Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: The Year in Pictures

* * *

When I was a little kid, I'd get inordinately upset over the end of each year -- I'd be sad that it was never going to be that year again, or something to that effect. Not this year, certainly. I'm greeting the end of 2008 with a mixture of relief and regret.

There's a sense of stuntedness, I suppose, looking back at the year. Grand plans never got going. There were some great moments, but it was a weird and unsettling year overall, with the health thing hanging over everything.

The heart surgery is three weeks from tomorrow, and hopefully, that will go smoothly and after that the year will trend upwards. I go into the new year with something of a plan, which in itself is a rare thing. We'll see how it goes.

* * *

One last book, under the wire.

#55 -- "Cadillac Desert" by Marc Reisner

A little glimpse into what a joy it is to know me and my declining memory: last summer, when I first started reading this, I e-mailed Vitriola. The message said "Hey, you should really check out 'Cadillac Desert'" or something to that effect.

Her response: "I was the one who told you about that."

Oh. Whoops.

I have something of a layman's interest in water rights and the American West, so this is something of a natural. Something like 2/3 of my life has been spent in Colorado or Arizona, but I never gave much thought to how such a notoriously dry area managed to get water. It's the natural order of things, I figured.

Reisner goes to great lengths to show that it's anything but natural, outlining how greed, shortsightedness, stubbornness and stupidity have thrown the West's ecology way out of whack. It's pretty chilling and fills in a lot of background on phrases that I heard but didn't know much about as a youngster.

I'm no geologist or hydrologist, so a lot of the more technical stuff is largely lost on me. And, I felt like I needed a wall-sized map of the U.S. when reading a lot of this; I know where Colorado is, I'm not so clear on where the Colorado River flows. And, the middle of the book gets into a blow-by-blow account of a bureaucratic fight that went into about twice as much detail as I would have wanted.

Still, it's a fascinating and well-written book, and I'd be curious to look into what's happened in these areas since the book's publication (this is the revised edition, from 1993). It leaves with a sense of impending doom, and I'd like to see what (if anything) has happened in the interim. (Reisner has died since it was published -- so I'm not calling for another updated version.)

Anyway. Onward to 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Mighty Laid Low

It isn't easy being one of the PPA's chosen few hockey players. Milan Hejduk is a shadow of his pre-lockout self and has hinted at retirement. Tomas Kloucek has played a grand total of zero NHL games since the PPA started up. And Frantisek Kaberle?

Frantisek Kaberle has been placed on waivers.

I'm too upset to even copy-and-paste diacritics. I knew Frankie hadn't been having the greatest season, but I figured he'd snap out of it. I didn't think something like this would happen. You don't waive the guy who single-handedly powered you to the Stanley Cup. You don't waive the best defenseman in the history of hockey.

Let's take a moment and reflect on some happier times for Frank right here. I'm not entirely sure if the Hurricanes will keep him around if he's not claimed. I'd think that a recipe like that would have worked in his favor.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Jet Lag

Two cross-country flights in 24 hours and I'm wrecked. Maybe I'm not cut out for a jet-setter's lifestyle.

#54 -- "The Great Divide" by Studs Terkel

I probably haven't read anything by Studs since college; I'm pretty sure this wasn't one I've read. It's an affecting overview of the 1980s done in Terkel's oral history style. Some of the interviews are very inspiring; some very sad. It's an interesting feeling to be learning considerably more about a decade that I lived through.

Adding to the list of "things I find inside used books":

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Penguin Sighting

This has been perhaps the worst month of blogging in the history of the PPA, and I doubt there will be some last-minute save coming; I'll be spending Christmas with the Ski Bum, hurrying to Colorado to see the family again for 24 hours, then back here for work. Next month, things will be better, probably.

In the meantime:

(Thanks, Noah!)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Careful What You Wish For

I was wearing shorts around outside Friday and Saturday, whining to anyone who would listen (and some who wouldn't) that 70 degree temperatures less than a week before Christmas are just horrible and wrong, I wanted real winter, blah blah.

Today I woke up and it was 18 degrees outside. Har har har.

Of course, it's supposed to hit 60 again by Thursday. This is why everyone in this city spends most of October through March sick.

* * *

#53 -- "Author Unknown" by Don Foster

I was all set to write a post thanking the site that referred me to this, six years or so ago, and I went back there and it wasn't that site. So hell if I know where I first heard about this. It languished on my to-read list for years, and I just now got to it.

Foster is a "literary detective" who traces authorship in legal cases or disputed writings and things like that. Here, he's got a few of his stories -- some really fun (Shakespeare, Joe Klein), some a little dull for my tastes (Monica Lewinsky). My favorite, natch, is trying to figure out if a series of letters in a Northern California paper were from Thomas Pynchon.

Foster doesn't take himself too seriously, and that makes this a lot more fun. He's a jovial and chatty writer; the tone is less "look how amazing I am" than "hey, this is pretty cool. Check it out." It's fun and quick.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The PPA Endorses: A Place That Sells Beer

The only problem with Decatur's fine Brick Store is that I can't get to it by foot; I've either gotta cadge a ride, take a cab, or drive and limit myself to one or two beers.

So I'm pretty excited to find that the Porter Beer Bar is every bit as good as I'd heard. Nice extensive beer list, what looks like an amazing menu (I had the hush puppies, and they were great), and a nifty little setup. It's narrow and I imagine it'd be hell when crowded, but I can easily limit myself to off-hours patronage.

So it earns that coveted distinction -- an actual Post-Pessimist Association endorsement, as opposed to just a place I'll happily drink at. I guess it just joins Manuel's and Sobo 151 in that hallowed group. I'm happy to welcome it into the regular rotation.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rush Hour

Last night I was chatting with ICJ (pictured, right) and discussing who knows what, when I realized something kinda amazing.

I've lived in Atlanta for nine years; during that time I've almost exclusively worked evening or overnight shifts.

Before that, Boulder; part of the time, I could walk to work, and even when I couldn't, my hours were flexible enough that no one would care much as long as I showed up any time between, say, six a.m. and noon.

In later years of college, I mostly worked either at the student newspaper or random temp or freelance jobs -- I lived right off campus, so I could usually walk.

So the last time I really had to deal with rush hour traffic on a regular basis was when I was a 19-year-old intern at IBM, down in Tucson. 16 years ago. That's quite a record, and whenever I do end up dealing with it again, it'll be a real shock to the system.

* * *

Also in kind of odd, going-a-long-time-without-doing-something-common news: about a week ago, I fried an egg. For the first time in my life.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Sky Above You

I was trying to think of some hardcore band that referenced the sky in their album titles or something, but all I could think of was The Fixx, and they aren't exactly hardcore.

Something of an occasional theme on this blog: my fascination with the sky in the western part of the United States. I never fail to be awed by it when I go back. These are far from the most astonishing sky scenes I saw back on this trip, but I didn't always have my camera with me.

As I said in the last post, it's only on this past trip that I realized that maybe, just maybe, there are some people who don't find the Colorado scenery as lovely as I do. (Poor fools.) I guess if you grew up in (say) Atlanta, the landscape may seem barren, and the sky may not be beautiful but unfriendly. And some people might say "Hey, Greg, that's the same bloody sky you're looking at down in Georgia." They'd be wrong, though.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I Got Nothing From That

Fox football announcer, providing insight after the Eagles' Brian Westbrook scored a rushing touchdown:

"His legs never stopped moving."

I've been watching football for 30 years or so, and I can't think of a time when a player ran for a touchdown without moving his legs.

