Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Gift Ten Thousand Miles Gives

Other blogs give you Dan O'Mahony references; this one gives you the most obscure Dan O'Mahony references.

Just in the last few days, there's been an unexpected entrant into the "where Greg goes next" sweepstakes: the Netherlands. I've been there, once, as I think I mentioned before. I haven't really thought about going as an adult because I don't smoke pot, and that's all anyone (me included) thinks about when the word "Amsterdam" comes up.

But it's gaining. Maybe it's because I've been obsessed with my newest second-favorite sport, and it's big in Holland. Maybe it's all the van de Wetering novels, having a cumulative effect (speaking of, it's about time to re-read another).

Maybe it's just the pleasing sounds of the language. Italian is beautiful. German is harsh. Slavic languages are confusing. But Dutch -- Dutch wants to be your buddy. All those "oo"s and "aa"s -- how can you dislike that, how can you feel threatened by that? "Den Haag." If my war crimes trial was there, I'd go willingly, certain the people would be cool. French may try to seduce you, Dutch will get you pleasingly drunk.

So there we go: the launch of a new fascination, for a few weeks at least.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Unexplained Messages, 5/27

1) A bumper sticker as I was driving home -- "Al Gore is a risky scheme". Looking it up, I guess it has something to do with the debate over Social Security. Perhaps, but minus five points for a message that hasn't aged well.

2) A t-shirt reading "RECOVERY IS NOT AN OPTION" in large, blocky letters on the back. The font was similar to that used on a gazillion early-90s straight edge records, so perhaps this was just an old Turning Point t-shirt.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Anywhere But Here

Rather busy lately. Getting into that mindset where I feel I've gotta get outta town -- Colorado in July, but beyond that. I'm pricing flights to Tbilisi, to Asmara, to Ulanbaatar. All exotic-sounding places that hold appeal.

But, then, I might go for the tried-and-true:

#38 -- "Time's Magpie" by Myla Goldberg

Someone asked me what this was about the other day, and I made an offhand remark about how "it was the only book about Prague I've never read." This is really pretty far from true, though. I've read Peter Demetz's "Prague in Black and Gold," "Prague Pictures," that "literary guide to Prague" a while back, one about the Prague Spring -- not a lot else. So really I haven't overdone it on Prague the way I have about the Balkans. I just talk about it all the time.

The premise here: Prague's a city that's picked-and-chosen little scraps from each era over the centuries and now it's a charming mix. And you know what, it's a charming little book. It resists the temptation to bitch about all the tourists (like, say, I would do) and instead finds little slices of the city that go ignored. I made my usual mistake and figured: I've never heard of this, I won't like it. So wrong. Really nice little work and it made me want to head back, oh, now.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Two Books

I still read books, and I still write about them.

#36 -- "Falling Off the Map" by Pico Iyer

#37 -- "Identity" by Milan Kundera

I'd never read any of Iyer's books before, though he's well-hailed as a travel writer. This shows why -- sometimes. It's a collection of very-loosely-themed pieces about places that just ... don't fit in, for lack of a better word. North Korea, Iceland, Australia, Argentina (it's early-1990s, so not all of it applies any more -- I'm a bit pissed that Albania didn't make the cut). At its best, it's really engaging. I'd pay good money to read a full Iyer travelogue on Iceland or Bhutan. Argentina, I presume, has changed a bit over the years but this piece is a little bit haunting. Others didn't grab me as much; Cuba read like an "Our Man in Havana" outtake, Australia read like every other piece of travel writing on Australia I've ever read. But I can see why so many people dig Iyer and I'll look up some of his one-subject books.

As for "Identity," take your favorite college 3 a.m. bull session, and have a really gifted writer transcribe it using two of the least interesting characters possible, and apparently you have a novel. I like Kundera a lot, and judging by the back cover a lot of people liked this one, but yawn. If it hadn't been so short I would have packed it in pretty fast.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Misty Morning

So it undoubtedly didn't show through but I may have been under the influence of a wee bit of alcohol when I posted last night. Just a drop. Not only is Fat Tire now available in Atlanta, but walking up Highland Avenue yesterday evening I was barraged with signs promising "FAT TIRE NOW AVAILABLE." What's a simple lad from the countryside to do? I indulged. It tastes good. No, angels don't sing when a new bottle is opened, it doesn't give my skin an increased luster. People who suggested I was romanticizing it just because it wasn't available were probably right. But it's good and it's a little bit of Colorado.

