Asian Dude-hood & Walking Home From Bars In Los Angeles

As most people know, Los Angeles is not a walking city.  Mainly because there aren't enough people walking.  On an empty street at night, just two people walking around is weird.  You create tension just by being there.  Eye contact is iffy, if you're not prepared to answer the question, "what're you looking at?"    

There's a bar I favor just about three blocks from my apartment.  A walkable bar is a wonderful thing, especially on a warm summer evening.  You get a bit of exercise and of course avoid all that potential drunk-driving nonsense.  

So one night I'm walking home and there's a group of six guys walking maybe 100 meters ahead of me.  They seem to be Asian dudes in their 20s.  We cross the street at the same intersection, walk another block, and then again at the next crossing.  I do have the weird sense that I'm following them, but at this point there's one convenient route to my place.  I'd have to walk far out of my way to avoid these dudes, and to close our comfortable distance and get past them I'd really have to run, which seems ridiculous.

One of the dudes looks back towards me and screams, "ARE YOU FUCKIN' FOLLOWING US?"

I call back, "Dude, I'm walking home."  But thinking, "Really, random Asian guy on street, there are SIX of you.  What the heck am I going to do?  Mow you all down with the automatic weapon I have hidden in my H&M hoodie?  Shouldn't six adult males in a clean West LA neighborhood have enough self-confidence that they are not worried about one medium-sized guy walking home from a bar?  I'm the much more-jumpable party here.  Are you, in fact, high?"

OK, so I had my hockey mask on.  But I still think they were over-reacting.  

On another occasion, I'm walking at night and I see a couple walking along.  Well, "see" is a strong word, because this nice residential block is streetlight-less and thereby almost completely dark.  It's clear that we three people are quickly going to be sharing the same square of sidewalk, and although there's no air of danger about it, there's a bit of an awkward urban vibe because we are all totally masked in shadow.  As we pass each other, the woman says, "Hello."

I smile back, which is pointless, because again, it's ALL DARK.  And thinking: What?  "Hello?"  What was that?  That could've been the girl of my dreams!  The guy she's walking with could've been her brother!  Or some sort of personal Gelfling!  C'est dommage.  The moment had passed, and there wasn't anything to do, because if there's one thing weirder than walking near strangers on a dark street, it is definitely when you stop.  Suddenly.  And start running after them with a follow-up question.    

(reprinted from You Offend Me You Offend My Family)

Indie Filmmaking in the Age of Terror

Today is the 8-year anniversary of an incident that happened on a shoot, to address the questions: "What kind of contingencies does the money go towards in an indie film shoot?" and "What could possibly go wrong?"

