Monday, March 30, 2009

A Burnt-Out Case

Went for a nice long walk yesterday, down North Avenue into a part of the city I drive by a lot but visit rarely. The weather was just right for going all to hell and gone (i.e. I didn't have to worry about a sunburn) and I felt a little bacon guilt, so it was good all around.

It also gave me the chance to stop by and take some pics of an old building that won't be there too much longer. I've taken pictures of the old Dixie Seal building (755 North Avenue) before; sometime late last year, I believe, it burned down (I can't find any notes on it in the AJC archives). It's right next to the proposed Beltline route and between that and it being a shell of what it once was, goodbye Dixie Seal.

It was pretty haunting, moreso since it was such a gray day. Once upon a time, someone poured their heart into this building and business -- now there's nothing left. (at least at this location -- Dixie Seal does still exist with a Tucker address, at

If any Atlanta types know anything about the burning of 755 North, clue me in. This is only a few blocks away from me but I'm absolutely oblivious as to any details.

Burned buildings are depressing. You know what isn't depressing? Penguins. Penguins kick ass.

* * *

#29 -- "The Lathe of Heaven" by Ursula K. LeGuin

When I was a kid, "The Wizard of Earthsea" always showed up in, uh, Reader's Cup competitions and the like. I never got into that book and I think my lack of acceptance always overshadowed LeGuin's achievements. This one was given to me as a gift sometime in my teenage years, and I'm just now getting around to reading it.

Basic premise: dystopian future U.S., and a guy finds out that his dreams are reshaping reality. He goes to a psychiatrist to try to get "fixed," but the psychiatrist decides to use our guy steer the direction the world takes.

I was finding it a good quick read, kinda predictable, figured I knew how it would end, and then a couple plot developments came up that I completely didn't foresee, but made perfect sense, and that took it up a notch. The ending kinda lost me and that might take it down, oh, half a notch, but I think this was pretty good. It reminded me (in tone and setting) of "The Man in the High Castle," though I liked this more than P.K. Dick. The characters are a bit flat -- and that becomes a problem when a plot point hinges on one character's feelings for another -- and it's starting to sound like I didn't like this, but really, I did! Give me a year or two and I might try "Wizard of Earthsea" again.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bacon, Bacon

Yesterday was the third annual Baconfest at Dad's Garage (here's photos from 2007 and 2008), and I'm pretty sure one of the top things they recommend for a recent heart surgery patient is "eat bacon," so I headed down. For chrissakes, I've been to all of them so far -- that's not a record you take lightly, friends.

But my parents and cardiologist will be thrilled to hear that I played it pretty cool. I only had three beers, spread over four hours. Granted, in my new weakened/healthy/lighter state, that's enough to get me tipsy and babbling. And I only had three handfuls of bacon. I think two years ago, I had that much in the first fifteen minutes.

The Elk and the Wall (another three-time Baconfester -- at the very least, we deserve medals or tattoos) also showed up, good times were had. I went a little lighter on the photos this year, but did have the Elk take this one just before my first handful of bacon (first bacon since pre-surgery, no less):

I call that picture "America." The bacon tasted great, by the way.

They also had a face-painting booth, which adopted a policy that I'd like to see all face-painting booths take on: the customer would pick a design from a list, such as a star or butterfly or whatever, and the painter would proceed to draw phalluses on the cheek, along with a message like "No cock = sad" or "I love anus." I thought that was pretty awesome, although I may have felt differently if I were walking around with "I take it in every hole" scrawled on my face.

Friday, March 27, 2009


The perils of blogging when exhausted: part of the point of mentioning Beyond Failure in the last post was to note that apparently some time in the past there was yet ANOTHER Groundwork, down here in Atlanta. I haven't downloaded that particular comp yet to give them a listen, but I will this weekend. Perhaps at some point, every state had their own Groundwork?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Flatlander Recluse

I've barely left the house this week (other than for work), thanks in large part to some insane stomach bug that apparently entered me on Sunday. Seriously, by last night I was looking into the ins and outs of E. coli contamination, just so I'd be prepared. Then -- it was over and I'm more-or-less healthy again. Go figure.