* * *

I'm back in Atlanta, providing me with all sorts of opportunities to bitch about how I'm not in Colorado any more. Kind of perfectly, I had to take the MARTA trains back to where my car was parked after I landed last night -- I don't know if I've ever bitched about the public transportation in this city. I probably have, so I won't repeat myself again. I'll just say that trying to get from one place to another using public transportation makes me want to die.

At least I didn't have to work today, and was able to spend the day watching football with friends and getting pleasantly blotto on beer. It wasn't, say, Fat Tire (like you'd get in Colorado!) but I'd feel kind of like a poser if I were drinking pitcher after pitcher of non-cheap beer.

* * *


#51 -- "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse" by Peter Matthiessen

#52 -- "Bitter Lemons" by Lawrence Durrell

I'd never heard of the Matthiessen book before reading this post -- with about ten minutes more research, I ordered a copy. I had heard of Leonard Peltier, of course, but I primarily knew him as a name on a bumper sticker, with some vague idea of the 1975 AIM shootout (I thought it took place in the 1980s, so very vague, I guess). "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse" is something else -- exhaustively researched, angry, and gripping. He acknowledges at the end that it's fairly one-sided (and gives reasons for this) -- the other side would have to be pretty convincing to balance this out. I knew little of the material Matthiessen covers, and I feel ashamed now. By the end, I was ready to buy a "Free Leonard Peltier" sticker myself. This is really, really good, and given my interest in the modern American West, it's a bit unforgivable that I didn't tackle this subject 'til now.

"Bitter Lemons," meanwhile, is another widely-acknowledged travel literature classic, but I'm gonna have to be the dissenting voice there. Durrell moved to Cyprus for a few years in the 1950s, as the push for independence grew and exploded, and he often writes beautifully about the country. Unfortunately, he likes writing about himself a whole lot more. It's one of the most colonial books I've read -- the author is really impressed by himself, and counts the Cypriots as really lucky to have met him. There's lots of really nice bits right next to parts that made me want to build a time machine so that I could travel back to 1950 and punch Durrell in the face. Some nice stuff but really aggravating, and if you feel compelled to read about Cyprus (and who doesn't?) try Colin Thubron's "Journey Into Cyprus" instead.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Departure Lounge

I actually had an epiphany during this trip: driving through eastern Colorado, looking out at vast, flat, snowy fields, I could actually understand why some people might find the non-mountain portion of Colorado's landscape desolate and dull.

Not me, though. It just looks like home, beautiful if unforgiving. Wallace Stegner would understand how I feel (and presumably state it far better). As time goes on, itt feels more and more pressing to return here on a permanent basis. I'm happier here, and while some of that is simply because I am freed from a lot of the concerns and worries of day-to-day life, some is also because I'm more at home here, more in my element, more comfortable.

Most of the trip was family and friends, so not a lotta photos, and I forgot the camera's USB cord anyhow. Also in the "sometimes I suck" category: I brought five books to read on the trip. I'm halfway through one.

Monday, December 01, 2008


Inside a used copy of "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse," by Peter Matthiesen:

On the back is a guy's name and a phone number with a Modesto area code. Probably best not to call and ask for details, though -- this will remain one of life's little mysteries.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Let it Snow

One cold night in the '90s, the Boulder air was redolent of cow droppings. A co-worker said "you can smell the cows of Greeley -- it's about to snow." I thought he was, you will pardon the impression, full of shit.

He wasn't. It was snowing within hours. And in the years to come, I noticed that it held true -- when you smelled every cow on the farms north of Boulder, it was likely going to snow.

I went for a nice stroll around my folks' neighborhood this morning, and smelled the cows -- and now the snow's coming down. (I'm ensconced safely inside, drinking Colorado beer and eating the family chili cheese dip recipe. Life is very pleasant.)

Why is this? Why does imminent shows make cows get the Metamucil off the shelf? I've never known much about cow biology.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Colorado Über Alles

I'm back in the homeland all week -- stayed up late to have an Albanian Independence Day celebration last night (and what did you do for Albanian Independence Day?), up at dawn to fly out here on what was apparently the "Kids With Psychiatric Disorders Who Had Two Cups of Sugar for Breakfast" flight. Got a big grin on my face as soon as we landed and I saw the snow along the runway. I think I've worked out all my complex feelings about Colorado in the past, so now I'm comfortable in simply saying it's the greatest state in the union, and damn I'm happy to be back.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ham Beer

I was really happy to see Hedonist Beer Jive give some love to Schlenkerla a couple months back. It's a beer that seems made for this time of year -- while I can't imagine drinking a beer that tastes like smoked sausage in July, when the temperatures dip into the 20s and 30s, it works. It's 34 degrees Fahrenheit outside now, and I'm having one, and I can vouch for its credentials.

I first had one during a deep freeze a few years back, and it just felt right -- this is the kind of beer that you should be drinking as you sit by the fireplace in a remote mountain lodge, snow coming down like mad outside. I quickly found out that it was best suited as an occasional indulgence, though. If I had one of these every night it'd probably put me off beer, and then where would we be?

About a year after I first tasted it, I went to a friend's Christmas party, and brought along 20 Schlenkerlas -- I figured it'd put everyone into the holiday mood. Wrong. The first person to open one took a sip and got a look on his face kind of like if you bit into a lemon during a visit to the proctologist. He passed it around the table, so everyone could take one sip, and everyone was similarly unenthusiastic. As I recall, only one other guy and I were able to drink entire bottles.

(Not wanting them to go to waste, we deposited all the unopened bottles inside Fidel's fridge -- he was out of town, and we figured he'd enjoy 15 bottles of beer that tasted like bratwurst. It seemed funny at the time.)

I've ceased to be evangelical about the stuff, but dammit, when it gets cold enough for a bottle of Schlenkerla each year -- I get disproportionately happy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Old Favorites

#50 -- "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton

Not long ago I saw a little bit on "Do you own multiple copies of any books?" I don't think I do -- the only one I can think of, ever, was owning two copies of "The Shining" because I found one with a 1970s reflective cover. But I have owned multiple copies at different times, including one that the linked post mentions -- "Ball Four."

I don't think of "Ball Four" when I think of all-time favorites -- I'm not sure why. It deserves a place. I've read it more than "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," almost as much as "Salem's Lot." Bouton's book, perhaps more than anything else, enhanced my enjoyment of baseball.

I read it again over the weekend, probably the first time since college -- my earlier copy started shedding pages at some point and was last seen residing forlornly in my parents' basement.

Just a fantastic book. There aren't many athletes as observant and analytical as Bouton -- only Ken Dryden comes to mind -- and Bouton has the added bonus of being funny as hell, and brutally honest. I'm glad to rediscover it -- the case can be made that I really need to clean some other stuff off my bookshelf, but I don't feel an iota of guilt about going back to a classic.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Three Sketches of Failure

I meant to enter the Creative Loafing Fiction Contest, I really did. I entered last year, with a nice but flawed story -- if you're limited to 3,000 words, don't spend half the story establishing the personalities of about eight different characters -- and I started off this year like a house on fire, then ended like ... a house not on fire. I got halfway through one story before realizing that I had no idea where it was going, started a second, realized I had even less plan for it, went back for the first. And as yesterday's deadline approached, I finally accepted that it wasn't going to happen, and packed it in and had a beer.

I don't usually post any of my fictional efforts here, and I'm not going to make it a habit -- I'm rather reserved about it -- but it might be interesting to post three lead paragraphs. There's also a chance it won't be interesting. The first two are different takes on the first story, the third is the second story.