MARCH 13, 2004

...So it's 6:30 AM today and my phone's ringing, I imagine it's someone from cast or crew with some last minute crisis that will require solving before 8 AM calltime.
....Soooooo wrong. It's the LAPD. An officer asks me if I'm renting a truck parked outside the Van Nuys state building (where we're shooting this weekend). Yes, I am. We parked it there last night with all the grip gear because we thought it'd be safe. "It's causing quite a stir," the officer says.
...Flashing back to Friday night, we loaded an Unmarked White rental truck with grip gear to begin a 5 day shoot at the State Building in Van Nuys (which you can sometimes get for free if you're an indie filmmaker and you go through certain hoops, yadda yadda). We parked the truck next to the building because I figured, hey, it's next to a police station, it'll be safe overnight. And then went home to stress about the shotlist.
...At 6:30 AM Saturday morning I'm woken up by my cell phone. It's someone wanting to know about the truck parked in front of the State Building. (In my sleepiness I don't pick up the guy introducing himself the first time) He wants to know if I'm the Dominic Mah who rented it. Yesssss, I say, sensing trouble. "It's causing quite a stir." "What kind of stir?" I ask, and then I remember to ask who again it is that I'm speaking to. Officer Somebody from the LAPD.
...So it turns out that during the night, a patrol car in the Van Nuys area has called in about a suspicious unmarked van parked in front of a State facility. Keeping in mind that this is just a few days after the bombings in Madrid and all of our agencies are understandably at a high state of alert. So they call the bomb squad on this unmarked van, they send a bombsniffing dog to it, and the dog sits. Probably it smells some piece of camera gear that is like something used in bombs, I dunno. At this point, the LAPD goes into action mode. They seal off several blocks' radius around the building, and start busting into the truck, breaking the window and the side door locks. They've already got people rousting the rental company owner out of bed so he can go to his office to use the computer to find my name as the renter.
... Meanwhile the officer on the phone is telling me first to drive to Van Nuys right away, then he changes his mind once he figures out I won't be able to get through the blockade. So they send a local police car to get me instead. Within two minutes, a siren is approaching my apt, just about the same time I'm getting out of my pajamas. I throw on clothes and run outside, where the car is pulling up to the front of my building. The officer says, "Are you Dominic Mah?" Yeah, I say. "Ever wanted to ride in a police car real fast?" he says.
... Actually, no. But I get in anyway and off we go with sirens blaring towards Van Nuys. When we get there about ninety seconds later, we have to go through several checkpoints before getting to the place where I parked, in search of something called the CP (I guess this is "Command Post."). When we reach the truck, I have to stay inside the car for a while until they're ready to talk to me. There are dozens of cops, firemen, and federal officers (identifiable by their jackets that say "Federal Officer" on them) around. I hear someone say, "So how much is this costing the city?" By this time they seem to have figure out that there is no imminent terrorist threat and they're all acting a bit embarassed to be there. A man from the bomb squad approaches me, very friendly, and says "Mr. Mah, I'm going to show you some of the things we had to do to enter your vehicle."
... The things they had to do included breaking through the passenger side window and also the lock on the side door, all so they could get inside and rummage around our rented lighting equipment. I was a little too shocked still to be know what to say, and the police, now that I had arrived, were in a hurry to disperse. The bomb squad guy gave me his card and told me how to file a claim with the city. The explained to me several times how the bombings in Madrid had put them on alert, and how we were living in a new world. Then they left before I had the presence of mind to ask them to clean up the shattered glass around the truck. I'm standing there dumbfounded for about ten minutes, and then the crew starts showing up to begin our shooting day.
... Anyway, that was how our little indie movie encountered the War on Terror. It's funny because there are probably hundreds of white grip trucks parked around Los Angeles on any given night. It's just not a good idea to park them next to state facilities without marking them with some sort of contact info. A lesson learned.
... Oh, and I almost forgot the (in hindsight) funniest part. While I was initially on the phone with the police, in my PJs, and told them that the truck was full of lighting equipment, he started running down the airline security questions on me. "Were you present when the truck was loaded?" " friend did it." "What's your friend's name?" "Uh...Wolf." (Instantly regretted saying this.) "What's his first name?" (Wolf is actually his first name.) "Uh....Aasulv....he's from Norway." (Instantly regretted saying Norway.) This was the point at which I was sure that the movie was all over. Instead though, the movie is happily finished shooting and I'm just waiting for a reimbursement from the city for the truck damage.

(...which, post-scriptually, never happened. The small claims court found for the LAPD and I had to eat the $900 damage bill. But as they say, it is all in the game.)

confidence game

When discussing with women the whole male-female thing, "confidence" is usually a big word. Women like confidence. Confidence is attractive.

When observing male-female interactions and pursuits in bars/casinos/the sidewalk, it is apparent that confident people are douchebags.

True confidence, whatever that is, perhaps not a bad thing. But the performance of confidence by people
who have been advised to show confidence, or are confident that confidence alone will advance them? Dude.

"I am confident that this is true. I am confident that your contrary opinion is wrong. I am confident that you want to be told what to do."

Also, women have been known to confuse "confidence" with entitlement. Because entitled dudes are confident, which is to say sure, that you owe it to them. But to be fair, the gals who make that mistake have been making their own bed for a while.

There is a kind of tunnel-vision confidence that it takes to exert your will over another person, and another kind that is needed to be a writer, adding excessive words to a world that already has sunsets. That second kind does not really get you laid as often.