Occupying me while I've been staying inside, feeling sad: I got the Obits CD, which is hopefully a sign that in 2009 I'll buy more albums that weren't made 40 years ago. It doesn't quite live up to their blazer of a 7", but since I'm obviously never going to learn that it's easier to sustain intensity over two songs as opposed to 11 or 12, I can't really hold that against them. It's pretty good and fills the hole in my heart left by the Hot Snakes' demise. They actually played here not long ago, but I'm working at 7:30am now and not feeling all that energetic at night. Plus it was St. Patrick's Day and the streets were filled with fools. (on the other hand, the club's about five blocks from my place, so in the end I just suck.)

Also occupying me:

#28 -- "M31: A Family Romance" by Stephen Wright

Another one that's been sitting on my shelf for years, looking intimidating. I also for some time thought that this was written by the comedian Steven Wright, but no. In any case, it's a bizarre but beautiful book, about a troubled young woman falling in with a family of UFO cultists in the middle of Iowa. Things pretty quickly degenerate into rape, murder and incest, but it's not exploitative -- it's really well-written. Wright gets compared to Don DeLillo some, and at times I saw it, but his gift for description is all his own.

* * *

Two cool blogs with Atlanta ties: Savory Exposure, done by Broderick, who frequently watches football with the same gang I do each autumn. He's a hell of a photographer and puts that to use checking out Atlanta's restaurants, and making them look really good in the process. Then, Beyond Failure, which I only now caught onto through the comments on one of Brushback's posts from a few months back. It's memories and mp3s from the Atlanta hardcore scene, and while I'm familiar with virtually none of the bands featured, it's a blast to read. I'm a sucker for this sort of oral history, and I wish someone (not me) would do something similar for Tucson.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Walking Distance

I don't know what it means, but it hints to me: "Greg, you missed a legendary party." Years from now, they'll still be talking about the time Bill threw the cone in the tree.

I'm trying to walk five miles a day, part of my recuperation and building up endurance. It also has a dual purpose -- I lost a crapload of weight post-surgery and I'd like to keep it off. I'm eating pretty healthily as well, but the walking helps for that inevitable day when I decide to have nachos for breakfast and wings for lunch and wings with nacho cheese sauce for dinner.

Obviously, it helps to take the camera out with me -- looking for interesting stuff makes the walks go a bit quicker.

I know I've taken photographs of this before, but somehow I can't find them on the blog -- perhaps they predate it, or perhaps I didn't attach the coveted "old buildings" tag. It's one of my favorite buildings in Atlanta, the old Wrecking Bar (an antique place, not, as you might imagine, a drinking establishment), and I didn't take better photos yesterday because I thought there were already some posted. Dammit. A project for another day, I guess.

The old Wrecking Bar sign, photographed solely because I had never seen it before the other day. I guess it's always been covered by trees, or else I'm dangerously inattentive. I've always had the fantasy of opening a microbrewery in the building, but I have a couple zillion dollars less than that would require, plus no brewing experience, plus no head for business. So that may be out.

The building's been closed as long as I can remember. At least since I've been spending time in the area. It's a pity, because it's really gorgeous (these photos don't give much of an idea). It's just about a two-minute walk from the heart of Little Five Points, but it seems longer -- there's vacant space separating it from the operating businesses, and it seems more remote than it is. I'm also guessing rents are prohibitive. It's a great place, though, and I hope that eventually it reopens as something.

Flyer behind Surin Thai Restaurant. A line at the bottom directed interested parties to a website seeking softcore models, which was probably to be expected. But for a moment I thought I'd stumbled on a plan offering government subsidies for the attractive.

* * *

HC Kometa Brno flamed out of the 1. Liga finals yesterday, losing out on the chance of promotion to Usti nad Labem. Meanwhile the Avalanche lost 8-1 to an Oilers team that looks set to be the worst team to make it into the playoffs in a while. So I think I'm calling Operation: Shutdown on this hockey season -- I'm officially going to cheer for the Blue Jackets in the postseason, but my heart won't really be in it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Rich Field of Steven Tyler Art

corner of Virginia Avenue and Ponce Place, Atlanta, Georgia, Earth, March 18

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Writer's Block

Before the surgery, I thought I'd spend most of my recuperation writing. That never happened, mostly because my attention span shriveled away to nothing, eventually leading to scenes like this:

Greg at table. He contemplates a blank sheet of paper. Eventually, he painstakingly writes out "Man has dog."