So after that it was undoubtedly a fantastic idea for me to be in a bar at 7:30 this morning. And yeah, there I was, watching Manchester United versus Arsenal at the Brewhouse. Given that I railed against dumbo nationalism in hockey in the last post, it's a bit goofy that I'm now wholeheartedly embracing soccer, a sport where unpleasant jingoist sentiments make hockey's look charming by comparison. Perhaps I haven't thought this through.

I'm now a full-fledged Liverpool FC supporter; I can name at least three or four of their players. This was a carefully considered decision; last week I had the following text message exchange with Fidel:

Me: Suppose I should adopt a premiership team- but who?

Not me: Liverpool, natch.

Unquestioningly taking Fidel's advice has never steered me wrong in the least, so there you go: Liverpool. Today's match eliminated them from championship hopes, so I feel at home already.

So where was I -- ah, this morning. I met up with the Elk to watch it at the Brewhouse and I've gotta say I'm impressed by any bar that can draw a standing-room-only crowd at quarter to eight in the morning. I've always liked the Brewhouse -- one of my earliest Atlanta memories is watching a Euro 2000 qualifier there, with one other guy, the most stereotypical Frenchman you've ever met (thin mustache, beret ... all he needed was a horizontally-striped shirt). But it's a bit out of my way so I don't go often. It's too bad as it's a good place, filled with very legitimate football fans (as opposed to me), people who know what they're talking about and are quite passionate. People who can say things like "good touch" and not sound like fools. Lots of accents. Saturday mornings there may become a regular thing. Especially since they've got Fat Tire as well.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Joyless Summer

By all accounts -- I haven't caught as much as I'd like -- the NHL playoffs have been pretty spectacular this year. What I've seen backs that up; when I've caught a game, almost without fail and regardless of what teams are playing, I've been drawn in heavily. The intensity seems higher this year. That's probably my imagination, but having suffered through some drab playoff seasons in the past (2004, just for one) this has been great.

And it's left me almost completely cold, and I'm struggling with that. Yeah, none of my teams are a factor, but none of my teams have been a factor for some years and I've still got into it. So why? No joke, I'm paying more attention to soccer these days. Why is this?

A few things, I guess, and I think it stems more from your average hockey fan than from the game (which I still love above all others). One factor is that as the playoffs are heating up, the Jim Balsillie/Hamilton story has returned to the forefront, to the chagrin of all thinking humans. I'd just started reading Mirtle again, wondering why I'd stopped, and then the 24-7 coverage of every Balsillie utterance began and I remembered "oh yeah. That's why." Reading some of the blogs and message boards, it's good to know, I suppose, that Canadians are just as capable as knee-jerk humorless nationalism as us down here in the States, but holy Christ, reading the Canadian hockey press in the last month has become unbearable. Maybe hockey's the Canadian sport, but if your entire national self-esteem hinges on getting the freaking COYOTES, then good luck with life. You're about two steps away from eating the nation-state equivalent of a shotgun. I love hockey, I love hockey fans, but holy shit, no other sport's fans spend as much time complaining about the sport they purportedly love. I have no love for the Coyotes and it wouldn't make an iota of difference to me if they move, but God, this shit is tiresome. Seriously, does anyone who's had to watch the Calgary Flames lately think another Canadian team is desirable?