So, what I'm saying is, fuck confidence. 

Spider-Man the Musical by Dommah

My version of the Spiderman musical, as directed by Julie Taymor, with music by U2:


Spider-Man hangs upside-down over a city skyline comprised of gargoyle shadow puppets and people in Noh masks.


Bono enters, wearing a yellow and green jumpsuit. He portrays the Fly, one of Spider-Man's all-time lamest foes.

THE FLY: A man will rise! / A man will fall! / From the sheer face of evil villainry! / Like a fly on the wall!

Spidey and the Fly fight using capoeira. Spidey dispatches the Fly quickly. Harry Osborn / The Hobgoblin enters. Spidey spins a web, ensnaring him. Mary Jane Watson enters in traditional Chinese Opera costume. Both Spidey and Harry moon over her.

HARRY OSBORN: My hands are webbed / My body bruised, she's got me with / Nothing to win, and nothing left to lose....

Gwen Stacy enters, wearing traditional African head-dress.

SPIDER-MAN: I have run / I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls with my amazing ability to cling to vertical surfaces
Theeeeese vertical surfaces / Only to be with you....

Arachne, a mythological reference that has been cutely added to this production, enters:

ARACHNE: What you don't have you don't need it now
What you don't know you can sense it somehow with your weird tingly spider-sense power....

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: I know everything! EVERYTHING! It's a beautiful day!

HARRY / HOBGOBLIN: You've got to get yourself together... you got stuck in a giant web created by a mutated human gland and you can't get out of it!

Doc Ock enters.

DOCTOR OCTOPUS: On your knees, boy!

Spider-Man unmasks so as to protect his loved ones. Peter Parker has a reflective moment:

PETER PARKER: So J. Jonah Jameson comes up to me
His face red like a rose on a thorn bush
Like all the colours of a royal flush
And he's peeling off those dollar bills
Slapping them down
One hundred, two hundred!
And I can see those fighter planes....

Aunt May enters and offers him a bowl of tapioca.

PETER PARKER: A spider-boy tries hard to be a spider-man / His aunt takes him by his hand
If he stops to think he starts to cry / Oh why?

AUNT MAY: If you web-swing away, web-swing away, web-swing away, web-swing away.....I will follow!

Peter puts the mask back on so as to escape his pestering loved ones.

SPIDER-MAN: You got to cry without weeping
Talk without speaking
Fight evil clones of yourself without raising your voice
You know I took the radiation
From the bite of a radioactive spider
Then I wall-crawled....out of here....


MARY JANE: I say....I want.... / diamonds on a ring of gold / your origin story to remain untold / a pimped-out black Lexus / and not to be killed by some crazy lizard-looking freak....

SPIDER-MAN: ....when all I want is YOU-HOOOOOO! All I want is YOU-OOOOOH!

The Venom / Black Alien Suit Symbiote Thing enters.

VENOM / SYMBIOTE: One life / But we're not the same / We get to carry each other, carry each other!

Spider-Man fights Venom, and Hobgoblin, and Doctor Octopus, and African poverty. Gwen Stacy paints herself blue and dances around.

VILLAINS: Spider-Man throws me just like a rubber ball / Oh oh oh, the Spider-Man!
He won't catch me or break my fall / Oh oh oh, the Spider-Man!

SPIDER-MAN: One man bombarded by cosmic rays
One man is Iron Fist
One man changed by a Gamma Bomb
One man betrayed with a kiss

BONO: For Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing....sing!

ALL: In the naaaaame! Of Love! What more! In the name of Love!!!!!

SPIDER-MAN: Definitely could use a mouth-hole for the singing. Note to self: Mouth-hole.


orig. post 4/17/07

V: a poem about love and aliens.

Rediscovered a poem I wrote from a while back, for a Brit-Korean gal I used to hold a torch for, in Taiwan. Somehow it is also related to a conversation with my Korean then-roommate about the difference in English between "corny" and "cheezy" while we were in the youth hostel watching a late-night rerun of "V: The Final Battle."

