
Oligarchy – Quick satire by Scarlett Thomas, which was decent.
The Nest – I loved this book by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney about a dysfunctional family waiting on their inheritance.
Girl, Woman, Other – This set of vignettes that mostly come together by Bernardine Evaristo had a lot of good moments, if you could get over the lack of punctuation.
What the Fireflies Knew – I’m about done with Kai Harris’s debut novel. The writing and story are good, and it’s been enjoyable so far.
With Entertainment Weekly stopping its physical magazines, I will no longer hear about as many books. It is quite devastating, and I am mourning the loss of magazines.
I have seen the majority of the Oscar nominated films now, and my vote is “Coda”. Hands down.
Licorice Pizza – This would be my second pick for the Oscar. I really enjoyed this quirky love story.
The Lost Daughter – Without reading the book first, I’m not sure I would’ve enjoyed this movie. I knew the inner dialogue already, but there is only so much you can get across with just a look.
Death on the Nile – Truly enjoyed this Agatha Christie adaptation, and called the ending – whether or not that was because I read it 30 years ago or I’m just smart (or both?) we’ll never know.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – Saw an early preview of this charming movie based on the YouTube character voiced by Jenny Slate.
Don’t Look Up – Watched this on in Kansas City on my iPad and really loved it! Nothing like a dystopian comedy! It combines 2 of my favorite genres.
The Batman – I saw this one in Kansas City after our show, and I mean, it was good, but completely and exactly the same as every other Batman movie! And can’t we have a happy ending for Batman and Catwoman, just once?
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – This Nicholas Cage meta-movie is so phenomenal. I cannot say enough good things about it! From start to finish, it was 90 minutes of pure enjoyment and hilarity.
There has been a dearth of new shows that I’ve really enjoyed. I worry that the peak TV era is coming to an end. Here are 3 shows that are new that I have enjoyed, and then some that are still going strong.
The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window — This Kristen Bell parody spoof was really fun and an easy binge.
American Auto – I actually really enjoyed this NBC sitcom by the guy who created “Superstore” starring Ana Gasteyer. It’s very smart.
Severance – The final new show I’ll mention is Adam Scott’s new show, which I just started. Sci-fi and something weird is definitely happening, so I am hooked enough to finish it.
Upload – Speaking of sci-fi shows which weird things happening, the second season of “Upload” was wonderful.
Servant – And another creepy show, the third season of “Servant” did not disappoint, and I’m relieved they were renewed for a 4th and final season so they can end on their own terms.
Star Trek: Picard – This is the best new “Star Trek” out of the 5 shows! Patrick Stewart can do no wrong, and the writing is on fleek! (Do people still use that term?)
My Brilliant Friend – The 3rd season of my favorite book quartet is also wonderful, and I’m also relieved this got its final fourth season confirmed.
The Walking Dead — The 11th and final season has been so good that I’m actually sad they didn’t decide to do a 12th! Although, they have already announced spinoffs with 4 major characters, so we know they don’t die…
Resident Alien – 2nd season of this funny show has been great.
Superman and Lois – 2nd season of this superhero show has also been great.
Kung Fu – And another CW show has had a great 2nd season so far. (Both this and Superman got renewed already! The only CW show I love that hasn’t yet is “Legends of Tomorrow” which I hope gets one more season.)
This is Us – Finally, a shoutout to my favorite TV drama, and I am sad to say the final episode will be out when I’m in Yellowstone so I’ll have to watch it on my phone!
The spring and summer are shaping up to be full of theatre to see again! Hallelujah!
Company – Patti LuPone in a Sondheim revival. Need I say more?
Tosca – Puccini will always be my favorite opera composer, and since it was January, we ended up getting rush tickets in row I (i).
English – Enjoyable Off-Broadway play about Iranians learning English.
Shhh – Off-Broadway stream-of-consciousness play about an existential crisis.
Anyone Can Whistle – Sold out Carnegie Hall concert version of this show starring Vanessa Williams.
The Life – I always regretted missing this show on Broadway in 1998, so I was glad to get to see a version of it at City Center.
Hart Island – Off-Broadway, experimental piece about the mass graves on Hart Island.
Birthday Candles – Debra Messing stars in a solid play about aging.
Liz Callaway: To Steve With Love at 54 Below – This was a flawless concert of Sondheim songs and stories. You can actually watch it at 7PM tonight on a livestream, if you are still into virtual things…
Well, there you have it! I do apologize that I haven’t sent an update sooner this year. 2022 has been quite a rollercoaster ride.
I really, really hope that all of you will make to NYC this summer to see “Love Quirks” off-Broadway. It has now been 12 years since we started this show, and I truly hope it lives up to our expectations.
May 30, 2022 — Trip to Yellowstone + Buy your LQ Ticket
Happy almost summer! Before I delve into my lovely, relaxing vacation, if you have not bought your “Love Quirks” tickets yet… what are you waiting for??? We start performances in TWO WEEKS!!!
If you can afford to pay full price, please do so, but here is a discount code for all June performances besides opening night Monday June 27th (which we have only a few seats left for): SETH25.
After 27 months, it is such a relief to be reopening the show, and I trust every single person who reads this email is going to make a trip to NYC this summer to see us before we close on Friday, September 2nd!!!
Additionally, the LQ cast album will be available on all streaming platforms on Tuesday, May 31st!!! That’s so soon! There will also be a limited run of 500 copies of the physical CD with a beautiful 8 page booklet available.
Before I get to my trip, I just wanted to say that if you missed it, I have now had 3 crossword puzzles published by the LA Times:
And I have my first puzzle in Universal Crossword — which you can find on Sunday, June 19th! Yes, you guessed it — it’s a Father’s Day puzzle!
Finally, I have also been hired to write an NFT puzzle hunt for a video game company. Don’t know what an NFT is? You’re in good company!
Since it goes with puzzles, I do want to say that a bunch of my friends just did a wonderful escape room at Mission Games — Cyberpunk — probably the hardest one we’ve ever done, and we got out with 75 seconds to spare! Highly recommended if you are looking for a challenging one! We also liked their other 2 games, as well.
If LQ and puzzles weren’t enough, I also managed to record 8 new episodes of my podcast for season 4! I know I usually do 13 each season, but so many of my friends refused to come on for fear of getting canceled 10 years later… so I’m really grateful to the 8 who chose to join me. The episodes will be released, as always, Wednesdays at 1PM starting June 1st. The schedule is as follows:
June 1st, 2022: Episode 40: Ashley O’Neill & Seth discuss ASTROLOGY
June 8th, 2022: Episode 41: Erin Rhode & Seth discuss PUZZLE WRITING
June 15th, 2022: Episode 42: Pranjal Vachaspati & Seth discuss JEOPARDY!
June 22nd, 2022: Episode 43: Amitha Jagannath Knight & Seth discuss CHILDREN’S BOOKS
June 29th, 2022: Episode 44: Mary Lauren & Seth discuss CHILDREN’S THEATRE
July 6th, 2022: Episode 45: Adriel Garcia & Seth discuss TOXICITY
July 13th, 2022: Episode 46: Walter Petryk & Seth discuss STAR TREK
July 20th, 2022: Episode 47: Jessica Webb & Seth discuss CATS
I do hope you will tune in, and if you missed any of the other 39 episodes, you can always catch up at: sethbh.com/podcast!!
I’ll get to my trip in a second, but I wanted to say Joni is sweetest cat ever, and we love her so much! If you haven’t been following her on Facebook, or Instagram, you can now also find her on the TikTok! It’s technically my TikTok — @sethbhdotcom — but I’ve only posted her so far. I might post a bit more when we start promoting LQ there, but we’ll see. I don’t really see the appeal at all of it, but apparently it’s very popular. Anyway, if you are on the TikTok, please go follow us.
By the way, Joni was so relieved when I came home last night; she was meowing and running all over the place, which I appreciate as someone who craves attention and validation… but anyway, before I start CATastrophizing, let’s get to vacation…
WEDNESDAY, MAY 18TH: FLYING, DAY ZERO
Why Yellowstone? Why not?! First off, I had heard from multiple people it was pretty magical (and it was), but of course, going to that corner of the country, checks off another 3 states! Also, my friend Sammy had a lot of vacation days she needed to use or lose, so we decided to embark on this epic journey.
We flew out of LGA and then had a layover in Denver. We arrived in Idaho Falls rather late, rented our Toyota Corolla, and drove to the first AirBnB which was in the basement of a house. Both AirBnB experiences were really great, and both hosts left us some snacks! Much appreciated!
THURSDAY, MAY 19TH: DAY ONE: IDAHO FALLS
Our first stop in Idaho Falls on Thursday was the amazing Collectors’ Corner Museum.
This cute little spot is run by a lovely couple Jim & Nida who have been together 62 years. Jim is actually from New Brunswick, NJ, though they’ve lived in Idaho for 50 years now. Both Jim and Nida were into collecting things – just like me and my Muppets and “Star Trek” stuff, but they took it to a much higher extreme. They are now retired and run this museum 5 days a week just because they love it.
There were so many items. I loved it so much! They had Trolls, M&Ms, celebrity dolls, robots, Smurfs, the Jetsons, “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, Barbies, “Harry Potter” llots of Disney, Pez, stamps, Peanuts, a complete set of First Lady dolls – sadly only a few Muppets – a Japanese doll section, and a working Coca-Cola register which tells you how much you owe on the top! (Go see my photos for more!) Oh, they also had the same 1964 Fisher Price xylophone my grandmother had in her attic for us to play with as kids!