Also upsetting: the Red Wings look poised to take another Stanley Cup, and that's making me face some uncomfortable truths about myself. One: that my hockey fandom has become as much about denying a certain fan base joy as anything else, and that's what killed my baseball fandom in the first place. The big difference is Two: while the Yankees got to their lofty perch by wildly outspending all other teams, the Red Wings have done it... the right way. The way I'd want a team to be built. Nurturing young prospects, picking up the missing pieces. One of their centerpieces, picked up in part because they have such a good reputation, is Marian Hossa, who's in the top three of players that it's been a joy for me to watch up close (others: Sakic, Forsberg, natch). They're a good team. They're a cleaner team, even with that little shit Maltby and lifetime nemesis Chelios occasionally coming off the bench, than most teams. The Red Wings are the model for how a hockey team -- nay, any pro sports team -- should be run. They routinely convince elite players that they should live in the least-desirable American city, save Gary, Indiana. I can make fun of the Wings and Detroit all I want, but does that bug Chris Osgood and his three, soon to be four, Stanley Cup rings? CHRIS FUCKING OSGOOD?

Their fans are still human garbage, yes. Reading your average Wings blog and the comments is sort of like a combination of a Skrewdriver fan page, Craigslist's intimate encounters section, and the Special Olympics writing contest. An old friend of mine, who spent the latter part of the '90s and early part of the '00s rooting for the Wings and pointing out their relative success vis-a-vis the Avalanche, recently threw the team over in large part because of the boorish behavior of their fans. I still take a lot of joy from that. But in the end, they could have the National Front and Kid Rock as their fan base and it wouldn't change this: when you hear Red Wings, you assume they're a cut above the rest of the league. And they've earned that.

I don't want to be the person defining his hockey fandom by what he hates. I can take some happiness from knowing that I'm smarter and more attractive (rather dapper, really, I must say) than Wings fans. In the end, that doesn't change the fact that their team can beat the shit out of mine, and if they don't it's cause they ain't trying.

Still, fuck them. And go Liverpool FC!

(edited the sober morning after for a bit of clarity and removal of repetitive phrasing)

Signs of Improvement

This has been a crap week, but there's at least one glimmer of hope:

Those there are some of the first New Belgium bottles in Atlanta -- the Fat Tire bottle even says it's the special "Georgia On My Ride" limited edition, which I guess means I should save it and sell it on eBay or something.

I'm not drinking them this morning, though it's tempting.

A friend recently warned me that having it available here now will strip it of all its mystique, and I'll grow bored with it quickly. That may be (remember how excited I was when Czechvar reappeared?) but for now I'll take the enjoyment.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


The family dachshund, Nicky, was put to sleep this morning. It wasn't unexpected -- he'd been in a decline for a while, and that had just accelerated in the past month to the point where keeping him alive would be an act of cruelty. But it's still scarring. Every time I've visited Colorado since leaving in 1999, I've made a point to say a special goodbye to him, knowing it may be the last time. Now that's a reality.

This has been coming for a few days but I'm still not really sure what to write now. I remember a great quote about the pain of saying goodbye to a dog, but I can't find it now, which is not really any help. But before the family got Nicky, back in the early 1990s (I was still straight edge, for god's sake), I was not much of a dog person. I felt about the same way about dogs that I feel about Al Qaeda or Sarah Palin now -- I saw them as things that other people liked for no discernible reason.

Nicky won me over, but it took a while. The big moment (and here this blog gets even less macho than it's ever been -- sorry. I'll listen to Hirax later to make up for it) came when I had skin cancer, in 1997. There was an evening shortly before my surgery when I was alone at my parents' house, contemplating the unknown, and started bawling. Nicky suddenly appeared out of nowhere (or the dining room, where he'd been tearing up paper), leapt up on my lap, and started nuzzling me. It cheered me right up and I've never forgotten it.

I'm not much on religion but I hope there's a heaven for dogs. They deserve it. Rest in peace, Nicky.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Human Landfill

Times I wish I had a camera: I went grocery shopping this morning, parked, and as I strolled in noticed that a car a few spots down from mine had what looked like steam coming from under the hood. "Huh," I said, and walked on.

When I came out about ten minutes later, the car was engulfed in flames, black smoke billowing high above. Firefighters and police had it surrounded. They were kind enough to let me get my car the hell out of there, which was cool, but I really would have liked a picture.