It was his misfortune that the tire blew out on a Saturday night. Jesus didn’t want people changing tires on a Sunday, so he’d now spent two unscheduled nights in this little town. Robin had toyed with the idea of sleeping in the old Econoline – money was tight and getting tighter – but the winds started coming down off the mountain slopes, the clouds started massing and he’d checked into the motel just off the exit ramp.

It’s hard to feel good about being the first in line when the bar opens, especially when that bar opens at 11:30 in the morning, but as far as Robin could tell there wasn’t much else to do in this town, and the snow was coming down again. The bar would presumably be warm, presumably had food, and once inside, it would be churlish to say no to a beer or two.

He thought frequently about the fact that he might die here. Go on to whatever came next under this vast colorless loveless sky, far from anything he knew or loved – a forgotten grave, if he was lucky and his fellows made the effort to chip through the tundra. Charlie had been here 36 days – he had marked each one painstakingly by his bunk. It felt like 36 years.

Friday, November 21, 2008


while getting my hair cut:

"We're cool as long as he doesn't start sleeping with my friends."

* * *

#49 -- "In Patagonia" by Bruce Chatwin

A travel classic that I knew I'd love, but put off reading for a long time. Don't ask me why. It's the first book by Chatwin that I've read, which is probably a serious oversight ("Utz" has languished on my shelf even longer). It's most entertaining when he's tracking down legends, rumors and tales -- his on-and-off following of Butch Cassidy is pretty enjoyable. The residents of Patagonia come across as iconoclasts and oddballs. There's been talk of a trip down to South America sometime in the not-to-distant future, so this was pretty cool to read -- I probably know less about South America than any other place on earth.

I guess, maybe, from reading some notes on Amazon, that this isn't entirely fact -- more a blend of fact and fiction, a la Lloyd Jones' "Biografi," which I really should read again. That doesn't bug me as much as it should, though I read it thinking it was presented as fact. It's not like I'm going to go check his work.

A lot of people hold this up as the all-time great in travel lit, but I wouldn't quite put it up there -- I can think of some I liked better. But this was great fun to read.

All the Cool Kids Are Doing It

Been sick all week. Doing nothing of interest. In lieu of material, I followed the lead of 95% of people with blogs and plugged my blog into, which came up with this assessment of my personality:

ESFP - The Performers

The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

The enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.

It also brings up a picture of a girl in a short skirt and knee-high boots, holding either a pint of beer or a malfunctioning lava lamp. I guess that's supposed to represent me.

Mixed bag. Friendly (mostly), entertaining (when drunk), rarely initiate confrontation -- all of those are accurate enough. Some of the other stuff, not so much. I really rarely care about fabrics.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In Their Ruin

#48 -- "The Boys of Summer" by Roger Kahn

Geez, I seem to have read a lot about baseball this year -- more than I've read about any sport I actually, you know, watch here in 2008. I'm relatively sure I read this one as a kid, but I probably wasn't too interested -- the Brooklyn Dodgers weren't even around any more, I wanted to read about teams like the Astros and Blue Jays!

My loss (if I did indeed read it and dismiss it) -- one of the finer baseball books I've read. I was really, really impressed by this, beautifully written, honest and unsparing. Makes me wonder what else I missed out on when I was young.

* * *

Staying with baseball: there's a new blog set up devoted to the 1978 Topps baseball card set, which were my favorite cards as a kid -- though I didn't start buying cards until two seasons later. In about sixth grade, I bought a shoebox full of these cards at a garage sale, and I loved those cards like no others -- I'll eternally remember them as having perfect photography and design, though the truth may be a little less grand.

A lot of the appeal, I think, was a bit of exotic nostalgia. Though these cards only came out a few years before I started following baseball, a lot of the team uniforms changed drastically by the time I got clued in. So seeing these cards was like looking through a time warp. Anyway, the link is here: 78 Topps.

Glad it showed up because blogs I like seem to be dropping like flies lately. Fire Joe Morgan just called it quits. Covered in Oil is down to one of its three writers. When I started this (with the intention of it being a hockey blog), I was inspired by three blogs -- Sidearm Delivery, Hockey Rants, and CIO. Now only one remains, and it just barely.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Desert Center

It was summer of 1992, I believe, when I tagged along with Groundwork on one of their first trips out of state -- Fourth of July weekend shows in San Diego and somewhere in Orange County.

The trip was pretty star-crossed from the start. At the Che Cafe show that started it off, I blew pretty much all my disposable cash on Man Is The Bastard and Ebullition records, ensuring that by the end of the trip I'd be sneaking food out of garbage cans. Cops showed up at show's end because people were setting off fireworks. We'd been led to believe -- either through youthful naïvete or false promises -- that we'd have a place to stay in San Diego, but that didn't happen and we ended up sneaking all six of us (the four Groundwork guys, me, and fellow roadie Jerid -- who would end up becoming their bassist and then second guitarist later) into a motel room. At the Orange County show, no one knew Groundwork's songs at all -- they only had the split 7" and an Italian-released ep out at the time -- and no one got into them except for Kent McClard, dancing alone in front of the stage. By the time we headed back to Tucson, spirits were low.

We were in two vehicles -- four of us in singer Brendan's hatchback, two in Jerid's truck. After the O.C. show, we decided not to put our lodging arrangements in anyone's hands, and just drive back to Tucson (not a short trip, by any stretch of the imagination).

Somewhere east of L.A., in the middle of the night, those of us in Brendan's car passed Jerid. He was waving energetically. I waved back.

About fifteen minutes later, someone noticed that Jerid's truck was nowhere to be seen. Hmm. "He waved to me," I said, helpfully.

We stopped to let the truck catch up. This was pre-cell phones, of course. Fifteen minutes or so more, we cut across the median and headed back, to find Jerid and whoever else was in the truck sitting by the side of I-10, not moving forward. "I was trying to signal to you guys!" he said, with some anguish. I kept my mouth shut about the waving.

We hailed a passing tow truck and followed him to the nearest town, which did not -- oddly -- have a 24-hour garage. It was dark and dead. It was Desert Center.

* * *

We woke up early the next morning, the sun already on its way to mercilessness, and took stock. Desert Center wasn't the oasis its name hints at, more a dusty little circle, with a few small houses and trailers and businesses half-heartedly surrounding the perimeter. There was no shade to be had. We sat around for hours, a bunch of 19-year-olds with no outlet at all for our energy. We had two sources of entertainment: a Hustler magazine that someone had picked up early in the trip, and a copy of "The Enquirer," the Krishna zine that the guy from Inside Out and 108 did back then. When we had been in California, Dave Mandel gave it to me as a joke. We read both desperately and repeatedly, searching for any sign of life beyond Desert Center. By the time we finally left, every photo in Hustler had a mustache drawn on it, and the religious yammerings of "The Enquirer" were sounding pretty good.

The garage opened after what seemed like hours, and they came out to look at the truck, still sitting in the middle of the little town. We went off to wander. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to see. Six teenagers with shaved heads, No For An Answer t-shirts, shorts, and high-tops wandering around in a dejected circle, looking for anything to occupy us in the hours to come.

We wandered into a little general store -- it was run by a woman relatively close to our age -- about 25. Compared to the rest of the town, she was our age. She talked about the area with the desperation of someone who wanted to get out but couldn't. We opened the cooler and stood in front of it, enjoying the cool air.

Back outside: the garage didn't have the part. They'd have to order it. It would take days. We couldn't all fit into Brendan's hatchback. Jerid's father was called -- he would drive out to help us with our stuff, about a six-hour drive. Those of us who had been in the hatchback decided to stay, in a show of solidarity. Later, we all privately admitted we wanted to take off, immediately.