So many of the items had been donated by collectors, and it’s nice to see these things have a permanent home. It was just a wonderful place. And they had some collectibles for sale, and I could not stop myself — I got a Cowboy Bert which is not on top my TV, an original 1977 Rubber Duckie which has joined my Yeshiva rubber duckie from the Copenhagen Jewish Museum, and 2 Chip & Dale Rescue Ranger McDonalds collectibles that were only $1 each, so I couldn’t resist… sadly, the only Muppet toy they had was the Fozzie from the McDonald “Muppets Treasure Island” set, which, of course, I have the entire thing of.
If you can’t tell, I really loved that museum, and could’ve stayed all day.
However, we were hungry, so we went to Smitty’s Pancake & Steak House for some brunch. I had delicious strawberry pancakes with bacon and scrambled eggs. After, we walked a bit on the Snake River and went to the Japanese Friendship Garden. Unfortunately, it was really windy, so we decided to head on to Missoula.
Sherri, who we were going to see in Missoula, recommended we take the historical, scenic drive even though it was a half hour more. Thankfully, Sammy was able to get 3 months to Spotify for free, so she downloaded episodes of Conan O’Brien’s podcast, which helped to pass the time. (Incidentally, I miss Conan so much, and he’s still so funny, but I just can’t foresee myself listening to podcasts at home because I prefer having the TV or just music on. If I drove more often, I would definitely subscribe to Conan, though!) Five hours is quite a bit to drive, however, so we stopped a few times on the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail and Sacajawea Historic Byway.
We were starving when we got into Missoula, so we had dinner right by our AirBnB at Mackenzie River where I had yummy Chicken Alfredo.
FRIDAY, MAY 20TH: DAY TWO: MISSOULA, MONTANA, PART 1
Friday morning at 11:15, we met up with Sherri for brunch at Catalyst in the Downtown area. I had homemade blueberry waffles with bacon and scrambled eggs. We walked down by the river for a bit, and then since Sherri had to go back to work, we then walked around downtown. The first stop was the free Missoula Art Museum. There were only a few rooms to explore, but they featured modern artists like Marcus Amerman in the Native American section.
Next we dropped by the Florence Hotel which has been converted into a place where you can sit and have some chocolate, perhaps. We opted instead for handcrafted ice cream at Sweet Peaks where I got huckleberry & chocolate love. YUM!
After indulging our sweet teeth, we took Sherri’s recommendation and went to her favorite hike — the Barmeyer trail, which was a bit strenuous but had a rewarding view of the entire city.
Next, we checked out some Irish Music at the Imagine bar, and then we had dinner at Ciao Mambo. They gave us free cheesy garlic bread, and then I ordered the eggplant parmesan.
Back at the AirBnb, I finished the 550 piece puzzle that the owner had on a shelf while watching “Degrassi: The Next Generation” on the Roku Channel (the only free channel available without us putting in our own passwords). Sadly, it was missing one piece!
SATURDAY, MAY 21ST: DAY THREE: MISSOULA, MONTANA, PART 2
On Saturday, we took a 10am Missoula Underground Tour (“Unseen Missoula”). For two hours, we went around town hearing some historical stories, which I’ve completely forgotten at this point. We saw some places that there were speak-easies, but unfortunately one of the underground tunnels we were supposed to go to is under renovation. We went to the Union Hall and to the Elk lounge, and also saw the Mercantile which is a converted mall type place. It was definitely very informative and fun and only $12!
After that, we had lunch at the Farmer’s Market. I had a combo platter from Wok-ee Mountain, an Asian Cuisine food truck which included chicken teriyaki and chicken peanut curry.
We ran to Good Food Store (basically Whole Foods with all local, natural foods) to pick up some veggies for the grilling we were going to do at Sherri’s that night, and I got a really nutritional smoothie with orange juice, yogurt, mango and banana.
Next, we met up with Sherri, her husband Tom and Sherri’s kids to ride the Carousel, which was super fun because it was really fast. You could also reach for the brass ring from the dragon every revolution. Of course, when Sherri suggested ice cream again, we could not say no, so I had campfire s’mores and flathead cherry chocolate this time. Sherri gave us a brief tour of her work office (LMG Security), then we followed them to their gorgeous home where I got to meet their 3 cats: Elephant, Monkey & Shark! They had to go drop off the kids, so they sent us on the Rattlesnake Greenway trails for an hour. We saw a cute fairy garden, and also tried to find a geocached box. We couldn’t find it, so Sherri and Tom met us and led us to the box of plastic eggs so we could sign the log.
We went back to their place and grilled some food, and had a lovely dinner on the creek in her backyard, from which we could see deer on the other side.
After dinner, we went back to downtown and spent an hour watching Dueling Pianos at Stave & Hook.
SUNDAY, MAY 22ND: DAY FOUR: LINCOLN & BUTTE, MONTANA
Sunday was another day full of a bit of driving, but our first stop was Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild. It was definitely not as good as the Storm King Art Center right outside NYC, but at least it was free.
We walked around and saw the international sculptures including: Picture Frame, Gateway of Change, House of Sky, Montana Line Drawing, Hill & Valley, Montana Memory, East West Passage, Of Earth, of Sky, of Place Between, Ponderosa Whirlpool, Bat Beacon, Gateway & Tree Circus, Stringer, The Bridge, Untitled Dark Trio, Clearing, and A Place is a Place is a Place. (Okay, now I can recycle the brochure!)
We drove to Historical Butte, which is a cute little town right by a mountain. Sadly, all things in the town were closed on Sundays, so after driving around a bit, we had dinner at Sparky’s Garage, where I had some chili and a chocolate milkshake (to keep myself awake for the next few hours of driving).
We made it to Gardiner, Montana before sunset so we walked to the Yellowstone National Park sign, and passed some dear deer on the way before making it an early night.
MONDAY, MAY 23RD: DAY FIVE: YELLOWSTONE, PART 1
I read a lot of blogs to figure out the best way to see Yellowstone, and if I do say so myself, I think I nailed it. We stayed two nights in Gardiner, MT and then one in West Yellowstone, to finally end up in Jackson, WY, for 2 nights, which was by far the best of the three. I would say either doing the parks this way, or reversing everything makes a lot of sense. We did 3 days in Yellowstone and 2 days in Grand Teton. I think if we had only 2 days in Yellowstone, we would’ve felt super rushed to get to everything. Grand Teton has less to do, but given we could only handle 1-2 hikes a day, 2 days was nice there. If you are really into hiking or camping or anything super nature-y, then you probably want a few more days in Yellowstone. If you’re not going to hike at all, then 2 days might suffice, but it’s pretty spread out. We were smart to go in May because we didn’t experience much traffic in the park. According to my mother, when she went later in the summer, there was gridlock all the time. We got stuck a few times because of buffalo crossing or people all trying to get photos of wildlife, but in general, it was pretty smooth sailing. While a few things (and one road) were still closed because it wasn’t June, almost everything was open. All in all, I think going mid-May was a wonderful way to see the entire park without being inundated by people. Don’t get me wrong: it was still fairly crowded, but I think it would pale in comparison to what it would’ve been in a few weeks.
Anyway, our first stop was the Albright Visitor Center where a really nice ranger (much like Sherri in Missoula) just mapped out our itinerary in about 30 seconds. (It’s like he’s done this before!) And it matched the picture of what I thought we needed to do in my head. Day 1 would be everything in the North since we had to double back to Gardiner anyway. Day 2 was everything in the middle, ending on the West side, and then Day 3 was the South, so we could just drive straight through the edge of Grand Teton to Jackson. This worked out perfectly, and I highly recommend this itinerary for seeing the park.
Alright, we started our first day at Mammoth Hot Springs. This isn’t a spring you’d want to sauna in, however. It’s naturally forming beds of heat. We started with a mini-hike, but then walked around the boardwalk seeing the springs: Jupiter Spring, Mound Terrace, Cupid Spring, Canary Spring, Cleopatra Terrace, etc. We were supposed to go next to the Tower Falls, but accidentally continued on the wrong road for a bit. We stopped to do the Bunsen Peak hike, which was pretty strenuous. It was also a bit muddy and snowy, and unfortunately I was only wearing sneakers, so I ended up slipping a few times. We got to a great view, and decided that was plenty.
So, we headed over towards Lamar Valley and just had to stop to take pictures of lots of bison! The baby ones are so cute! We kind of went gaga the first day, but by day three, we were like — more bison!? Ugh! The problem is people just stop and take pictures and the roads get clogged. However, as I just said, May is still off-peak, so we probably would’ve had it much worse.
We saw the Petrified Tree, which is not a frightened tree, but one that was overcome by volcanic flow about 50 million years ago and has been basically frozen in time since then.
We reached the Tower-Roosevelt area, and saw the gorgeous Tower Falls then the Calcite Springs of Oil and Sulfur. Even more bison in the valley, plus, we ran into a group of people with telescopes that were watching some wolves and cubs about a mile away. They were very nice to allow us to look for a bit. Indeed, everyone we met in the park was super friendly. Travelers are the best people!
We saw a really serene lake, the soda butte and ended our day at Pebble Creek. That concluded the Northwest and Northeast corners of the park, so we headed back to Gardiner for dinner. Unfortunately, Gardiner had only 2 options open and they were both unappealing. We ended up picking the less crowded Iron Horse Bar & Grille and had overpriced burgers that weren’t that tasty. Ah well, every day a little death.