Bird flies by.

Greg: Birdie!

Greg chases after bird. Wind blows paper away.

But, about a week and a half ago,I dragged out the novel that I've been working on for what feels like half my life, and bang bang bang, I figured out how to fill several plot holes that had been holding me up. Really, it was amazing, because some of these have lingered for a looooooong time, and I came up with satisfying (to me) solutions. So now, for the first time, I've got a fully-outlined book.

And of course, since then, I haven't written a single word. Ha ha ha ha ha.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back to Work

56 days later, I returned to work today. It wasn't that hard of an adjustment, and I actually kind of liked it -- after spending 20 hours a day alone since Mom left, it's good to be around people.

If nothing else, the last two weeks or so have taught me that if I ever get really rich (note to self: MegaMillions drawing tomorrow), I'm going to need to travel a lot or keep a job. Lacking outside stimulation, I tend to blow off large chunks of the day staring at the walls.

* * *

#27 -- "A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters" by Julian Barnes

I've now read three Barnes books in the last year; I'm guessing that's more than anyone except van de Wetering and Block, and it's a bit more impressive since I'd never read Barnes before. This is a collection of 10 (and a half) loosely connected stories, and while my first impulse is to say the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, I'm also going to say something I never do: I have a feeling this will gain something with repeated readings, and, y'know what, I think I'll give it that chance. It's a quick read and I have a feeling that reading it again and picking up on a bit more will be rewarding. I enjoyed it -- I have a feeling I'll enjoy it more on the third reading in the year 2014.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Was Born in a Laundromat

My washer conked out some months ago, and I've taken my time in getting a new one (though it should finally happen in coming weeks). Rather than wear dirty clothes, I've been going to a laundromat -- first time in years.

If they're available, I always -- I mean always -- gravitate toward washers 21, 22, and 23.

I didn't really think about that too much. Until yesterday morning, when I found myself referring to those washers as Forsberg, Kloucek, and Hejduk.

If anyone has a way to spin this so that I look cool, I'm all ears.

* * *

#25 -- "Penguin Lost" by Andrey Kurkov

#26 -- "The Japanese Corpse" by Janwillem van de Wetering (re-read)

Well, I didn't hold out too long on the second penguin book. I think this one is better (though it's definitely necessary to read the first beforehand), although Misha the penguin gets less on-screen time. Misha's the best character in the book, which is a bit of a weakness -- I think even non-penguin-oriented people will find him a bit better developed than most of the humans. But overall, really good, still sadly funny and occasionally brutal. It's a pity that there aren't more, but I'll give some other Kurkov books a try.

"The Japanese Corpse" picks up the Amsterdam Cops series that I've been gradually re-reading. The plot has holes big enough for a penguin to walk through -- the machinations to get the characters from Amsterdam to Japan ("hey, guys, this murder ties in to a global crime network. Even though we've got diplomats, international investigators, and special forces at our disposal, we think that two guys from Amsterdam are the best choice to solve it") but I don't really read van de Wetering for the plots, I guess. The descriptions, the ruminations, the interplay are all great fun. Not the best by far, but enjoyable. Bonus: one of the blurbs on the back describes the book as "real slambang." Work that into your conversation today.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Blood Simple

#24 -- "Red Harvest" by Dashiell Hammett (re-read)

A couple years ago, I was discussing old books with Alanah, and this book came up -- specifically, a paperback copy I'd found years ago in Tucson, then given to a friend. Generous yeah, but that copy had perhaps the best book cover I've ever seen, and I missed it.

Alanah, bless her Bertuzzi-lovin' heart, subsequently found this for me:

A lovely book. Years later, thanks again, Alanah!

So this past week I started the penguin book to take a break from a hefty non-fiction tome I've been reading, then started a new re-read to give me a break between penguin books after #1, then started THIS when the first re-read didn't really grab me. This did, of course. For years I've been telling people this is my favorite Hammett, but since I haven't read it (or any of his books, I think, other than the "Nightmare Town" volume of uncollected stories) in 12-13 years, did it hold up? Oh my, yes, it did. Did it ever. This is crime literature at its finest. Nasty characters, whip-smart dialogue, moves fast as hell. This style's easily parodied -- I think because it's so hard to pull off. Hammett does, and I say again that this is his finest work, better than the more popular "Thin Man" and "Maltese Falcon" (both great as well, mind you). When I feel morally justified in another re-read, "The Dain Curse" and "The Continental Op" go right to the top of the list.