V (Taipei Hostel)

You had a moment laughing there where you made the elevator nervous.
Maybe it expected you to put your hand over your mouth.
Maybe it resented being called a lift like someone who finds you on the street.
Elevators have many rules and when you opened your mouth it slowed to a dewdrop,
hit the stop button, outed the lights, and the security camera's red gaze
found the soap opera story of the raven hair girl who lost
her true love and was saved by a dog.

It'll be a catastrophe. Imagine the end of life as you knew it.
The ice cream man you chased as a kid became a truck to collect all that sweet garbage.
All those cozy dripping buildings, covered smiles, infrared fruit stands, racist toothpaste and
cold bowls of chocolate flakes that hold me together are blown to bits.
We all agree that the alien queen on TV looks a bit like Wonder Woman.
But what does she look like on the inside? What if she's a woman pretending to eat people?
What if the second between a kiss and a couple inches bite off the face she considers, dreams maybe.
When she puts herself together in the morning for marshmallow hearts how do you know
if you're a boy girl snake vegetarian alone or apart when there
so many
little pieces?


The principle of resource waste and humankind's eventual doom is pretty well illustrated, I think, in paperclips.

There's no reason, especially in the modern online society, that anybody should ever need to buy a box of paperclips. Think about it, a box has at least a million paperclips in it. Your whole life, maybe you need two boxes of paperclips. EXCEPT there's few things that are easier to MISPLACE than a box of paperclips, 'cause they're so darned small, and also if you're throwing out trash it's very easy to think, "I will rid myself of the burden of this box of paperclips."

And then eventually you need a paperclip again.

Somewhere out there is a factory manufacturing tons and tons of paperclips, just to replace all the ones that were bought, and then lost, or thrown away, because they were thought useless.

And that is how the world's gonna end.

I believe this principle also applies to the penny.

Bambi vs. Godzilla II: Bambi's Revenge


Godzilla and Bambi, talking in a bar.

GODZILLA: How's it going?

BAMBI: Why? What do you mean? Are you some kind of stalker? Don't you have anything to say? DON'T TRY TO HAVE SEX WITH ME! WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?!?

GODZILLA: I'm lonely. And I'm an Asian monster.

BAMBI: Both those things are unattractive, demographically speaking.


BAMBI (unsolicited): I feel really comfortable around you. For example, I've never told my boyfriend about the six months I spend in a Turkish prison. There were no daisies there, only rats. Have you ever eaten rats?

GODZILLA: Grrrraaargh.

BAMBI: Before you growl further, let me set down the ground rules: I want to subvert the oppressive gender roles that over the years have raised my defenses to this nigh-impenetrable level of apparent insanity.

GODZILLA: What if--

BAMBI: DON'T TALK!! It's NOT SEXY. God, why can't I find any good guys?

GODZILLA: I'm a very good guy. Why do you treat me like a monster when I'm always defending you and your city from the real monster threats? And then after the Ghidrah or Hedorah the Smog Monster situation is taken care of BY ME, it's back to, "Oh no, it's Godzilla, he'll destroy everything!"

BAMBI: You know you love it.

GODZILLA: Grrrraaargh.

BAMBI: Well, at least you're tall.


Bambi Vs. Godzilla I:

Casino Super Villains

I wrote a guest piece for the Asian American culture blog "You Offend Me You Offend My Family." Modified and reposted here.

4 Super-Villains Who Really Exist Inside of California Casinos

If you ever need a reality check on human nature and its propensity towards evil, go to a Los Angeles casino.  I mean, in these complicated times there is good and bad in everyone and there are grey areas and moral ambiguities and blah blah blah, but chronic gamblers are just some villainous motherflowers.  It's because their pursuit of money, and constantly losing it, has replaced any human feeling in their hearts with pure black tar.  