TUESDAY, MAY 24TH: DAY SIX: YELLOWSTONE, PART 2
On Tuesday, we passed through the Roosevelt Arch which Teddy Roosevelt donated to the park in the early 1900s. We drove past the Mammoth Hot Springs and Bunsen Trail and continued on the road towards Norris.
First stop of the day was the Sheepeater Cliff , which was named for the Shoshone Indians who used bighorn sheep. We met a nice crow by the Obsidian Cliff which was filled with lots of valuable rocks. Next up was the Roaring Mountain which had steam coming out of it. Finally, the Frying Pan Spring, and then we were at Norris.
The museum at Norris Geyser Basin was closed till June, but we could see it was named for Philetus Walter Norris, the park’s 2nd superintendent from 1877 to 1882. Philetus! What a name! At Norris there are two boardwalked trails (Back & Porcelain), and we went around both to see all the cutely named geysers and smelly springs including: Whirligig Geyser, Steamboat Geyser — which is actually the world’s tallest active geyser and erupts 300 feet unpredictably! It seems we missed it by a day, but it went off at 6:45AM on Monday, and we wouldn’t have been there anyway — Cistern Spring, Echinus Geyser, Crater Spring, Arch Steam Vent, Puff ’N Stuff Geyser (wins the cutest name award!), Green Dragon Spring, Porkchop Geyser, Vixen Geyser, Veteran Geyser, and the Monarch Geyser Crater.
Next up we drove over the Canyon Area where it was snowing! In the parking lot while trying to figure out what to do next, we saw a girl with an East Brunswick sweatshirt and a Rutgers backpack! It turns out she and her parents are from our hometown, so that was really funny!
Since it was snowing, we decided to continue South and then double-back hoping the weather would clear up (which it did). The snow started abating around the Mud Volcano Area so we got out and walked that little path. That was our close encounter with a bison! It was only a few feet away, then it actually came on the path! We knew not to approach it, so we backed away slowly and all was fine. Bison are less scary than bears… (#foreshadowing) Anyway, we saw the Sizzling Basin, Churning Caldron, Grizzly Fumarole (not to be confused with a mudpot!), Dragon’s Mouth Spring, and the Mud Volcano itself.
We continued on South for a little bit to get to one end of the Yellowstone Lake, which was just breathtaking with the Rocky Mountains in the background. Snowless, we were able to stop by places we had skipped on the way down including the Lehardy Rapids and Sulphur Caldron.
So, then we went to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: the South Rim, then the Brink of Lower Falls and finally the North Rim. At the South rim, we took wonderful pictures at Artist’s Point of the waterfall. And then we did a 2 mile hike to Point Sublime, which lived up to its name. That hike was also a bit treacherous, and I slipped yet again, but thankfully it wasn’t actually that close to the edge. That would’ve been a bit terrifying! My shoes also got really, really muddy. Anyway, the Grand Canyon was filled with many colors, but a lot of yellow, as Yellowstone is of course named after the Native American name for the area which translated to yellow stone. It was really truly incredible, and I encourage you to see the pictures because those are worth a thousand words at least!
We saw a beautiful rainbow at the Brink of Lower Falls, and then took a mile hike to Inspiration Point on the North Rim, and we were indeed inspired.
So, that night we came out the West Entrance to stay in West Yellowstone, which was nicer than Gardiner, though still very much a town built just for tourists on the edge of the park. Thankfully, there were many more restaurant options and our hotel concierge recommended Serenity Bistro, which was very yummy. I had squash ravioli.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 25TH: DAY SEVEN: YELLOWSTONE, PART 3
On our final day in Yellowstone, we first stopped off at a few things we had passed on our way out of the park on Tuesday including Madison River, Artists’ Paintpots (so called because the variety of colors in the pools resembles an artists’ palate), Beryl Spring and Gibbon Falls. Then, we continued past the turnoff for the West Entrance and stopped by Firehole Falls and Fountain Paint Pots before hitting the main stops for the day: Midway Geyser Basin and Old Faithful.
Midway Geyser Basin consists of the Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, Opal Pool and the main site to see: Grand Prismatic Spring. The Grand Prismatic Spring was a rainbow-colored pool and uniquely beautiful. There was a bit of wind and steam making it hard to really capture it, but it was still breathtaking. I do apologize if I’m using the same cliched words over and over, but the ineffable beauty of the park is hard to describe.
We got to Old Faithful, which is definitely the most built up part of the park, completely ready for loads of tourists. The Old Faithful Geyser is so named because it goes off every 90 minutes or so without fail, so we knew when we got there we had about an hour before it would erupt. We checked out the exhibit on the park, including a seismographer, some rocks, and lots of informational scientific panels. Then, we walked around the geyser making sure to not throw any objects in pools, as the signs forbade. (Who would do such a thing??) And then we got seats and waited for Old Faithful to do its thing. It was really quite cool as it spewed hot water!
Our final stop in the park was West Thumb, which is a geyser/pool basin on the other side of the huge Yellowstone Lake than we were at on Tuesday. There we saw a really cute deer and a chipmunk, in addition to the gorgeous lake and many small geysers and pools including the aptly named Abyss.
Well, honestly, at that point even though it was still only 4PM, we felt we had exhausted the park… and most definitely: it had exhausted us.
We drove on the border of Grand Teton National Park on the highway you don’t have to pay for. While we were too tired to stop for more photos, we had a picturesque view the entire hour while driving and listening to Conan.
We arrived in Jackson, Wyoming with the sun still shining, and we walked through the charming town and Town Square with many different restaurant options. Jackson is also a ski town, so it is really well set up for tourists to have plenty of choices! There’s even a Playhouse, but sadly “Paint Your Wagon” didn’t start for another week. Anyway, we ended up at Kalu: Latin American Cuisine and I had chicken quesadillas.
THURSDAY, MAY 26TH: DAY EIGHT: GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, PART 1
We started Thursday with a lovely breakfast at Persephone where I just got a strawberry croissant to go. After a quick stop to the Visitor Center, we decided to just hit the highlights of Grand Teton. (It cost $35 for a week pass to Grand Teton, and just FYI it was also $35 at Yellowstone for a week.)
The major highlight was Jenny Lake. We decided to walk the 5 miles to the hidden waterfall. This trail goes all the way around the lake. On the way, we ran into a black bear and her cub. The cub was absolutely adorable, but we knew that the mama would get really irascible if we came close. We backed away slowly, and we were going to just call it a day, but other people started to come. Once we had a large enough group, the cub got scared and eventually the mother, who was clearly acclimated to humans, went up the hill. We bonded with the group and stayed in a cluster for a bit. I met another New Jersey native, this older woman who loves theater, so hopefully she will come to see LQ! And at the top with the wonderful view, we sat with a couple from MA for awhile. They are actually living out of their car for a year, and it’s been 8 months of them seeing the country. Absolutely nuts! And it turns out that the girl is Billy Stritch’s niece. Very few people on this list probably know who Billy is, but he’s Liza Minnelli’s friend and pianist and has accompanied a lot of Broadway people including his neighbor Linda Lavin during the pandemic. Anyway, Amanda said that I was the only person who got her namedrop when she made it! They might come to NYC for the summer to see LQ, too. It’s always important to connect to strangers and invite them to your show because you never know who will actually show!
Besides the bears, we also saw a few marmots, chipmunks and a sleeping moose on this trail, which was much easier going back down.
Next we went to the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, which was closed till June, but we did see another moose right outside. Then, we drove up to the Valley View on the Summit of Signal Mountain and saw incredible views of the Grand Tetons and the valley. That was really a trip highlight right there.
Finally, we continued driving around in our circle and saw the Jackson Lake Dam & Reservoir and the Oxbow Bend Turnout before heading back to Jackson for dinner. We ate at Jackson Drugs, which used to be a drugstore, and I had a Southwest Chicken Salad then a scoop of homemade chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.
FRIDAY, MAY 27TH: DAY NINE: JACKSON, WY & GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, PART 2
Our final trip day, we had a lovely brunch at Cafe Genevieve where I had scrambled eggs with hashbrowns, bacon and toast.
We went to the History Museum, which was $9, but a bit overpriced as it was only 1 room. There were some displays on the founding of Jackson, including a player piano, also some animal horns to play with and some taxidermy. They also displayed some of the first photos ever taken of Grand Teton and Yellowstone by William Henry Jackson, who is not to be confused with the town’s namesake David E Jackson. Lots of Jacksons, apparently! There was also a wall of important Wyoming women.
Next up, we went to the National Museum of Wildlife Art. We decided not to go inside, but we took pictures of the Spirit Totems which were animal sculptures by Herb Alpert that surrounded the place.
We headed back into the park for a final hike to Taggart Lake, which was a fairly easy one compared to some of what we had done. After sitting by the lake for a bit to take in the final moments of nature, we drove down the Antelope Flats Road in the hopes of seeing some elk, but only saw a few horses. Finally, we drove 2 hours back to Idaho Falls through the tree-filled Caribou-Targhee National Forest. In Idaho Falls, we had dinner at Snow Eagle Brewing & Grill right by the Falls, and I had a cobb salad, since I was trying to get back into healthy eating now that the trip was ending.
Getting in by 7PM allowed us to watch 3 episodes of “Stranger Things” thanks to the fact our AirBnB came with Netflix included! I have, of course, since finished the other 4 episodes of this part of Season 4, and am looking forward to the final 2!