I think this dude would approve.

* * *

I missed the Telegraph's list of the top 20 travel books (via Progressive on the Prairie), so glad to catch onto it, since I always like a good travel book. There's some interesting choices there, and some I wouldn't have thought of as travel books. My breakdown of the list:

Books I've read and enjoyed

"Notes From A Small Island" by Bill Bryson; "Venice" by Jan Morris; "In Patagonia" by Bruce Chatwin; "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway; "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson; "Our Man in Havana" by Graham Greene; "Among the Russians" by Colin Thubron

I read at least one or two of Bryson's books a year. "Venice" was good, but I wouldn't put it into the top three of Morris's works -- "Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere" is my all-time favorite. "In Patagonia" is covered here. "The Sun Also Rises" is my favorite Hemingway, but even though I get why, I don't really think it fits this list. "Fear and Loathing" is probably the last Thompson book that I can take; after that it frequently became self-parody. "Our Man in Havana" was a middling Greene. "Among the Russians" is good, but I think the next two by Thubron -- "The Lost Heart of Asia" and "In Siberia" -- are better.

Books I've read and not enjoyed

"On the Road" by Jack Kerouac. I think it's one of the all-time overrated books -- though that may be exacerbated by too many dipshits in coffee shops. One of these days I'll give it another chance.

Books I've never read, but that interest me

"Travels With Charley" by John Steinbeck; "Homage to Catalonia" by George Orwell; "The Great Railway Bazaar" by Paul Theroux; "The Road to Oxiana" by Robert Byron; "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy; "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush" by Eric Newby; "Arabian Sands" by Wilfred Thesiger

I've never read Orwell beyond "1984" and "Animal Farm," other than 100 pages or so of "Burmese Days". I've felt I should read this, "Down and Out in Paris and London," or "The Road to Wigan Pier" at some point. I can read about one Theroux book every ten years; he's talented but aggravating. "Oxiana" is one of those books I think about getting each time I log on to Amazon.

Books I've never heard of

"As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning" by Laurie Lee; "Naples '44" by Norman Lewis; "Coasting" by Jonathan Raban; "The Beach" by Alex Garland; "The Journals of Captain Cook."

I read Raban's "Passage to Juneau" a few years ago and liked it, though it didn't have much of a lasting impact.

Ok, it's safe to say I disagree with the list -- I'll make one of my own, one of these days. Maybe.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Penguin Dreams

#23 -- "Death and the Penguin" by Andrey Kurkov

A friend with a shared interest in Eastern European literature recently pitched this one. A Ukrainian novel in which the main character keeps a pet penguin? Why, yes, that does sound like my sort of thing.

That premise is tough to live up to, at least in my eyes (others may not have such high expectations for penguincentric literature) but thankfully Kurkov pulls it off. It's the story of a depressed writer whose only companion is a similarly depressed penguin (with a heart problem, no less) rescued from the Kiev zoo. He (the writer, not the penguin) gets a job preparing obituaries for a newspaper, to be used upon the subject's death; not long after he starts, the obituary subjects start croaking on a regular basis.

It manages to be absurdly charming, blackly funny, and bleakly sad all at once. I tore through it and enjoyed it immensely; there's a sequel, "Penguin Lost," also contained in the omnibus edition I got. I'll take a break but I'm anxious to get to that one as well.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Got the Headphones On

Having Mom here for a while changed my music-listening habits quite a bit. She's pretty cool but not likely to think that, say, Unsane is as crucial listening as I might. So generally when I had the stereo on, it was jazz or classical.

So I made fuller use of my iPod than I ever have before -- for instance, several years into my ownership, actually ripping songs from CDs to put on it, as opposed to just relying on online material.

I rediscovered a lot of stuff that I hadn't listened to in a long time. Some of it was not great, but other rediscoveries -- Glossary, the Jesuseater EP, Poison Idea -- were pretty welcome.