(Explanatory side note:  California casinos are specially-regulated dens of gambling which originated as cardrooms for poker and expanded to include the so-called "Asian" games:  modified versions of blackjack, pai gow poker, baccarat.  They tend to be in the verdantly-named cities of Los Angeles like Bell Gardens, Hawaiian Gardens, Gardena.  Never heard of those places?  Maybe because there are no actual gardens there.  There are, however, casinos:  the Bicycle Club, Commerce, Hustler, Normandie, and the eponymous Hawaiian Gardens.  The main differences between Cali casinos and Vegas or Indian casinos is a) you have to pay a service charge for placing a bet, because usually you're not playing against the house, you're playing against the corporation banker [that was my job....more on that later], and b) unlike Vegas, which only has Tons of Asians, Cali casinos have a 24/7 Gigantic Horde of Tons of Asians.)

Since it's very tricky to get actual photos of these major threats to humanity (they tend to shun photos, or destroy the lens with their laser eye-beams, and never mind it's also inside a casino...) I'm drawing from my considerable and arcane knowledge of comics and pop culture to present to you 4 Super-Villains Who Really Exist Inside of California Casinos:

1.  Storm Shadow

I don't really get why all the ninjas in hollywood are played by Korean actors lately, but that's a separate issue.  In the casino, Storm Shadow leads a whole clan of white-clad muscley Korean males who fight for the side of gambling evil, albeit with a kind of ragged honor.  That is, they come in, bet big, get real macho, give you a big headache, lose tens of thousands of dollars, and eventually inebriate themselves into shameful submission.  Of course, Casino Storm Shadow's ivory garb is usually from A&F or Armani Exchange (or reasonable fascimiles thereof), but he does favor the bright white that allows him to blend into the shadows of, uh, nothing.  Fortunately, Casino Storm Shadow does not as a rule come with sword and shuriken accessories, but he may be that guy who still has a chain attached to his wallet, so watch out.  

2.  Cheshire/Cat

Whether it is the original Cheshire Cat or the somewhat obscure DC Teen Titans foe, both have their doppelgangers within the casino.  Casino Cheshire is probably an Asian woman with a radiant lingering smile, a ridiculous booby outfit from Bebe or Juicy Couture or whathaveyou, and catlike reflexes that enable her to snatch up any casino chip that comes within her 15-foot radius, even if it's, like, in your pants.  Her smile is the secret weapon here: Do Not Look At The Smile. If you know what is good for you, Watch Her Hands.  Basically, a superficially awesome-looking femme fatale who exists to give you a headache.  

3.  Fat Karma

Fans of the original New Mutants series (an 80's Marvel classic) may remember the storyline in which Karma (the Vietnamese member of the New Mutants) was somehow possessed by the telepathic crimelord Amahl Farouk, who ate and indulged and sat around thinking evil thoughts until Karma's petite frame ballooned into gigantic Kingpin-esque massiveness.  (I'm serious, that really happened, I told you it was a classic.)  Eventually her teammates rescue Karma's mind, but she is still saddled with the fat evil body, and has to go to Asgard or something to sweat off the pounds.  Then they fight Loki, and...

ANYWAY, this character EXACTLY exists inside California casinos.  That is, an extremely hefty Asian woman who was once a waify young thing and whose mind is that of an evil madman.  5 gets you 10 she is Vietnamese, like Karma.  Also, Karma's mutant power was the telepathic control of other people.  Casino Fat Karma is similarly able to control minds and exert her will over others, through some paranormal combination of feminine wiles, her perceived harmlessness, and sheer force of personality.  It is the only way to explain why certain casino staff supervisors allow Mama/Fat Karma to keep coming into the casino despite the fact that the only things she contributes are a) stealing money, b) battling people, and c) hating the sight of innocent life.  And what more can you ask from a supervillain, really?