SATURDAY, MAY 28TH: I’M GOING HOME
Saturday morning after driving 1,351 miles on the trip, we returned the car to the airport. After a flight, a layover in Denver, another flight, a bus and a subway, I was finally home.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Sammy for coming on this trip with me. It was super worth all the mishegas, and I highly recommend Yellowstone, just like everyone else who has ever been there. Sammy is a great friend, and I’m super grateful we had this time together.
And for those of you counting, this means I’ve now been to 39 states!!!
If you live in or near by the following 11 states I haven’t been to and want me to visit, let me know: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana or West Virginia.
I have read a lot of books since the last ledger, though I’m reading fewer these days in general and probably won’t read a ton of them this summer compared with the last 2 ones.
The Lost Daughter — What a pleasure to read Elena Ferrante again! A lot of the themes from “My Brilliant Friend” are in this seminal novella.
Putting It Together — Reading James Lapine interview and talk about my favorite musical “Sunday in the Park with George” was wonderful.
Memoirs of a Muppets Writer — This book needed an editor, but it was really amazing to hear stories about Jim Henson & Frank Oz I hadn’t heard before.
His Dark Vanessa — This was a fantastic book by Kate Elizabeth Russell about a boarding student who sleeps with her professor and the ramifications years after.
The Brothers Karamazov — I think deserve to put this on the list again b/c I actually finally finished the second half thanks to Leah being in a book club and reading it. Then, she, Emi and I watched the movie version starring Yul Brenner & a pre-“Star Trek” William Shatner! The movie had a better ending than the 900 page novel b/c Dostoevsky was planning a second part he never got to write…
The Perfect Nanny — Leila Slimani is such a good writer. This book is just wonderful.
Oligarchy — This satirical novel by Scarlett Thomas was a fast read.
The Nest — This is a wonderful novel by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney about a dysfunctional family waiting on an inheritance. Fantastic.
Girl, Woman, Other — This was a poetic novel by Bernardine Evaristo recommended to me by Leah. It had some really good characters.
What the Fireflies Knew — This Kai Harris debut was very enjoyable and sweet.
The Paris Apartment — Another Lucy Foley thriller, and it doesn’t disappoint! Twists and turns and Paris!
Disorientation — I LOVED this satirical novel by Elaine Hsieh Chou. Highly recommended! I don’t know why I’m reading so much satire these days…
The World Cannot Give — Tara Isabella Burton’s sweet coming-of-age novel was a great read.
The Candy House — Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan is a marvel. This book is wonderful, and I’m shocked I haven’t read her other works yet! They’re all my queue now!
Vladmir — This was a fun read about a female college professor’s obsession with a hot new teacher at her college who is 20 years younger.
Sea of Tranquility — Emily St. John Mandel never disappoints. This short novel was such a fast read because I could not put it down — I read it in 2 sittings! She loves to play with time, and then it all comes together, and it’s like… magic. Highly recommended!
Ohio — My friend Rebecca recommended this epic by Stephen Markley and I managed to get through all but the last 80 pages on the trip. It’s good!
I actually only saw 2 movies in the theater since the last ledger, and here they are!
Everything, Everywhere All at Once — This is one of the best movies I have EVER seen. It is flawless acting, writing and directing. It is both hilarious and poignant. Just wow.
Secrets of Dumbledore — Unexpectedly, this third movie in the “Fantastic Beasts” season wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t great, but it did wrap things up, so hopefully there won’t be anymore.
Sorry that I haven’t seen many movies this spring. I wanted to watch some on the plane, but United sucks and didn’t have screens available for us even though on the webpage, it said they did…
Other than that, I’m really looking forward to the “Bob’s Burgers” movie and I do think at some point when it’s on Disney+ I will watch the new Dr. Strange movie.
So many of my shows are ending that I’m going to need new recommendations soon! In fact, I don’t really have many new shows that I’ve loved. It’s mostly been watching shows I’ve already been into.
I thought “Ozark” had a good ending. I’m looking forward to the last batches of “Better Call Saul” (what a mid-season ending!) and “The Walking Dead” later this summer/year. “This is Us” went out with many tears, as expected (and even though I had to watch the finale on my phone like a millennial, I still bawled afterwards). “Better Things” left us with a sweet finale, as well, as did “Blackish”.
Cancellation wise, the show I was really upset about was “Legends of Tomorrow” which deserved a final wrap-up season. I also would’ve watched more “Mr. Mayor” and “Pivoting” but what can you do?
“Star Trek: Picard” was fantastic this season, and I’m really enjoying “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”. I find it crazy how there was a dearth of “Star Trek” for over a decade because now it’s a plethora of it! And high quality Trek! That’s what I appreciate — unlike say, “Star Wars” series, “Star Trek” series have all been top-notch writing, and Thursday night is now my favorite night!
Over on HBO, I thought “Minx” was really funny. And I’m so happy “Hacks” is back! Also on Thursdays, there’s “Made for Love” and “The Flight Attendant” and then on Sundays, “Barry” has been back. But again, none of those are new besides “Minx”…
Moving to the CW which is kind of the same company as HBO, I’m really enjoying the current seasons of “Superman and Lois” and “Kung Fu” which thankfully both got renewed. I’m looking forward to “Stargirl” Season 3 but that got pushed to the fall.
On Peacock, Emi and I love “Girls5Eva” which is in its second season. Speaking of NBC networks, “American Auto” on NBC is pretty funny and got renewed (it’s by the guy who did “Superstore”) and “Resident Alien” on SyFy’s has had a great 2nd season so far.
On Sundance TV, I watched this cute show with 10 minute episodes called “State of the Union” — it’s about couples that are having issues, and it’s by renowned novelist Nick Hornby. I believe you’d have to find that on AMC+ but maybe it’ll reair on Sundance one day.
On PBS, I really enjoyed “Around the World in 80 Days” starring David Tenet, and speaking of British shows, “Ten Percent” on BBC-A is fairly cute. And “Breeders” is back for Season 3 on FX.
And RIP “Entertainment Weekly” without which I don’t know how I will find new shows to watch or books to read… in fact, almost all the books above were from the EW list… not that I have much time to read this summer…
Clearly the reason I’ve seen fewer movies, books and TV shows is that theatre has been back! Here’s what I’ve seen since the last ledger:
Paradise Square — Broadway musical about an important historical event.
To My Girls — Really funny play about some gay friends who go away for the weekend.
The Skin of Our Teeth — Wonderfully weird revival of this bizarre Thornton Wilder play.
Hangmen — Hilarious dark comedy about hangmen in the UK.
Take Me Out — Great revival of this baseball play.
The Minutes — We loved this Tracy Letts satire. Just loved it.
POTUS — This raunchy show was hilarious!
How I Learned to Drive — Deeply disturbing but wonderful production of this Paula Vogel classic.
Little Girl Blue — Off-Broadway tribute to Nina Simone. The Nina portrayal was unbelievable.
Romeo & Bernadette — Cute off-Broadway romantic comedy.
Islander — 2 hander off-Broadway with some cool vocoder effects.
Girl from North Country — Really enjoyed this play with music based on a Bob Dylan song. Very bleak, but spell-bounding.
The Bedwetter — Sarah Silverman brings her memoir about peeing in her sleep to the stage as a musical!
Hamlet at the Met — This is a fantastic production of a 2017 opera adaptation of the Shakespeare play. The opera is a bit long at almost 3 hours (not including the intermission), but it hits all the story beats, while keeping most of the iconic lines; the set was wow. And having orchestra members and cast pop up around the audience was really unusual. And also, it has some hilarious moments especially in the grave scene (which is not actually grave) and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern portrayed as bumbling idiots by a pair of counter-tenors.
MJ the Musical — For those who are counting, according to my webpage this is my 424th Broadway show, which does not include repeat viewings of the same show! This production deserves all its hype. So lucky and unexpected that I won the lottery for the $40 tickets! This show was absolutely AMAZING, and 100% lives up to its hype. Wow. Just wow. If you can get tickets to this, go!
And now that I had a relaxing vacation in nature, it’s time for some “Love Quirks”! I will be mostly just focusing on the show for the next 14 weeks or so, though I am doing my weekly Tuesday showcases all summer long still, mostly so I can tell the audience of the shows to come see LQ!
I really do hope that every single person on this list is coming to the show, and I very much look forward to seeing you there!!!
Other than that, assuming we make it through the summer, Emi and I are going to Japan, and I’m very excited to see her home country. After that trip will most likely be the next time I write a ledger, so until then, have a great summer! AND PLEASE COME TO SEE “LOVE QUIRKS” OFF-BROADWAY!!!
September 28, 2022 — A Fortnight in the Land of the Rising Sun
A week ago I returned from 2 weeks on the other side of the world: Japan. I do apologize that it’s taken me so long to get this ledger out; I have been writing it in pieces because there is so much to cover. Also, my sleep schedule is all over the map! Jet lag is REAL. When I first got back I was waking up at 3AM, then 7AM, and now today I woke up at 2PM, so I have completely overshot my normal schedule. I hope to have some stability by next week!