Not too bloggy here lately, huh? I've actually had lots of posts in mind, but absolutely zero energy or creativity, except for one day when a wicked hangover was an excuse. Nothing new, in any case. There was gonna be one post about how Kiss it Goodbye's "Sick Day" is the best song ever after a bad day at work, and how the opening scream of KitG's "Target Practice" is the best thing to clear your head when you're hungover. But I didn't write it, except now, I guess.

I was also gonna write about a cool bar nearby, but I didn't. Many other things I didn't do, either.

I haven't even been reading much (I'm kind of hard-pressed to say just what I am doing these days -- walking, eating and working, I suppose), and when I finally finished a book last night, it was an old favorite:

#35 -- "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami

I always think of the "Big Four" Murakami novels as this one, "Hard-Boiled Wonderland," "Dance Dance Dance," and "Wild Sheep Chase." I generally think of this one as the best, and it was also the only one I hadn't read in several years, so I picked it up again.

When I first read it, I figured Murakami had some solid idea of what was really happening behind all the vagueness -- now I'm not so sure. So maybe he didn't have the master plan I thought, but it's still pretty enjoyable. Perhaps the loneliest book I've read; all his work has that sorrow and loss about it, but maybe this one more than any. His Tokyo seems empty, populated by only a handful of people, spread far apart. It's great reading but afterwards you really want to be around others.

So, still liked this a lot. I don't know if I'd still hold it up as a cut above the other three mentioned before, but it's one of the high-water marks for a fantastic writer.

Ok, more interesting stuff to come soon, though I reserve the right to break this promise into little shards.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Greg Stays Skinnier, Gets Sadder

Well holy crap. Saw this sad news on Atlanta Metblogs -- if there was a restaurant in town I wasn't worried about going under, it was Dusty's. It always seemed to be packed. I've been itching for BBQ lately but put it off because of health concerns, blah blah -- I guess I should have strayed for a day.

Think I've mentioned it before but when I first moved out here Dusty's played a large part in me ballooning a bit -- it was right near my first place of residence so I'd go through the drive-through on the way to work. It didn't happen near as much in recent years and I hadn't been back since last fall. Now I won't get a chance again. The catering business is still going, which does me zero good, but I'm hopeful they're still making the sauce. It's good good stuff.

Now I really want barbeque, too. There's plenty of other places in Atlanta, but Dusty's was always number one.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Drinking Life

I have a few friends who really, really dislike Trader Joe's. One of the things cited is that everyone's so happy and nice there. It is a bit weird -- once I got sushi there, and it sucked, and I drunkenly wrote in a (very polite, and drunk) complaint. The next day I got a call from the manager, who was almost suicidally apologetic, offered me free sushi, and a free shopping spree if that wasn't enough. I felt so awful about it all that I never took them up on either.

Anyway, I don't have a problem with the happiness and I shop there often. But one thing I found out today: it's really the worst place on earth to go shopping when you're severely hungover. God.

On a happier note, I went out drinking bloody marys (in an attempt to subdue said hangover) with the Elk, and at the bar we attended there were several posters indicating: New Belgium beers are coming here soon. Which means Fat Tire. Which means that problem drinking is about to get a lot better.

* * *

I actually forgot to post a book. Hope there were no suicides.

#34 -- "The Massacre at El Mozote" by Mark Danner

El Mozote suffers from a bit of pop culture trivialization -- that's the name and subject of the Screeching Weasel from the jokey Born Against/SW split 7" of the confusing '90s, when each band performed the other's lyrics -- so when I read the words "El Mozote" I can't help but hear Ben Weasel's adenoidal whine and can't help but think of how that 7" finally convinced me that Born Against had gone to some special place and weren't coming back. The tragedy of the music fan, and I imagine the residents of El Salvador aren't thrilled either. This is some deeper investigative journalism from one of the less pleasant eras in both the U.S. and El Salvador's history, and while very short (about half the book seems to be documentation) it's shattering. No one comes out looking good other than a handful of journalists, the massacre is just a case of power exercised simply to prove a point. Danner has a spare and sharp writing style that doesn't go heavy on the drama but packs a powerful punch. Highly recommended, especially if you didn't like that split.