4.  The Gambler

There was one specific guy at the casino whom we nicknamed “Kenny Rogers” because of his full head of salt-and-pepper hair and bushy beard, and also 'cause, of course, Kenny Rogers was The Gambler.  The one who knew when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

But while Kenny Rogers' Gambler character was a mythic hero of song, California Casino Kenny Rogers was the most evil human I have ever known.  Seriously.  Not like someone who'd kill you, but the most obnoxious, mean, loud, petty, rude, lying scheming cheating slimy sack of dickbag that ever lived.  The kind of guy who thinks he owns you, lives off hurting others' feelings, screams at you FOR ANY STUPID REASON WITH NO WARNING WHATSOEVER CONTINUOUSLY FOR AN HOUR, then complains to the supervisor about your behavior, and ten minutes later tries to give you a hug and a too-friendly kiss to apologize, because he was having a diabetic blood-sugar-related issue and didn't mean it.  One time Kenny Rogers verbally harangued  one of my co-workers to the point of the co-worker having heart palpitations and passing out.  He was always going on about his endless supply of money and did in fact seem to have a fortune from doing some Rich Dickbag Activity.  Because he was a high roller, he was allowed to behave like this, and liked to lord it over the underlings and casino staff, e.g. harassing all the women and ordering all the men to get stuff for him.  One of his favorite games was to pick on a rotating dealer (or prop player) and follow them from table to table, ordering them to leave.  His typical routine would be something like this;

“You again...?  You kill me last time.  I never bet with you.  Never in my life.”
(Bets. Loses.)
“Get up, go.  You're done.  Go. “
(Bets more.)
(At this point the harassed employee might make some mention of the fact that they have no option to leave, but would very much like to....which everyone knows.)
(Starts throwing things.)
(Then waits for dealer to rotate to another table, follows them to that table, repeat.)

NOTE:  “See you in the parking lot.” = casino expression meaning, “I'll find you later in the area with no camera surveillance so I can steal your money and maybe beat you to death.”

I mean, it was just nonsense.  He was a true villain, that Kenny Rogers, and although no hero myself, in my limited capacity as prop player in a shady East LA casino, I swore to stop him, and thwart his evil games once and for all.  No matter the cost.  

microbudget movies and civility

I get frustrated when I hear people talk about movies that "only cost $30 million," or kids who need $2 million to make their first dream feature, or movies where no one gets paid 'cause the budget is only 100 grand. We all know that movies are the most expensive and commercial art form we have, and this causes folks to talk foolishly about low- vs. high-budgets. LA is full of people who have never had more than 10 grand in their possession all at once, talking about how they're not gonna make the film for less than $1 million. It's insanity!

Really, you can make a feature film (and when I say film, of course, I mean video) for "only" a few tens of thousands of dollars. How many tens you need depends on a lot of common-sense factors like where it is shot, who is in it, how pretty you want the picture to be, and how much of it you are making on your home computer.

$100,000 is a huge, life-changing amount of money, unless you are totally fiscally irresponsible. It should be discussed respectfully. For 100K I could comfortably make 2 good flicks about people talking, or maybe 1 with spaceships and a rock concert.

For me the beautiful thing about moviemaking in this era is that it is equalized by the convenience of digital cameras/gadgets. Once you get your actors, your crew, and a camera together in the same room, there is no question of budget; it's simply, how good a scene can you shoot with what you have? Of course, it's VERY VERY DIFFICULT to get all those things together in the same room, because of the logistics of life and schedules and paying people. But once you do, it's on; skill and dedication are the only factors that matter.

It also bugs me when people seem to be overly concerned with getting paid enough to tell their own stories: I've produced all my own stuff, including about a dozen stage plays and rock musicals, various shorts and videos, feature films. Although some of these productions turned a profit, it was never enough to fund the next project. I pay to make my art; I work double shifts at regular crummy jobs so there can be enough money to pay for crew and equipment....and, OK, the gratuitous musical numbers that I'm very fond of. Of course, all of these productions have at some point been assisted and co-funded by the generosity and artistic patronage of people like yourself, but I've always been the principal investor, 'cause I like to believe that's what an artist should do.

No one on these projects ever gets paid a lot, and that makes it doubly difficult to make the art; but there is a happy medium where people are willing to do it anyway for the love and the intangibles. It's a gamble, fer sure, 'cause some of these indie productions are truly scammy and exploitative; but some of them are done truly 'cause there's no other way to do it. And those are the experiences you can't get even if you had $30 million dollars.

Along those lines, here's a concert vid from my old theater company ERP; we specialized in rock musicals, camaRADerie, and Doing Things That Are Not Traditionally Considered Good Ideas.