EVEN WHEN LOVE WORKS, THERE ARE ALWAYS LOVE QUIRKS
Before I get into the vacation, I wanted to quickly thank everyone who was involved with or who came to see “Love Quirks” off-Broadway. As we said we would, we ran the show for 12 weeks just a bit west from the Broadway, and we can now check it off the bucket list. While it was a super amount of stress and it’s bittersweet we are closed, I am proud of our team and am thrilled with the wonderful reviews and reception we received. I am still processing the whole thing, but I’m excited to elaborate on the production in my new book, “The Making of a Musical: the 12 year journey of Love Quirks” which will be published in the near future. And of course, if you are missing the show, you can always stream (or purchase) the cast recording!
Other exciting things happening this fall include the 700th Showcase Celebration on Tuesday, October 25th, 2022 which will be a concert of my songs with 20 or so showcase alumni at Don’t Tell Mama to commemorate hitting 700 weekly showcases. I also have regular showcases on Tuesdays for the rest of 2022 till December 20th which will be #708. Additionally, I will be presenting my first solo cabaret since 2015 at the AMT Theater off-Broadway on Wednesday, November 9th at 7PM. It’s called MOSTLY SETH and I will be doing mostly my songs: some older and some newer, but also a few songs by people who have inspired me like Stephen Sondheim and Tom Lehrer while telling some personal and professional anecdotes. It is not to be missed! Finally, we are just about done with the first draft of my Broadway-aimed musical “The Secret Adversary” a modern adaptation of the Agatha Christie mystery novel and hope to do a table read soon.
DAY 1, 9/8/22 ARRIVAL
So, my flight left on Wednesday 9/7, but between the 13 hour flight and 13 hour time difference, I didn’t end up arriving in Japan till Thursday 9/8. Emi and her parents were nice enough to pick me up at Narita Airport, and they got me a Suica card for transportation. Suica is so convenient because it works for most trains and buses in Japan, even though there are different companies and localities that run them! So, you just fill up the card, and you are good to go almost anywhere. Speaking of transportation, it was actually one of the most expensive parts of the journey. 100 yen is worth 70 cents at the moment, though, so in general, the exchange rate made for a very affordable vacation.
After running home for a quick shower, we went out to dinner at an all you eat restaurant called Yuzu-an. Unfortunately, English isn’t that prevalent in Japan, so even though I took photos of all the restaurants’ signs as usual to report for this ledger, I don’t actually have the English name for any restaurant not on our original agenda. In fact, after 2 years of Duolingo, I managed to learn both Hiragana and Katakana, but could not make a dent in Kanji. Kanji are the symbols from Chinese language that Japanese people also use for many words. Hiragana is the traditional Japanese language, but if everything was written out in it, the words would be very long. Katakana is used for foreign words, ie a lot of English words that have been added into the language. However, when you see writing, there is a combination of the 3, so I could read pieces of writing but very rarely the entire thing. My Japanese vocabulary is also fully rudimentary. Regardless, even though most people in Japan don’t speak fluent English, between their rudimentary English and my rudimentary Japanese, things were mostly okay. Also, having a native speaker with me most of the trip made a huge difference. Navigating, in particular, was pretty complicated besides Osaka which was set up like NYC in a grid.
Yuzu-an was delicious. The deal is you can eat all you can, but if you leave any food uneaten, you pay a penalty. Also, you only have 100 minutes to order, though you can stay to eat after that. So, there is a count down and at the 99th minute, you can decide exactly how much more you can literally stomach. At that point, of course, is when I ordered a bunch of the scrumptious desserts! Another quirk of the restaurant is the food came via robot. You ordered on a tablet, and then a few minutes later, the robot would come with the food.
Suffice it to say, we ate a lot of food, and then I went right to sleep when we got home to sleep a massive amount of hours before the first day of exploring Tokyo.
DAY 2, 9/9/22 TOKYO
After getting a copious amount of rest, we set out to teamLab Planets, which is an “art facility that utilizes digital technology”. We enjoyed the unique exhibitions of Tokyo including a dark room wading in water, one that was kind of like a giant beanbag, a room where flowers came up and down to make a labyrinthine path through the room, one with giant balls that changed neon colors when you hit them, a huge room filled with mirrors on all directions, and one with holograms that you could manipulate on your phone.
Next up, we went to the Ghibli Museum in the MItaka neighborhood, which features all of the fantastic anime films like “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Spirited Away”. They wouldn’t actually let us in early, so we walked around Inokashira Park for an hour first. The Ghibli Museum didn’t allow photographs, so we could just take it in and live in the moment. First up, we saw a 20 minute mini-sequeal to Tortoro, which is only available at the museum itself. They actually had a cat bus that kids could go in, but not being kids, we were not allowed. We did see exhibit rooms on “Where a Film is Born” and “The Beginning of Movement” which explored the painstaking process of animating films one cel at a time. We also lingered around the gift shop for a bit, and I got a black cat named Jiji. Indeed, I would come back from Japan with a lot of new cat figures which are now all around our apartment.
After the museum, we had a delicious early dinner at Cafe du Lievre, where I had tea with gum syrup, which I believe is a synonym for sugar, and then some cheese-covered curry.
Then, we headed home for another early sleep, taking advantage of my jet lag to get early starts entire first week!
DAY 3, 9/10/22 TOKYO
We started Saturday by going to the serene Shinjuku Gyoen Garden. This probably would’ve been more colorful in season which should’ve been September, but since it was so super hot because of climate change, it still felt like summer. Regardless, it was still quite nice. There were Japanese Traditional Gardens, pavilions, woods, and a greenhouse with interesting plants and flowers. We even saw some interesting looking bugs and beautiful butterflies. We walked around whole place, and enjoyed the ambiance, including the very loud cicadas which seemed to be having some sort of party.
Next up, we ordered from a machine at Matsuya and got fast food meat bowls. Fast food in Japan is much healthier than food in America, and it also comes just as fast.
We walked through Yoyogi Park and saw soft peach ice cream and could not resist. Then, we saw the Meiji Shrine, which would be the first of many shrines and temples. As this was the first one, I put in 10 yen and made a wish, and maybe it will come true!
We headed to the major shopping street of Tokyo — Takeshita Street — where I got a bunch of souvenirs. Before meandering down there, I went to an Owl Cafe to hang out with some owls. I got to spend 30 minutes petting and playing and spraying one with water, and the fee included an iced tea and some owl souvenirs. Owls are pretty cool birds! The ones I hung out with were very friendly and happy to see me. I got to put a few on my arms (with the glove on).
We walked through Shibuya, which is Tokyo’s trendy neighborhood, and we ended up having dinner in Ebisu at Kozuchi, which was a neighborhood food bar which felt like Cheers because regulars would come in and everyone seemed to know their names. I had some chicken salad with miso soup.
Basically every single food we had was absolutely fantastic, and most were pretty inexpensive.
DAY 4, 9/11/22 OSAKA
Sunday morning, we woke up super early to get to Narita Airport in time for our hour flight to Osaka, which is in West Japan. We dropped our stuff off at The One Five Osaka Sakaisuiji, which was a wonderful hotel in the middle of everything. I thought the room was a bit small, but it was a mansion compared to the one the week after…
Anyway, we kept eating at places that were right by our hotel that weren’t on our itinerary, so I don’t know any of their names, but they were all fantastic. The brunch we had that day still had barriers up on tables, so while we ate, it felt like one of us was in prison… I had a yummy chicken and egg dish.
From brunch, we went to Osaka Castle. The castle houses a 8 floor museum complete with observation deck with a panoramic view 50 meters above the ground. There we learned about Japanese history including about Hiyoshimaru (who is related to Nagamasa Asano, possibly one of Emi’s ancestors!), Hideyoshi Toytomi, and The Summer War in Osaka. I also learned about the Shachihoko, which half fish and half tiger.
Afterwards, we were meandering around Osaka Castle Park, and we ended up watching a lot of a huge dance celebration going on with many students of different ages. They performed elaborate an flamboyant dances with exquisite flashing costume changes. It was truly inspiring, and it was super nice to see some cultural performances!
Next we went to the Kotsugu Shrine, and then we had dinner on Doutonbori Street. Doutonbori Street is the ” most famous tourist destination and renowned for its gaudy neon lights, extravagant signage, and the enormous variety of restaurants and bars”. In addition to having some pork and noodles, I had ice cream with dried sweet potatoes – a wonderful sweet and salty combination!
We were still hungry later, so we had some salad and chicken at Sanuki Udon Hanamaru which was right by our hotel.
I really enjoyed Osaka a lot because it was very much like NYC. People were a bit noisier and ruder than Tokyo, and they actually jay-walked. One difference that makes Osaka nicer than NYC is that it is illegal for smokers to walk and smoke at the same time. There are designated smoking areas every few blocks, and if you want to avoid smoke, you can just walk on the other side of the street. Maybe one day they will do this in NYC!
DAY 5, 9/12/22 EXPO’70 COMMEMORATIVE PARK
The morning started with me watching some Japanese children’s shows, which were still too hard for me to understand! Then, we took the train for an hour to the Expo Commemorative Park. This is a huge park where the 1970 World Expo took place. We had some pasta for brunch at the Park Cafe, where they had Japanese style toilets, or as I call them squatty potties. In general, most places thankfully had newer toilets with bidets. In fact, there were bathrooms all over the place (though for some reason few trash cans) and they mostly had really cool toilets with heated seats. And some of them had music you could play while you do your business! And then when you flush, there’s a sink on top that allows you to wash your hands before leaving the stall!