We sat outside, going slowly crazy. The sun was like nothing I've ever felt. We would crawl in the back of the hatchback and lay down until it got too stuffy. Britt and I covered ourselves with blankets in the back of the truck. At one point, I heard a high-pitched animal keening coming from Britt's blanket, as he rocked back and forth.

We wandered more. We returned to the store to talk to the clerk some more -- I think all of us were now looking at her in awe. A woman! One looking more and more attractive by the minute! She described her life of getting blackout drunk every weekend and expressed awe that none of us drank. We started to admit that if we lived in Desert Center, our strictures against drinking would probably relax. We looked in the cooler some more, mystified by a bottle of Clamato -- none of us were familiar with the product. To this day, it holds a certain exotic allure for me.

By the time Jerid's father arrived, we were starting to turn on each other -- snapping at the most minute slight. We piled into the cars and headed away as quickly as possible, five of us, at least, not worrying about the fate of the truck (they collected it a few days later). We drove back to Tucson, conversation sporadic.

As Tucson emerged on the horizon, by this point very late at night, we saw rare funnel clouds over the northern end. One final bad omen on a cursed trip.

I never went on tour again.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Two Weeks, Summarized

When you have two weeks off work, one feels, you should have something to show at the end: perhaps a trip to someplace majestic? Perhaps great accomplishments? A tattoo, at least?

I have none of that. The most exotic location I visited in the past two weeks was Comcast corporate headquarters on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard -- I didn't even escape the confines of the 285 perimeter. Great accomplishments ... I got some things done in preparation for surgery, but that's not real pleasant to contemplate. I walked two and a half miles at two in the morning dressed as a penguin. I drank beer.

I am relaxed as hell, which if you were to see me two weeks and three nights ago, would qualify as quite an accomplishment. I did write a bunch, though you won't see evidence of it until the great American novel comes out. One sad fact is that when I wrote a lot in coffee shops and bars, you don't see it. When I write a lot in the blog, my fiction aspirations suffer proportionally.

I've listened to Claw Hammer a shitload, and finally realized that their first album is their best. That's something.

And I've developed some sort of record-setting cold, which is an achievement, I guess. Anyway, this is all just practice until I win the lottery and can live all of life in this pleasant jobless mode.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Shorts Weather

The first year that I lived in Arizona, I wore shorts every single day. It took me a while to acclimate from Colorado and it just always seemed warm. I'd go to school and my classmates would be bundled up in sweaters and jackets, and I'd be wearing a t-shirt and shorts. Given the age I was at, it's not inconceivable that part of it was a sad attempt to establish myself as a "character," but I also just never felt cold.

I remembered that today as I went through another November day wearing a t-shirt and shorts. I won't match my Arizona record -- we've had some cold days, and I have a job that sort of requires some dignity in dress, even if it's just jeans.

It's too bad I already used the "Indian Summer" title because we're on our second or third one now. Yeah, it's warmer than most places here, but I don't recall it usually hitting the upper 70s in November.

The trees are pretty bloody amazing -- I'll have to get out and take photos. I certainly had time today, but I didn't really think of it 'til sundown.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Night

Peachtree Street, 11:26 p.m., November 4, 2008

I watched the returns come in with some friends in Atlanta's Midtown last night -- tense at first, relaxing a bit as Pennsylvania came in, more as Ohio did. When Virginia came in and the networks (by and large) called the race for Obama, we went out on the balcony.

On other balconies throughout the building, people were doing the same -- down below, people were starting to spill onto the sidewalks along Peachtree. After watching for a bit, and seeing the crowd swell, we did the same.

I've never seen so many people so happy. Laughing, dancing, hugging, cheering. I'm a cynical old jerk but it warmed the blackened husk of my heart. As the crowd spilled into the street itself -- slapping hands with passing drivers -- cops eventually showed up, but even many of them were visibly caught up in the spirit of things, grinning and giving high-fives.

It probably won't be this good again, except perhaps at the inauguration. It's impossible for Obama to fulfill all the hopes that everyone has invested in him. But for one night, everything seemed possible.

(This morning, cold reality: I've come down with a cold. Bah. Hopefully, Obama's first priority is curing colds.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

I was gonna post a mp3 of the Anti-Heros' "Election Day," which is a pretty great song, but I'm lazy and you can probably find it on iTunes or whatever anyway.

Got up responsibly early, was at my polling place when it opened, and it still took 90 minutes -- and that's with a very efficient, well-run operation in place. Amazing turnout. In 2004, same location, slightly later hours, it took me less than half that. Later I took a book over to the Ski Bum, suffering in another line -- hers was considerably longer than mine had been.

I've bitched considerably about this never-ending election season, but I'm also thoroughly addicted -- and I've never been much of a political junkie, taking more interest in European politics than American. For whatever reason -- the chaos of the past eight years, the candidates this time around, something I haven't thought of -- I've been rapt. The past two weeks, as I've been off work, I've been glued to the news. Not just watching, but checking Wonkette, FiveThirtyEight, Sadly No, Andrew Sullivan, Jon Taplin, and others on an hourly basis.

I'm kind of glad to see it finally here, but I also wonder what I'll be doing with my time tomorrow.

* * *

#47 -- "Blue Highways" by William Least Heat Moon

Apt that I finish this on election day -- this made me feel pretty American. I'd wanted to read this for a while, got it through, then immediately decided I wouldn't like it (I think because the cover looked like an inspirational poster). Judging a book by its cover, etc -- this is fantastic. WLHM lost his job and lost his wife, and reacted by taking off into the wilds of America -- traveling the country's back roads and forgotten highways, meeting people, seeing interesting things.

He's a great writer, honest and sympathetic, and has a good eye and sharp wit. I generally spend my time wanting to chuck it all and go see new things, and this will certainly not curb that desire at all.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

It's Hard To Be A Penguin In the City

Halloween night, I dressed up for the first time in years (first time since I moved to Atlanta, at least ... I'm struggling to remember if I ever did anything beyond throwing on a jersey and saying I was a hockey player on injured reserve since college) and went to a work party a bit north of here. I didn't drive (for no reason, as it turned out -- I was shockingly responsible) and about 2 a.m., decided to head home. Checker Cab's line was on eternal hold and no one with a car was leaving, so I decided to start walking and hail a cab along the way.

Turns out there's one ugly fact about Atlanta: the cabs don't stop for a lone six-foot-one penguin, flipper sadly raised under the streetlights of Monroe Avenue. I ended up walking the whole two and a half miles (occasionally running into fellow revelers, who helpfully pointed out "you're a penguin!"), which was at least good for me, though my feet are still sore 36 hours later.

* * *

Back when I lived in Boulder, and for that matter Tucson, I had a bit of trouble with various rules of the road -- speed limits, full and complete stop, etc. But since moving out here, I'd tread (or driven) the straight and narrow: no traffic infractions since I moved to Atlanta.

Until now. My streak's over at nine years and one week. I got a notice in the mail yesterday with two photos -- one showing me about to enter an intersection with a (newly) red light above it, the next showing the tail end of my car clearing that intersection.

Busted by photo enforcement. I'm back on the wrong side of the law.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Stupid Commercials

Anyone remember this one, mid-'80s or so:

(kids playing baseball, one of them breaks a window - guy comes out of house, dismayed. Window-breaking kid runs up. Cue operatic/musical number:)

Kid: Mr. Robertson! Mr. Robertson!

Guy: Oh, what a horrible mess.

Kid: I broke your window! With my ball!

Guy: You?

Kid: And I've come to confess!

Few lines I don't remember, but basic plot is guy is berating kid ... but then...