And I started listening to Half Off for really the first time in my life. I liked (and still like, actually) Haywire, and I dug the "Shoot Guns Eat Pussy" 7" a long time ago, but never really took it terribly seriously and never listened to them beyond that. Now, I spent a shitload of time listening to "The Truth," and even though I'm about 15 years past the time when I would have logically got into it, and 20 years past the band's heyday, I'm loving it. Go figure.

(Working out nicely, Double Cross had an interview with Billy Rubin about the band's history -- I'm pretty sure I started listening to the album before I read that, but I was pretty doped up so the chronology may be all screwed up)

In much less cool musical news, my neighbor apparently hasn't made the connection between "shared walls in a building" and "don't blast awful music at 1 a.m.," so I've been hearing a lot of stuff that's not really my thing, unwillingly. I'm counting my blessings -- at least, judging by the fact that it's music and nothing else, she doesn't have a really active sex life. But I'd rather not hear even this.

Except: after hearing it umpteen times in the past two weeks, I've got Katy Perry's "Hot 'n' Cold" stuck in my head on an endless loop. And I kind of dig it (after the seventh or eighth time I heard it, I had to Google the lyrics). Somewhere back in time, 15-year-old me is listening to "Everything Went Black" on his Walkman and scowling at 36-year-old me. Except that 15-year-old me also listened to Edie Brickell and Martika a lot, so he can go screw himself.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Multiple Choice

You live in a place where it rarely -- but occasionally -- snows. Where do you keep the snow brush for your car windows?

a) inside the car
b) inside the trunk
c) inside the house
d) who the hell knows, I'm never going to need it anyway

That picture's from about an hour ago -- it's come down considerably more since then, and things are pretty messy. I ventured out, without any reason except that I'm stir crazy spending 20 hours a day in the house. But cars are sliding, the roads are dangerous, and places are starting to close up. A few years ago I would have shrieked "it's just a little snow! This would be nothing in Colorado!" but now shutting down seems like the smart option. Atlanta's not prepared for snow, much as Colorado isn't prepared for a tidal wave, and it's scary out there. Seeing a pickup truck with a "Southern by the Grace of God" bumper sticker skidding in front of you makes staying home appealing.

* * *

I went to another hockey game last night -- second in a week, and add in a Cirque du Soleil performance and I'm starting to rejoin the world of the living. Last night's game was a corker -- a comeback performance, rowdy fans (and a lot of Hurricanes fans in the house, making it more fun), and some great hockey. It's not exactly news but Ilya Kovalchuk is one hell of a player -- and they better do everything they can to keep him next year. Without Kovy, the Thrashers are an AHL team.

Also: Rich Peverley, who I freely admit I never heard of before last week, has scored ten goals this season -- three in the two games I've seen. He's not Czech, but he's close to getting the PPA seal of approval.

* * *


#22 -- "Illyria Reborn" by Dymphna Cusack

After I returned from my Albania trip a few years ago, I went nuts and bought every out-of-print book about the place that I could find. They've mostly gone unread, because there's only so much you can read about Albania before it gets a bit repetitive. So I just got to this one now.

It's an interesting period piece from the mid-1960s, with some unintentional laughs. Cusack, as far as I can tell, was pretty sympathetic toward the Soviet Union and its followers -- and this travelogue has a certain rose-tinted glasses feel to it. Communism (the word never appears -- nor does the name Enver Hoxha) has brought fantastic things to Albania and made it a modern, forward-leaning country! Now, some of that is undoubtedly true -- I don't know if her statistics on improved literacy and electricity are exactly correct, but I imagine that the general message is fairly accurate. But the Albanian regime was one of the more repressive Communist governments (though at this point, it may not have been as bad as it would be), but there's nary a hint of that throughout. Everyone's happy as hell.

One really odd note: this book was written in 1966. Cusack's trip occurred sometime before then; the dust jacket says 1964, but I think it was actually 1960. In 1960, Albania split with the Warsaw Pact. But that's never mentioned, six years later. Just lots of examples of grand Soviet-Albanian cooperation and how the USSR is helping Albania progress.

It's an interesting book, and gives a rare look at what the country was like in the Communist years (I've read plenty about pre- and post-Communism, but not much during). But it leaves a lot out, too. And in any case, probably no one else is gonna read this unless they're as Albani-crazy as I am.