Anyway, after brunch, we went to the iconic Tower of the Sun. Apparently there’s a museum in its base, but it was sadly still closed because of the pandemic. Next we went to pavilion which had a museum about the 1970 Expo, which was “organized at an unprecedented scale in the history of Expos” and was a “future city constructed by the most advanced talents in diverse fields”. We saw many props leftover from the expo including a weird instrument that you play with wet fingers.
Next up, we went on a romantic 20 minute paddle boat ride in a whale boat.
Afterwards, we explored the huge Japanese Garden, which was beautiful. We sat by a tranquil pond for awhile and watched the turtles, ducks and colorful carp. Then, we saw a bunch of different gardens including the Lotus Garden, Azalea Hill, Falls in Filtered Sun Light, and Sandy beach with Pines.
On going back to the Hankyu Yamada Station, I told Emi: “HANK-YU very much for a wonderful day!”
We ate dinner at Semba Toriya, which was a cute little bar with an old movie theme right next to our hotel.
DAY 6, 9/13/22 NARA
On Tuesday we took the train for an hour to go to Nara, which was the original capital of Japan. Walking through Nara Deer Park, we saw lots and lots of deer every which way. We bought some crackers to feed them for 200 yen, and they were all over us! Deer can be pretty aggressive! They poked and prodded till all the crackers were gone.
Then we went to the Toadiji Museum with an exhibition on The Four Guarden Kings and many temple treasures including Gigaku Masks.
Then it was to the Todaiji Temple, which means Great Eastern Temple, to see one of the largest Buddhas in Japan.
After that, we got brunch at a restaurant whose name I don’t know where I had an egg and cheese sandwich.
From there, it was back through the Nara Deer Park, and we went to a gazebo where a deer was hanging out. She was really a dear deer who came right up to us and basically acted like a big cat. She sniffed me, and I pet her, and then she nuzzled me and sat down right on my feet! We stayed with her for a good 20 minutes because she was so sweet and it was nice and shady. Indeed, while we really lucked out that week in Western Japan and had beautiful sunny weather, it was also in the 90s every day, and it was quite exhausting running around to see it all. But totally worth it!
Next we went to Kasugataisha Shrine, which basically looks like every other shrine, though this one had a lot of deer statues.
Afterwards, we went to the Nara National Museum where we saw lots of sculptures in the Nara Buddhist Sculpture Hall where (according to the pamphlet) we traced the history of Japanese sculptures from the seventh through fourteenth centuries.
It was back to Osaka for dinner, this time at yet another restaurant right by our hotel: Kyochabana Senba where we had some meat cakes.
Afterwards, it was back to Doutonbori Street to browse shops, and get pictures with the Kuidaore Taro mechanical clown statue doll and Glico Running Man sign. We picked up dessert and breakfast for the next day at our new favorite grocery store, Life, which had a sign on the way out that said: “Thank you for coming to LIFE!”
DAY 7, 9/14/22 KYOTO
Wednesday we took the trains 90 minutes to go to Kyoto. This was our fullest and most exhausting day which came exactly halfway through the trip by design.
We saw the golden, gorgeous Kinkakuji Temple, which is a Zen temple that used to be a family villa. When it was found, it was the “center of politics and culture and was used to welcome the Emperors of Japan and trading partners from China” then became a temple.
Next was the Kyoto Imperial Palace where the emperor lived till 1869 before the capital was moved to Tokyo. It was built around 784 and is 450 by 250 meters. Inside we saw the Okurumayose (Carriage Porch), Shodaibunoma (Waiting Rooms), Shinmikurumayose (New Carriage Porch), Shishinden (Hall fo State Ceremonies), The Emperor & Empress’s Thrones, Kenreimon (Gate), Seiryōden (Hall for Ceremonies), Kogosho (Palace for Ceremonies and Imperial Audiences), Oikeniwa (Garden with a large pond and Wooden Zelkova Bridge), Ogakumonjo (Palace for Study), Otsunegoten (Imperial Residential Palace) and Gonaitei (Garden) with a meandering stream and stone bridges. It was just lovely.
After that, we had a delicious brunch at Hana Basho, where had I had curry with rice.
Up next was the Heian Jingu Shrine and its wonderful gardens. For some reason, the oldest train car (from 1895) was in the garden. And there were also carp that you could buy bread for and they attacked the bread as fast as the deer attacked the crackers. We sat awhile, and it was just a wonderful place to get lost in thought. On the way out, we saw a huge torii at the shrine’s entrance.
Up next was the Chion-in Temple where we sat awhile and listened to some Buddhist monks chanting. Speaking of monks, the basic difference between a temple and a shrine is that shrines are Shinto and temples are Buddhist. However, when Buddhism got to Japan, it was kind of Japanized (made up word alert!) and that’s why the temples tend to resemble the shrines. Though the temples have a lot more gold in them while the shrines’ main color is red.
We walked past a beautiful park, then got to the Yasaka Jinja Shrine where we made a bell ring to hopefully get our wishes.
The next shrine was the Yasui Konpira-gu one which had a little hut made up of people’s wishes that you could crawl through.
We walked up the huge tourist street: Ichijo Yokai Street which was chock full of shops and tourists. That led us up to the Kiyomizudera Temple, which had glorious views of Kyoto.
We got some dinner on the way back down the street at a cute little mom and pop restaurant where I had fried chicken, and of course I got more ice cream as well on the way to the train.
Our final stop in Kyoto was the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shine which featured lots of little foxes, and where there were 1,000 Torii gates to walk through. We ended up doing about half because it was super dark, and there kept being signs warning us about wildlife. The only animals we saw were a few stray cats, though!
DAY 8, 9/15/22 TRAVEL DAY
Thursday was mostly a travel day. We saw one final shrine: Osaka Tenmangu. On the way there, we actually saw an ad for “The Phantom of the Opera” so while it’s closing on the Broadway, it’s still running in Osaka!
We had brunch at Ichifuji which is a highly rated and very popular spot. It opened at 11am, and we got on line at 10:30am so that we could get a table quickly and get to the airport in time for our flight back to Tokyo. We had the most delicious omelettes I’ve ever had, so the place definitely deserves all of its rave reviews.
The flight back was uneventful, and Emi’s mom, who is a fantastic chef, made us some borscht for dinner.
DAY 9, 9/16/22 DISNEYSEA
This section is going to read a lot like the Disney blogs I used to plan out my DisneySea trip. If you are a Disney fan, you probably will eat this up; if you aren’t, feel free to skip this section!
First up, I must talk about the trains. This was the first time I had to navigate them without Emi. The good news is that all the stations have a letter and number — like JR30, so using those I was able to figure out where to go. The bad news is that I went during rush hour, and the trains were more jam-packed than any NYC subway has ever been. In fact, there were people who were pushing people in, and I just couldn’t get myself to get on the first train going to my next stop. It was worse than sardines! So I didn’t actually end up at DisneySea till 9:15 losing a precious 15 minutes! During rush hour, there are also women only trains because so often they will get felt up on the regular ones. Another very strange thing is the trains are silent because they do not encourage talking on them. So there you are, pushed in without any space and there’s not a peep! It was truly eerie sometimes.
Anyway, I took 2 train lines to the Disney Resort Train, which of course, had Disney songs playing and Mickey ears for the overhead straps. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was barely any lines to get into the park! I got through security and then used my QR code ticket, and then I was in. Speaking of tickets, it was incredibly hard to get one. Disney uses a secure credit card system and didn’t accept any of my credit cards. Then we tried to get the tickets at the local convenience stores, but they were already sold out for a few weeks. Thankfully, Emi’s father was able to get me a ticket using his card and I just paid him back in cash. But otherwise, if I didn’t have relatives in Japan, it would’ve been relatively impossible to get a ticket, which seems very un-Disney-like. You’d think they would want people to come!
So, according to the blogs, the most popular rides were Toy Story and Soaring Flights. I decided to make a beeline for Toy Story Mania! However, I did not count on the fact that DisneySea no longer has paper maps! If I had realized that, I would’ve printed one out! And the map I had on my phone disappeared when I was off Wi-Fi, so I actually had to go back to the entrance where there was Wi-Fi to screenshot the blown up map in segments just so I could have a workable workaround for not having a physical map. Very annoying!
When I went to the American section, I was unsurprisingly immediately drawn to the Broadway Music Theater where the Big Band Beat show plays. I read that this was the best show to see and also the only one in English, so I asked the nice woman working there if I could just show up for tickets. She said that there was a queue already for the 10:55 show (it was 9:20) and I didn’t want to wait 90 minutes to see a show. If I had a working smartphone, I would’ve been able to use the app to play lotteries for this show and for various rides, but unfortunately, even if I did get the app at the entrance, it wouldn’t work because my ticket wasn’t purchased under my own name! Fortunately, she was able to play the lottery for me just using the QR code, and I somehow won a front row seat to the 12:20 performance!
So, I ran over to Toy Story Mania! and it was a 90 minute wait. I figured I should just get it over with, but it was very sunny and hot and I was beginning to think I wouldn’t get most of the rides done if they were all such long waits. Thankfully, only the Soaring Flight ride was 90 minutes, as well. And I had two hour waits, but other than that, it was thankfully 30 minutes or less for the rest. Toy Story Mania! was a virtual game where you hit targets and earn points. I thought I was doing really well with 68,700 points, but the winner in my car had over 200K. I would’ve played again, but I didn’t want to wait another 90 minutes…
I went over to Tower of Terror and found out the wait was about an hour, which would give me plenty of time to get to the show. Tower of Terror is a drop-down ride, so it’s like you are in an elevator car and it goes up, then drops down, then goes up higher, then drops down. Basically, all the rides in Disney were totally fine for me. Disney is not trying to be Six Flags, and while I’m not a huge ride person, the level of intensity is really not very high for even the toughest ride.