Guy: But I'm proud of you child, for you have displayed... honor! (crescendo) The stuff from which heroes are made!

Kid: I told the truuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuth!

It was a commercial for Latter-Day Saints, though what any of that had to do with anything, I'm not sure. I sorta thought it was a local Denver/Boulder thing, but quick searches indicate people around the country remember it.

And it's been stuck in my head all day, after I probably went a good 18, 19 years without thinking of it. First Sheriff, now this.

Update: doesn't appear to be on YouTube, but a complete transcription is in the comments here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Watching Over

This appeared fairly recently along Ponce De Leon, by the old railroad bridge and looking down upon the street. I'm guessing (not much of a stretch) that it's from Paris on Ponce, the sort of funky/oddball antique shop just a little ways up -- it's behind PoP and probably on its property, and it has the same folk art feel as some of the other pieces (see ape on Eiffel Tower, here) on the store's grounds.

I'm not sure what it's supposed to represent -- there's a vaguely religious feel to it and my first thought was that it's a representation of Mary, but I think that's wrong -- the figure is protecting two children, and neither of them seem very Jesus-ish, though I'm not sure how you'd tell. In any case, it's pretty striking and a cool addition to the area.

This is what the figure's watching over -- a small stretch of the street that's forgotten and rather trashed, despite being between two heavily-trafficked areas (the Borders/Whole Foods/Home Depot complex on the grounds of the old Ponce De Leon Park on one end, Paris on Ponce and the beginning of Virginia-Highland on the other). I'm not sure what plans there are for this no man's land, though I have a feeling it'll be affected by the Beltway.

Paris on Ponce has a couple old Tyson's Furniture signs along the way, and I don't know if the owners just found them somewhere and thought they were cool, or if this building (it's a big ol' warehouse, painted a shocking orange) used to be Tyson's Furniture. I can't find any record of a Tyson's Furniture in Atlanta (there's one in North Carolina), but I haven't exactly done exhaustive research.

Paris on Ponce is one of those cool, rambling places that merits endless exploration. If you go there looking for something specific, you won't find it, but you will find fascinating stuff that you never knew existed. The last time I went there, I was looking for something to contain wooden spoons -- I didn't find that, but I did find a pile of 1970s Czechoslovakian movie posters (unfortunately, too water-damaged to be appealing to me, but still neat).

Just for reference's sake, this woulda been roughly the old third-base line in Ponce Park. Aren't you glad to know that?

After strolling over that way, I curved around and explored some of the area on the rise beyond Paris on Ponce, along Ponce Place -- behind the old right field wall, I guess, to keep that up. There's a stretch beyond Ponce Place's buildings where the trains used to run, and while it's close to me, I haven't walked over there in a long time (probably five years or so) -- in part because I took a bunch of pictures on a previous trip, partly because I knew it had changed a lot.

I was glad to see this building still around and still sporting the brick company sign, though an antique faded neon-making sign is now gone. An old electrician's building nearby (next to Paris on P) was recently torn down, and buildings surrounding this guy are being converted to help alleviate Atlanta's devastating loft shortage, so it's good to see it's still there. It looks like it contains something interesting -- the lobby looks like it's made to be a used bookstore, though sans books, if that makes any sense. But I'm not sure if it's a public business or private offices. In any case, it's pretty neat.

The last time I was over here, this was an abandoned loading dock for the old trains; some of the old signs were still there. Now it's unrecognizable (I'll have to dig out the photos from the last time I was there). I can't really begrudge them this -- yeah, apartments are more productive than an abandoned building, and these do look like pretty nice places. I just want some trace of the old stuff to stick around.

* * *

#46 -- "The Invention of Morel" by Adolfo Bioy Casares

After eating wings and fries for lunch yesterday, followed by three bowls of chili for dinner, not forgetting lots of beer, I didn't have the most restful sleep last night. At one point I woke up after a stupid dream, and unable to get back to sleep, read this one through (it's just over 100 pages, so it's not like I was reading "Infinite Jest" here).

I got this a while back, through one of those cool New York Review of Books deals where they sell a selection of a few novels for a slightly discounted price. It was an interesting and fast read, though with some flaws.

I can't talk too much about the plot -- doing so would ruin a lot of the book for anyone who might read it. Basically, a fugitive ends up on a deserted island, finds a few mysterious and abandoned buildings, then a group of mysterious people appear -- and our narrator is both terrified and fascinated by them.

It's not clear what's going on, and it unfolds gradually -- but despite this there's a clarity to the writing that makes the ambiguity all the more alluring. I thought I'd figured out what was going on pretty early; when you eventually do find out, it's rather ... wistful? Not sure that's the right word, but there's an element of trying to eternally preserve a certain point in life. If that makes sense.

The first half, two-thirds even is pretty much flawless. Unfortunately toward the end everything is pretty much laid on the table -- the narrator explains everything that's happened in the book in point-by-point form. Some of those points were decipherable by reading between the lines; others better left ambiguous. The urge to wrap everything up neatly obviously took over and the book is poorer for it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Vacation Continues

Technically, since the last two days were my normal weekend, this is the first true day of vacation. Great things will be accomplished, in the form of drinking beer and watching the Bucs, and then going to a friend's barbeque. I think there's only about five Sundays this football season where I'll actually get to drink beer while watching the games, so this is a great day.

#45 -- "Coyote V. Acme" by Ian Frazier

I'm guilty of a little lapse in double-checking here -- I knew Frazier had written a few books about the American West, and so I figured all his books were about the West (much as you can conclude from "Summer of '49" that David Halberstam wrote solely about baseball), and so when I decided to read something of his, I picked this because I liked the cover.

It's actually a collection of short pieces that I'm guessing originally ran in the "Shouts and Murmurs" section of my favorite liberal elitist magazine, The New Yorker. Much like the regular S&M section, it was pretty inconsistent -- some of 'em made me laugh out loud, others left me cold, I'll probably have forgotten all of them by tonight. At least I got this from PaperBackSwap, so I didn't have to pay anything.

I'll have to read some of Frazier's (presumably) meatier work, but it'll probably be a while. Sometimes, I only cheat myself.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Status Update

A hell of a week here, busy busy busy at work and exhausted at all other times. Now, though, I've got vacation, two weeks off and no real plans or responsibilities to fill them. Not planning to go anywhere, and I don't know if I've ever had two weeks off just here in Atlanta. Maybe surrounding a birthday once or twice, but those were generally filled with birthday-style events, and Fidel was still in town, rendering Atlanta a non-stop party. Now, Fidel's gone, the Ski Bum is out of town for a few days, and the PPA proprietor is rather lazy.

I'd intended to get up and go wander around decrepit parts of Atlanta for the first time in ages, but it's been 50 and rainy all day so the camera got put away. So I did virtually nothing all day -- grocery shopping, cooking, writing (10% of Friday) and drinking wine/playing BurgerTime (90% of Friday). It's too bloody cold to go out without reason, so it's a Friday night inside. No bad thing in these economic times, and a $5.99 bottle of shiraz from Trader Joe's gets me just as tipsy as paying $8 a glass elsewhere.

Let's get up to date on various things in the dullest way possible:

Books: I'm reading "Garden of Eden," by Ernest Hemingway -- the book that got me chatted to during a sushi dinner not long ago -- and it's resoundingly ... ok. It feels like Hemingway writing with Fitzgerald characters. Not bad at all, often quite beautiful in fact, but when I'm reading Hemingway I want it to inspire me to go strip shirtless and fight in the Spanish Civil War and make love to a nurse and drink wine and carouse and make love again and fight and lose the nurse. This makes me want to quit my job and go be very emo on a beach somewhere, which isn't quite as cool. It's short but I'm having some trouble getting through.

