Culturephile: Gordon McAlpine and Jason Lee

In “Woman with a Blue Pencil,” Irvine novelist McAlpine tells dual stories: Takumi Sato is an L.A. writer from the 1940s at work on a detective novel, and Sam Sumida is the fictional Japanese-American PI Sato is told to cut from his book after Pearl Harbor. McAlpine drew on his memories of growing up in 1960s O.C. while writing.

I grew up in Westminster and Anaheim, and I went to school with a lot of Japanese-American kids. I can’t say that I based the characters on them, but I used their names. Sam Sumida is an admirable and noble character, and I had a friend in middle school named Ken Sumida, who actually is a professor now at Chapman.

In the book, Sam dreams about walking through strawberry fields with his wife. That was drawn from my earliest memories because we lived right near the strawberry fields in Garden Grove. There was this day when everybody from the neighborhood could pick strawberries because they were going to plow under the fields.
I was around 5. I did an excellent job picking them, but the juice soaked through the bottom of the (paper) bag and I ended up with none.

When I think about Sam, he’s “the wrong kind of man.” He’s been erased as a fictional character, and he’s not welcome in the United States anymore. He’s coping with a sense of displacement. Truthfully, the deepest sense of that is my dad and having grown up watching him. Without indulging in pop psychology, he mistakenly always felt like he was the wrong kind of man. He didn’t make a lot of money, and he didn’t achieve a grandiose version of the American Dream. As a grown man now, I see all the ways in which he did succeed and see things about him that I admire enormously.

One of the things that was interesting about that period is how little the internment (of people of Japanese heritage) was spoken of. Not just in general but also among Japanese-American families. That’s a shame, but that’s part of an editing process that goes on in our education. Once I became aware of what had happened, I always thought I’d like to write about it.


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Pop Quiz: Jason Lee
The  O.C. native shows up in “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.” How well do you know him?

1. Lee was a professional athlete before turning to acting. What was his sport?
A. Surfing
B. Skateboarding
C. Harness racing

2. His first big role was in Kevin Smith’s “Mallrats” in 1995. What actor did not co-star with him?
A. Ben Affleck
B. Keanu Reeves
C. Shannen Doherty

3. What’s was Lee’s off-duty hobby in the short-lived TNT series, “Memphis Beat”?
A. Barbecue grill master
B. Graceland tour guide
C. Elvis cover crooner

Answers: 1-B, 2-B, 3-C

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