So, I went to the Big Band Beat show which was basically a lip-synced show with people being Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and Goofy. It was all Broadway standards, and there were live dancers that were mostly doing the tap steps (they missed a few beats) and while I wasn’t as enthralled with it as the rest of the crowd since I am used to seeing live theater where nothing is faked, it was still nice to be in a theater.
After the show, I went over a bridge to see the Fortress Explorations which was just a giant castle you could go through. And after another hour wait I did the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride which I thought was one of the best ones of the day. While waiting for that ride, it was a huge spiral of a line. I was thinking that you could trick these theme park goers into just waiting forever, as the line just seemed like it was infinite for awhile till we finally got to the exit of the room. There might be a sitcom episode in this somewhere!
Next up was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a pretty tame ride that was telegraphed by the fact that there was no seatbelt. Basically, you go into the ocean and see a lot of weird neon fish. There was no wait for the ride, which makes sense because it wasn’t too exciting. I did find actually that the wait times were usually an overestimate, which I’m sure is by design. Another unique thing about Tokyo DisneySea is how often we were waved at. When we left on a ride, they always waved, and when we got back, they waved, and when we left the area, they waved. Lots of waving!
Anyway, after that, I went to the “Little Mermaid” area, Triton’s Kingdom. It was a huge underground cavern with rides that were very clearly for kids. Of course, I skipped those, but I did do the two rides there that were fairly easy and had no lines: Scuttle’s Scooters and Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster.
Next it was Arabian Knights, the Aladdin area where I saw the Magic Lamp show which was a bit of magic, but mostly had a 3D Genie being set free by Aladdin after Jafar (who was named something else) had stolen him. I’m sure it would’ve been easier to follow in English, but I’m sure I got the gist of it anyway! I was getting hungry so I ran to the cafeteria where I had chicken curry, then it was Jasmine’s Flying Carpets which was super fun, and the wonderful Sinbad’s Storybook Village, which was the “It’s a Small World” type ride. The details on the puppets inside Sinbad were unbelievable! And as you went from room to room, the music cleverly kept being in tune with the room behind and ahead. Really quite a wonderful experience. Incidentally, in the old days, you used to get through lines faster as a single person, but because of COVID, they just give you your whole row to yourself. So it’s a trade-off, I guess! Though, I think I would’ve preferred shorter queues and being stuck with a stranger for a few minutes…
After that, I went over to Raging Spirits where there was a huge warning about it being a turbulent ride that goes upside down. I screamed a lot just to scream, but really, it was a very calm ride compared to a lot of I’ve been on. And then I went to Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, which I think was my favorite one of the day. I felt it told a good story, and it had a bit of diversity in the directions it took. On queue for this ride, I actually was next to some Americans on a tour group. It was nice to be able to pass the time on line talking to strangers! I asked them where the Soaring Flight ride was because apparently that section wasn’t one of the ones I screenshot on my phone. They told me to take the Steamboat to the first stop, which was great timing because I was intending to take it next!
I love water, and it was really fun to be on a Steamboat going around the park, and then I got out in the Italian section and saw a huge line, which of course, was Soaring Flight, the other popular ride. Thankfully I had brought a Time Magazine to read because by that point, I was not in the mood for another 90 minute wait. However, I’m glad I did wait because that was a fantastic ride where you soar above the world and visit all of the most amazing locations in it. Not only do you get to see them, they also pipe in smells so you can feel like you are actually there.
Afterwards, I was hungry again, but I didn’t have much time left, so I just grabbed some delicious popcorn and headed to the gondolas for a romantic ride around the park after dark. Unfortunately, other people had the same idea, and the wait there was a bit over an hour. But it was magical! Though it would probably be more magical doing it in actual Italy…
Anyway, I ran over to do the final few rides: Aquatopia then Nemo & Friends Searider and Turtle Talk, both of which would have been a bit more enjoyable in English… Turtle Talk was someone pretending to be Crash from the Nemo movies, and as he talked the animation matched his expressions. The technology behind it was pretty cool, and my Japanese was good enough to realize he was asking all the kids what their ages are! In between the last 2 rides, I was outside just in time for a brief fireworks show. Very brief. And I was going to try to find more food, but sadly by 8:45PM most of the restaurants had started to close.
They kicked us out of the park at 9PM, but clearly by design all the shops near the exit were still open. I decided to buy a pair of Pooh chopsticks because that was something that was unique to Tokyo DisneySea!
It was a long journey back home because the one train wasn’t running that often, and then the bus from the Tsudanuma Station only came a few times after 10PM, but I got home in one piece, and then I promptly slept 10 hours because I was exhausted!
DAY 10, 9/17/22 SHOPPING DAY
Emi is really smart and made the itinerary start late on Saturday, which was our shopping day. We went to a few malls, first ViVit where I found the most amazing massage chair EVER. For only $2ish, I got 15 minutes in this amazing chair that first fit itself to my body before starting the massage. Then, we went down the street to the huge mall LaLaport. While malls in America might be dying, in Japan they are flourishing. In fact, there were some stores that are completely gone in America like Tower Records and Toys R Us!
Everywhere in Japan is filled with bright lights, including the mall. We perused the pets for adoption — it turns out it’s thousands of dollars to adopt a cat in Japan! We walked past the Dave and Buster like arcade, and I got a little cat toy in a kind of vending machine for toys. There was a store that was all stuffed animals and merchandise from all different companies like Disney and Snoopy. In a tea store, I found my mom a Snoopy spoon that has hands that can attach to the rim of the tea mug so the spoon doesn’t fall in!
For lunch we went to Kura Sushi where sushi platters go around on a conveyer belt, and you can just grab them. You can also order them via the tablet and they are sent right to the table on the top conveyer belt. All the plates cost the same, so at the end you put your plates into the plate machine. For every 5, you get to play a lottery game, and I actually ended up winning another cat thing! And it’s funny because there were other options other than a cat, but I got the cat one!
We stumbled upon a stage where they were having a Hawaiian Festival and many women doing hula dancing.
When we were done going around all three floors of the mall, we headed over to the Funabashi district for dinner at Ootoya, which was an absolutely delicious meal of salad with chicken on it.
From the window, I saw advertisements for a Romancing Slot… um, it’s not what I thought it might be… it’s a pachinko casino!
Afterwards, we went to the MOST AMAZING STORE EVER. Daiso!!! There are Daisos all over Japan, but this one was SEVEN FLOORS!!! Most things in Daiso are only 100 Yen, and the quality is really good, so it’s not like the cheap dollar stores in America. We bought quite a lot of stuff, including an inflatable neck pillow, a mini-backpack (for 550 Yen), a foot massager, and a cat rice spatula.
Emi was looking at the teas and one was Bean Tea, to which I responded — “I don’t know if I want to know what it is now that it’s BEAN TEA” hahahahaahaha.
Anyway, when we got back to Chiba, I had some ice cream at the mini-stop which was surprisingly pretty good.
DAY 11, 9/18/22 ASAKUSA DISTRICT, TOKYO
Sunday was a very rainy day, as a typhoon was heading towards Tokyo. We were supposed to go with Emi’s mother to a fun Japanese festival in the afternoon which was to feature some traditional Japanese performances, including some Noh Theater. So, since it got canceled because of the weather, instead of Noh Theater, we saw… no theater. (Yes, I saved that pun for weeks!)
To start Sunday, we met up with Emi’s high school friend Sayo for brunch at Bronco Billy, which was an American style steakhouse. However, for lunch, you could get unlimited salad, so we opted to fill up on fruit and vegetables. They had us wear clothes when handling all the tongs and stuff. We each had 4 plates full of healthy food, and Sayo was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met!
Afterwards, we went to Taito City in the Asakusa District starting with the Traditional Crafts Center, which was a cute little crafts museum. We saw very well crafted Japanese fans, lanterns, masks, bowls, instruments, and purses.
Next, we went to the very popular Senoji Temple to pay our respects to another Buddha. Around Senoji, there were dozens of little shops that sound many souvenirs, of which I bought quite a few. It was still very crowded even though it was very rainy.
Next, we went to the Sanrio store which featured all the Hello Kitty characters. Then, we walked to our hotel, Hotel MyStays and walked across a bridge with a great view of the Tokyo SkyTree tower.
Hotel MyStays claims were in a “Superior Couple Room” as in it was larger than the other ones. I cannot imagine how small the other rooms might be because this was one of the smallest rooms I’ve ever been in! It makes our studio look like a mansion! The fridge was small, the TV was small, the bed was small, the bathtub was small… however, it was not as small as if we had stayed at a capsule hotel! Apparently there are hotels where you just rent out a little capsule, like if you were in a bunk bed and then you share the bathroom! Go ahead: google it!
DAY 12, 9/19/22 UENO ZOO & CAT TOWN
On Monday, we were still unfortunately plagued with rain off and on. We managed to get to Ueno Zoo a little after it opened, and we saw about 70% when it started down-pouring. As with most zoos, there were monkeys, elephants, bears, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, many birds, gorillas, kangaroos, flamingos, penguins, but we spent the most time with the big cat in the small mammals house while it was raining. You can take the cat people out of their apartment, but they still gravitate towards the cat!