I pulled "Black House" by Stephen King and Peter Straub off the shelf today -- it's been sitting there for years, to the point where a panicked spider hurriedly fled as I opened it. I haven't read a King novel in years; I haven't finished one since the craptastic twosome of "Desperation" and "The Regulators." I think I tried both "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" and "Bag of Bones" in recent years, but finished neither. There was a time when a new King novel was an event, now I see one in Borders and think "how many is that now?" This is a sequel to "The Talisman," which I loved... but I was 15 then. We'll see how it goes.

And I'm reading "Europeans," by longtime New Yorker writer Jane Kramer, a book I didn't know about until I noticed a mention in Bryson's "Neither Here Nor There" (on, uh, the 36th time I read the latter). All essays, some interesting, some less so, all well-written.

Music: I finally got that goddamn Sheriff song outta my head. Better stuff I've been listening to:

* Spiritualized, "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space" and "Let It Come Down." There's a new Spiritualized album out, by all accounts really hot shit, but my way of dealing with the economic downturn is to not buy new albums. Instead, I'll dig out those I haven't listened to in a while. These both sound fantastic -- as I grow older, I suspect these are getting better each time I dig 'em out. Beyond the soaring/orchestral/druggy/shoegazer stuff, "Twelve Steps" off the latter album is one of the best rock songs extant. When it comes up in the car it gets repeated a minimum of three times, so feel lucky you don't ride around with me.

* Ignition, "Complete Services" discography CD. Assist to Brushback on this one -- I'd been listening to the Warmers' first album off and on recently, but for some reason I didn't make the necessary logical leap and dig this out until his recent post. What a great band -- one of my all-time favorites on Dischord (let's see -- Minor Threat, Lungfish, these guys, Fugazi, Circus Lupus -- yeah, definitely top three or four) -- and in retrospect, a band way ahead of their time. They were able to do the political/concerned thing without sounding naive or contrived. This makes me want to start a band just to cover Ignition songs; hell, just to cover "Proven Hollow" over and over would be enough.

* John Coltrane, "Live at the Village Vanguard" box set. I can't write anything intelligent about jazz, beyond "I like John Coltrane," so instead a story. When I was writing for the Arizona Daily Wildcat, Noah started mocking me for referencing Coltrane in a music review, snidely asking which period Coltrane I meant. Months later, he was at my house and exclaimed on the many Coltrane CDs I owned -- "I didn't think you really listened to him!" The punchline is that I was referencing Coltrane in an Iceburn review, so he really should have continued mocking me.

* Unwound, various albums but mostly "Repetition" and "New Plastic Ideas" these days. Goddamn, another great band, and this isn't really a rediscovery because they've never been far from my playlist since "Fake Train" came out, but if I go even a few weeks without listening I'm blown away by just how great they really were when I pick 'em back up. That last sentence is a nightmare to parse, I'm sure, but I'm kinda deep into the wine now. All the best of Sonic Youth at their most aggro but without any of the wankery. Maybe I'm mistaken but they seem largely forgotten today, and that makes me sad.

Writing: A much-loved PPA tradition comes to an end this year, as I won't be starting Nanowrimo only to abandon the effort a week (and 1,500 words) in. That's because -- and I risk cursing myself here -- the more general novel-in-progress is going well (in fact, it's going for the first time in a long while). To properly date it, the n-i-p predates the birth of the PPA -- I think the last time I gave anyone other than TSB anything to read was about six months before I started this here blog. (which was meant to spur my writing, and the evidence now suggests that it held it back. hmm.) Anyway, the dust is off and it's going kind of well, and after writing this last part I've just guaranteed I won't touch it again 'til August of 2010.

HC Kometa Brno: They've sunk to second in the 1.liga, but they're a mere point behind leaders Slovan Usti nad Labem, and the teams meet up Saturday. Spare a thought for HCKB, wouldya? Also: it appears I may have secured a t-shirt.

Health: The least-fun thing to write about. Subsequent tests have basically confirmed the initial diagnosis; I'm going about getting a second opinion for reassurances' sake and because heart surgery isn't something you just leap into, but I'm also proceeding as if this will happen. I met the presumptive surgeon a few weeks back, who was both reassuring (seems to be an expert in the field) and terrifying (if a trivia contest ever calls for a comprehensive list of things that can go wrong during heart surgery, call me -- it's SEARED INTO MY BRAIN). One positive, at least -- he told me to avoid strenuous exercise, giving me an awesome excuse.

Politics: I wasn't going to share this story, but then I realized it's a bit late to be worrying about my dignity. A few days back I was talking about the Clash, and I mentioned their singer -- "Joe Plumber." Oh god I can't wait for November 4.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oh, Sweden

Slightly NSFW -- words can't do this justice. Thanks to Jes for sending it along. Jan Huokko gets honorary membership (Swedish division) in the Czech defenseman list for this.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jackie R

#44 -- "Jackie Robinson: A Biography" by Arnold Rampersad

If I had the foresight for these kinds of things, I would have made this #42.

This is the second biography of Jackie Robinson that I've read -- the first was back in elementary school, and all I remember is that in it he had a cartoon talking baseball floating over his shoulder, giving him advice throughout his life. I always thought that would come in handy. There have been times when I could have used that talking baseball. ("No, Greg, don't do shots tonight!")

Rampersad's book inexplicably leaves out the talking baseball, but is pretty comprehensive in all other ways, giving a lot more insight into one of the most-analyzed sporting lives of the 20th century. He gives as much weight, if not more, to Robinson's non-sport life as his baseball career, which is pretty interesting. I sort of vaguely knew about his civil rights work post-playing, but let's face it, generally when I think of Jackie Robinson I think about baseball. So it's really illuminating to get much deeper into his life. A good book (and another that's been sitting on my shelves for a decade).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Eagles Song for Jay Farrar to Sing

First of an ongoing series -- cheese songs that Farrar can make respectable:

1. "Take it Easy" by the Eagles

Indian Summer

Summer stormed back briefly this week, getting up to 90 and reminding me that people aren't really meant to live here, but all-day rain yesterday cooled it off about 30 degrees and now I'm comfortable bringing the flannel shirts out of mothballs. It's been said 3,600 times since I started this blog, but autumn in Atlanta is pretty damned beautiful, and I wish it were a longer interregnum between between hell-on-earth summer and pissy/drizzly/damp winter. But it isn't, and I'll just appreciate it while it lasts. I have two weeks off from work starting next Friday, coming at the right time (I'm at that point where I'm thinking "only five days 'til my weekend" when the work week starts). I probably won't end up going anywhere because I have enough to keep me busy here, and any time off is good, wherever I may be.

* * *

After I made Miroslav's Meatloaf last week, the Ski Bum expressed surprise that I'm a firm fan of Czech defensemen besides Tomas Kloucek. Because I rarely have anything better to do, I subsequently made a canonical list of the Czech Defensemen I Like But No One Else Is Really Into. It's as follows:

Tomas Kloucek
Frantisek Kaberle
Jiri Bubla
Jiri Slegr
Libor Zabransky (now in charge of HC Kometa Brno -- who sit atop the Czech 1.liga!)
Petr Prajsler
Miroslav Dvorak
Ales Pisa (showed NHL promise, bolted when he couldn't get a one-way contract, last seen when the now-vanished Vakfan described him thusly: "Overrated, overpaid. Headlines about Pisa normally start with 'suspension' or 'stupid penalty'." Oh Ales.

I own 13 jerseys once belonging to the aforementioned guys (seven Kloucek, two Pisa, one each of Zabransky, Prajsler, Slegr and Kaberle. Probably another of those things I shouldn't admit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Misfiring Synapses

For about three days now, off-and-on, the 1980s hit "When I'm With You" by Sheriff has been creeping into my head and refusing to leave. If you don't remember it and want to hear it, you can find it on -- I went ahead and listened, and it's pretty awful, but that didn't purge it from my poor brain. I loved that song at one point, which I find difficult to credit now -- most songs that I liked as a kid, I can at least remember what struck me (I can still tolerate Night Ranger, for chrissakes), but this is just grating.

Weirder still, the period when I loved this song coincided with getting into Black Flag and Husker Du. I'm trying to remember what it must have been like, going back and forth between, say, this or Alphaville's "Forever Young" ... and "Slip It In." Being a teenager is a tough time, I guess.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Miroslav's Meatloaf

It's been a while since I've done any cooking that didn't involve "punch holes in film, microwave for six minutes," but Saturday I finally broke my recent habit of eating all my weekend meals in bars and whipped something up. Czech-style, natch.

Miroslav Dvorak was a pretty good defenseman for the Flyers back in the 1980s. A few years back, I wrote to him to get the above photo signed (yes, yes, I'm a nerd), and he responded very graciously -- wrote a letter talking about what he was doing, encouraging me to visit the Czech Republic and drop by his business (a hotel/restaurant/sports complex, I think). When he passed away this past summer, I was pretty sad. So in his honor, and in the tradition of Bubla Vodka -- let's cook up some Czech meatloaf -- in Miro's memory.

This recipe is more-or-less taken from "The Czechoslovak Cookbook" by Joza Brizova, with some alterations based on personal preference and how much meat I'd bought.

Mix one pound ground beef and one pound ground pork together. You may have also bought ground veal, because you remembered the recipe wrong. Save that for something else. (if anyone has any suggestions on recipes involving one pound of ground veal, kindly e-mail me.)

Add salt, pepper, and two eggs. Stir.

About this time, fix yourself a vodka with limeade. This is called an "Anonymous L.P." in these parts, because Anonymous L.P. was the first to point out to me that vodka with limeade is really, really good.

Drink that.

Open the package of dinner rolls that you got about two days ago. Exclaim in disgust that several of them have mold already. Remove those and throw them away, vowing to move to a place where things don't get moldy in two days. You only need three rolls, anyway. Soak them in a cup of milk until they're good and sodden.

Squeeze the excess milk out of the rolls. This feels kind of gross -- try not to think about it. Tear them up, and throw them into the meat mixture.

Chop up about three strips of uncooked bacon. Put half of that into the meat mixture.

Take the onion that you've had sitting around for a while, note with relief that at least it isn't moldy, chop it. Fry it and the other half of the bacon.

You probably need another Anonymous L.P. about now.

Once the bacon and onion are good and fried, toss them into the mix. Stir it all up really well. Form into one big mass.

Melt half a cup of Crisco in a roasting pan. I use Crisco without any trans-fats, which means it's really good for you, right?

Place the meatloaf into the roasting pan. Roast it at 350 degrees for an hour and a half, occasionally opening it all up and dumping some beef stock on top. Drink a few A.L.P.s during this time.

Enjoy! Beer probably goes better with this dish than vodka. May I suggest Czechvar?

So there you go, the perfect way to start off the hockey season. I was going to do a NHL preview, complete with literary references and suggestions that Red Wings fans are of subpar intellect, but that's probably not going to happen. If you want hockey coverage, look over along the right side.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Nobel Winners I've Read

Regarding the last post, more for my own edification than anything else, here's a list of the Nobel Literature winners I've read:

1907 - Rudyard Kipling (as a kid, granted)
1938 - Pearl S. Buck -- uh, good question which one. Again, it was as a youngster -- one of her books seemed to get assigned in every literature class I took. But I can't remember which. Not "The Good Earth."
1947 - Andre Gide ("Amyntas")
1954 - Ernest Hemingway (most of his novels/collections)
1955 - Halldor Laxness ("Independent People")
1957 - Albert Camus ("The Stranger," "The Plague")
1962 - John Steinbeck (various and sundry)
1969 - Samuel Beckett ("Waiting for Godot")
1982 - Gabriel Garcia Marquez ("Love in the Time of Cholera")
1983 - William Golding ("Lord of the Flies")
1993 - Toni Morrison ("Beloved")
1999 - Gunter Grass ("The Tin Drum")
2001 - V.S. Naipaul ("A Turn in the South")
2006 - Orhan Pamuk ("Snow")

Geez, not a real hot record, huh? Now there's a few disclaimers -- of course I've read T.S. Eliot and Eugene O'Neill, and a few other poets and playwrights, but I'm hard-pressed to remember which one. I read Faulkner in a lit class at some point, but since I can't even remember which book, I won't include it -- I've also read some Seifert, but if you asked me what I couldn't tell ya. And I've got books by several other Nobel winners (here's a list, by the way) waiting on my shelves -- Saramago, Mahfouz, Andric. AND, I'll go so far as to say the Nobel committee has done itself a disservice over the years by overlooking your Nabokovs, your Pynchons, your Roths, your DeLillos, all of whom I've read.

Still, pretty bad record there, Greggers. Get to it.

Autumn Reading

I think we're safe to say that it's fall here, as I haven't muttered "goddammit, it's hot" lately and it's really actually quite pleasant, a term I don't often apply to Atlanta. Today it's been going back and forth (often within a minute) between overcast/threatening and blindingly bright, which is a bit unsettling, but at least I'm not pouring sweat.

It's this time of year that I really wish I had a balcony or patio, and that's my excuse for spending a lot of time in bars. Of course, my favorite bar doesn't have a patio, and I live across the street from two bars that do have large patios and I never visit either, so I guess we go back to the original excuse, which is that I spend a lot of time in bars because I like to drink beer.

* * *

#43 -- "Amyntas" by Andre Gide

When some fellow I'd never heard of won the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this week, I felt kinda bad that I haven't read more Nobel winners' work. Then I grabbed this off the shelf (part of the aforementioned "clean out these shelves" project), read it, and realized: I've just added a Nobel winner to the "read" list. Good job, me.

These are his journals from time spent in Algeria and Tunisia around the turn of the century. As you'd kind of expect from a great writer's journals, they're a mixture of breathtaking observations and parts that make me say "who gives a shit?" It's more impressionistic than narrative, and that's fine -- that makes it a bit different from the travel lit I normally read. But at one point toward the end, Gide asks "why am I writing this?" right about the same time I was asking "why am I reading this?"

There's a curiously timeless quality to writing about the desert. "Amyntas" covers travels in the first decade of the 20th century, but there's little to separate it from the imagery in the post-war "The Sheltering Sky." There's a doctoral thesis in there somewhere, for someone other than me.

* * *

Moment from last night: while out eating sushi and reading, a girl and her date sat next to me -- girl looked at the book I was reading and shrieked delightedly, "oh my god, I love that" and proceeded to talk about how she recommends the book to everyone she knows. She said to her date "look, he's reading that book I love," and date responded "uh huh" in a tone that managed to convey "I hope Book Guy here dies painfully." It's always nice to be reminded that while I'm the weirdo reading and eating sushi alone, other people out there do enjoy books. And it's given me an idea for a literacy campaign: "Reading: Chicks Dig It."

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Atlanta Culture Watch

I always loved reading the restroom walls as a kid, to the chagrin of my parents, and apparently some vestige of that remains.