When it finally stopped raining, we headed over to Taito City to Cat Town where we met up with our friend Miki who moved back to Tokyo during the pandemic. We went to the cemetery where we were told cats hung out, but unfortunately none were around, perhaps because it had been raining a lot that day. We went to the stairs where cats are known to be, but then we found out that they usually come out around sunset because that’s when someone feeds them. We had lunch at a great Korean restaurant, and then we went through a bunch of the cat souvenir shops and bought quite a lot of cat stuff! I also had a donut that was in the shape of a cat tail!
After walking around attempting to find more cats, we finally gave up. We did get to meet one cat that was owned by one of the cat shops at least. Oh, and in that subway station, we saw a piano that was just there for people to play. I didn’t because I was on vacation, but other people were playing things.
We went home for dinner because the typhoon was supposed to hit at some point that night. Emi’s mom made another delicious meal where we had to wrap our own food. I got mildly better at it by the end of the night. We also had to dry out our shoes because Japan is so humid that nothing air dries. I actually by that point had finally learned the shoe routine: you get in and remove your outside shoes, then you switch to your house slippers, but you don’t bring the slippers in the rooms with tatami – in those you go barefoot… but when you’re back in the hallway, the slippers go on, and then in the bathroom, there are separate bathroom slippers! It was pretty shoe-sy but I finally got used to it.
While eating dinner Monday night, we watched a lot of the Queen’s funeral live. It was 11am in England, but 7PM for us, and 6AM in America. Talk about confusing!
DAY 13, 9/20/22 NATIONAL THEATRE
Tuesday was the final day, so Emi smartly kept the agenda light. We just had one thing on the schedule, and it was to see some Bunraku, which is a traditional sophisticated puppet show. The show was playing at the National Theatre, so it was really nice to check that out. The puppet show was in two parts: Kotobuki Hashiradate Manzai (“Long live the longevity”) and Gotaiheikishiraishibanashi (“Gotaiheki Shriraishi story”). Basically, according to Emi, the first one was a happy dance celebrating life and the second one is a revenge story. Even Emi had trouble understanding the shows because they were in ancient Japanese, and the woman sitting next to her fell asleep.
However, it was nice seeing the Japanese puppets, which had 3 people operating them. Omo-zukai operated the head and right hand, Hidari-zukai operated the left hand, and Ashi-zukai did the legs, and they worked in unison. We could see the guy on the side who was doing all the voices, and then there were also musicians. There was some traditional Japanese singing which I enjoyed.
Some quirks about the theater — they had artworks come down on the curtains before the show, they encouraged us to not talk at all in the theater itself (and then to be quietly talking only in the lobby) and during intermission, there was actually a countdown clock. There was also an umbrella rack outside where you could lock your umbrellas!
After the show, we walked home from the bus station to pick up some of the award-winning rice crackers, which turned out to be super delicious. We had them for dessert, and Emi’s mom cooked one more wonderful dinner. After dinner, we watched a TV show with lots of cat videos. It was basically like TikTok on TV. Another quirk of Japanese TV, is they like to have lots of text all over the screen. During an episode of a show, the title of the show was on the screen the whole time, and often during commercials words that were said in the ad were flashed on screen.
DAY 14, 9/21/22 TIME TO COME HOME
With my flight delayed 3 hours, we were able to have a leisurely brunch and then early lunch on Wednesday. Emi’s mom made croissants which we had with fruit.
I took my time packing all my many souvenirs and then Emi’s father was nice enough to drive me to the airport. Emi and her father waved as I descended down. I have never had a faster time getting through an airport — security took barely any time, and customs took even less time! Since the flight was delayed, United put out free cookies, crackers and water bottles.
11.5 hours later, I landed 90 minutes before we departed! Talk about a time machine! Newark’s customs were surprisingly fast, and I managed to catch the train to Penn Station right as it go to the station as I was disembarking from the air Train so at least that part of the journey was pretty quick.
When I got home, Joni was super happy to see me, and she has spent the entire week all over me! Daddy will never go away again! (Until 2023 when I have a Fanny Brice show in Denver in January and then Celia’s wedding in Guatemala in February…)
Here’s what I have read since the last ledger. It’s fewer than it was the last few years because I was a wee bit busy this summer…
Troubling Love — Elena Ferrante is still one of my favorite authors. Her prose is like buttah!
The Guest Cat — This was a great book by Takashi Hiraide about a cat that changed his life.
A Visit from the Goon Squad — Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winner does not disappoint!
Let’s Not do that Again — Cute, funny novel by Grant Ginder about quirky New Yorkers.
The Buried Giant — Great fantastical book by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Life Ceremony — short stories by Sayaka Murata some of which were really fantastic and out there.
How to Win Friends & Influence People — Dale Carnegie’s advice book is very dated, but also has some really good points about how I’ve been going about working with people completely wrong for years…
1Q84 – Wonderful trilogy by Haruki Murakami that is like 8 genres all in once — I’m about halfway through and it’s very enjoyable.
You’ll probably notice that in preparation for Japan, I read mostly Japanese authors this summer! That was my way of getting ready to immerse myself in the culture, and I think it really helped!
I barely watched movies this summer, but I did watch some on the plane.
Eternals — This Marvel movie was way better than the reviews had me believe. I think it’s actually really good to watch these really long movies on a plane.
Belfast — Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical movie was good but not my favorite, though in his defense historical movies aren’t really my genre.
Cyrano — Musical adaptation with Peter Dinklage as Cyrano.
Everything, Everywhere, All at Once… Twice! I couldn’t resist rewatching the best movie of 2022! I hope it wins lots of Oscars!
Ida — I stumbled upon this Polish movie about a girl about to become a nun who finds out she’s actually Jewish.
I will try to watch more movies by the end of the year! It’s really weird these days because so many go to streaming so fast that it seems pointless to pay for them in the actual theater…
Speaking of streaming, I think it has finally put the end to network TV this season. There are fewer shows that I am watching on network and even cable than ever before. In fact, there’s barely anything new to report for a fall season because streaming platforms premiere shows all year long. And without Entertainment Weekly to guide me, I’m a bit at sea these days! But here’s a few suggestions for watching anyway.
Landscapers – I watched this HBO Max miniseries starring the amazing Olivia Colman on the plane there. It’s about a true crime in England about a couple that kills her parents, but it’s a super strange case.
The Thing About Pam – I watched this NBC miniseries starring the great Renee Zellweger on the plane back, and it’s another true crime which isn’t really my genre, but again, it’s super crazy this woman got away with things!
Sprung – This sweet comedy by Greg Garcia (“My Name is Earl”, “Raising Hope”) was so funny! It’s on Amazon Freevie so there are annoying ads, but it was worth it for the laughs. It’s about 3 criminals who got out of prison early because of COVID and it takes place during the pandemic as they try to pull off a heist.
The Patient — This Hulu show is by the writers of “The Americans” and stars Steve Carrell as a therapist who is kidnapped by a serial killer who is trying to get better.
Reboot — I haven’t started this Hulu comedy yet, but it’s by the writers of “Modern Family” and I am sure I will love it. It’s about a 90s show that gets a revival and the drama behind the scenes.
High School the Musical: the Musical: the Series — this Disney+ show just finished its third season, and it just keeps getting better and better!
Star Trek: Lower Decks — Speaking of 3rd seasons, this Paramount+ animated spinoff is hilarious and totally in its prime (directive) right now!
Resident Alien — Oh, here’s a show on actual cable that is really funny! Alan Tudyk is hilarious as an alien who takes over a doctor’s body.
Ghosts — I am looking forward to season 2 of “Ghosts” which is about a woman who has a near-death experience and then wakes up being able to see ghosts. It’s probably the funniest show still on network TV.
If you are finding new shows to watch in this new landscape, do let me know. I find it really sad that we get so few 22-26 episode shows weekly. It really changes how things are watched to have to remember which show is on which app which day of the week, and then when things are just dropped all at once, it’s hard to resist the binging urge.
I mostly saw “Love Quirks” over and over this summer, but I did manage to see a few other things.
The Kite Runner — this is a great Broadway adaptation of the beautiful novel.
Patience — off-Broadway play about a patience player.
An Unbalanced Mind – Al Tapper revue that played in rep with LQ at AMT.
Adventures in Vegas — fun one-woman show by Andrea Bell Wolff who was Peter Pan when I did the show in the 90s in NJ that also was in rep with us as AMT.
Sidney Myer in Hoboken — I went all the way to Hoboken to see the incomparable Sidney Myer perform a cabaret in the basement of a library! Totally worth the trip!
Between the Lines — Sweet musical based on a Jodi Picoult book.
Los Otros — Michael John LaChiusa’s newest musical, though he just did the score.
Asi Wind: Inner Circle — Phenomenal magic show where I got to sit right at the table to watch all this close card magic happening. Truly mind blowing!
SAYONARA FOR NOW
Well, that’s all he wrote! A most heartfelt thank you to Emi and her parents for being such fantastic hosts and allowing me to come see Japan and share in their wonderful culture. It was a wonderful trip, and I will be forever grateful.
Before I sign off, I want to apologize to Amara for spoiling Wordle for her one day when I got confused about the time difference! I hope she forgives me, not that she will read the email this far…
Oh, and before I forget to all my fellow Jews: happy new year — can you believe it’s 5783 already?
To all of you: I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the year. Please do send a note back to let me know how you are doing. It would be great to catch up!