* * *

#42 -- "Fury: Inside the Life of Theoren Fleury" by Andrew Malcolm

I'm trying to clear off my bookshelves a bit, so I finally read this -- I was sent a review copy back in the late 1990s, about the time Theo was traded to the Avalanche.

The narrative's pretty familiar to anyone who was watching hockey in the 1990s -- Fleury the small guy who overcame all sorts of obstacles to make good. This suffers a bit thanks to something that's not at all the author's fault -- Fleury's rather public self-destruction later on revealed demons that really aren't apparent here.

It's decent. I don't really read a lot of sports books any more, and this is in the camp of "not bad, but I wouldn't seek it out if it hadn't been languishing on my bookshelf for a decade." Some of it's kind of entertainingly dated, especially references to the NHL being a sport on the rise and making inroads in the U.S. It can be really choppy, too. It jumps around by necessity, but sometimes obviously significant references are made and then not followed up for a while.

Ok, about time to give "Mason & Dixon" another stab.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Helpful Hints

If you need to turn off the water to unhook a dodgy appliance -- if you're one of those people who says "calling a professional is for suckers" -- remember it's all the way to the RIGHT to turn it off. Not left.

If you turn it all the way to the left, you will wind up drenched from head to toe, shrieking "shit!" and "fuck!" in a not-at-all-impressive falsetto, as your neighbor from downstairs bangs on the door, wondering with justifiable agitation why there's water dripping from his ceiling.

Hope this is useful.

Friday, October 03, 2008

There's a BurgerTime Joke to be Made

Above you see an unexpected delicacy of Nashville: deep-fried pickles with horseradish sauce. I ordered them as a novelty at a BBQ place one night; surprisingly, they turned out to be fantastic.

I really ate healthily on this trip -- deep fried pickles, BBQx15, bratwurst nachos, not to mention the aforementioned key lime martinis and copious amounts of beer. I'd like to say that since coming back I've been on a strict raw vegan diet, but that would be a lie.

* * *

In a sort of "fall cleaning" mood today, I've stripped out some dead blogs from the links over there and added some new ones. Take a peek, won't you?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Blogger Who Came In From the Cold

Oh, hey. Yeah, I'm still alive -- just distracted by work, the health stuff (about which more sometime soon, after I have a stiff drink), home stuff, and the ability to play Qix on MAME.

I really am going to post Nashville pics at some point -- I guess I just have to let the calm of a vacation completely fade before I can get some photos up. Here's one, just for kicks -- the utterly bizarre/vaguely demonic-looking AT&T building in the center of downtown.

It's the tallest building not only in Nashville, but all Tennessee, as you'd know if you just looked at Wikipedia like I did. It's pretty intriguing, though I still don't know if I actually like it.

* * *

Other stuff: oh, hey, I read books, but both are books I've read a million times before:

#40 -- "Neither Here Nor There" by Bill Bryson

#41 -- "The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian" by Lawrence Block

Both are very funny and you should read them!

* * *

And oh look, it's hockey season, so it's time for Don Cherry to say something that puts my teeth on edge. I realize that most hockey fans are somewhere to the right of Newt Gingrich, but God, it remains a constant embarassment that this xenophobic weirdo remains the most prominent spokesman for the sport. The sad thing is, he does make some good points about the unfeasability of European expansion, but it's in such an obnoxious manner that I end up rooting for the Flames to move to Helsinki.

And that calls for a hockey update: HC Kometa Brno are in second place in the Czech "1. liga," just a point behind league leaders HC Vrchlabi (booo! hiss!). I still do not have a HC Kometa t-shirt.

And in 11 13 games with HC Barys Astana, PPA hero Tomáš Klouček (or Томаш Клоучек, as he's known in Kazakhstan) has three assists and 53 penalty minutes. Go TK!

Here's a video of Barys Astana (in blue) winning a game recently -- I think you can actually see TK on the second two Barys goals, starting at about 1:50. He's #22. However, since the guy I think may be Клоучек is doing things like jumping into the rush -- very unKloucekian behavior -- I may be wrong.

More stuff coming soon, a bit more regularly, for all six of you that are still reading.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Probably the Only Blogger to Eulogize Paul Newman Today

When I was in college, our student newspaper was playing one of those games beloved of 20-year-olds looking to avoid work, discussing who would play each of us in a movie. I chose a young Paul Newman. Never mind that the only resemblance I bore to Paul Newman of any age was that we were both white guys, never mind that Paul Newman probably wouldn't be caught dead in a Youth of Today t-shirt and cut-off Dockers. He had an ageless cool that I wanted to emulate even then.

There was something eternal and reassuring about him -- he looked roughly the same in "The Sting" as he did in "Nobody's Fool" -- maybe older, but just as composed and calm.

There aren't many humans I'd call timeless, but he was. If Paul Newman can die, we're all screwed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Peter Pepper's Traveling All-Stars

So hey, haven't been around here much lately. Sorry! Busy busy. Work, non-work, and then BurgerTime.

When I was a kid, I loved video game arcades, even though I sucked horribly at pretty much every game -- forget getting to the second level of Donkey Kong, I just wanted to get past three barrels without dying. But I found them pretty magical, and if you had told age-10 me that age-35 me would be friends with someone who had several coin-op video games in his house, I would have figured that I'd be hanging out with the Prince of Monaco or something at age 35.

I don't think ICJ is the Prince of Monaco (speak up if you are, though!), but every time I visit him back in Colorado, I get a bit of that amazement back. And the suckiness, too, because I'm still awful at Tempest.

So ICJ was the logical person to go to when I felt the need, the craving, for an authentic BurgerTime (or Burger Time, or Burgertime) experience this past week. If you never played it, in BT, you're Peter Pepper, who has to run on top of hamburgers to make them fall down into a little box. The whole time you're being chased by angry pickles, hot dogs, and eggs. It's just like life.

I had found this Flash version, which is pretty faithful, but I needed the full-fledged version -- music, feet on the hot dogs, eyes on the pickles. I needed it to be as real as possible.

ICJ did some research and confirmed that there is no Xbox version of the game, and no PC version, so ... I was doomed. And then he said, uncertainly (well, I am projecting here - we were instant messaging) -- "have you thought about MAME?"

Ah, MAME. I tried it once, years ago, and couldn't get it to work on my computer, so I forgot about it. But with ICJ talking me through it, I got it to work (it's not really that hard), and now... it's Burger Time all the time here. It was one of the only games I was good at as a kid, and I'm sad to see I'm pretty rusty, but at the rate I'm going I'll be playing it about 10 hours a day within the week.

Apropos of that, two old arcade stories that this brought to mind:

When I was a kid, hanging out at Chuck E. Cheese's, I was initially unaware of the common move of putting a quarter on the marquee to signify that you had next game. So when I was playing, I dunno, Zaxxon one day and some other kid put his quarter up, I figured he was helping me out with my Zaxxon awesomeness, and in the sort of smooth asshole move that I could never have pulled off had I known better, I reached up, took his quarter, and popped it into the machine for a new game. He didn't say a word (which was good, because I was enough of a wimp that I would have spent a week in traction if he'd so much as pushed me) and walked away. Some weeks or months later, I realized what I'd done, and I still feel pretty ashamed. I hope he didn't grow up to be a serial killer or something.

Then, in an attempt to get decent at Donkey Kong, I bought a paperback book that professed to show you how to get good at video games. I didn't think that maybe it had hints and tips that I should consider and work into my mind before playing -- no, I decided to READ THE BOOK AS I WAS PLAYING THE GAME. Here's a tip for playing Donkey Kong: don't try to read a paperback book with one hand as you're playing. Imagine a bespectacled, skinny kid working the joystick with one hand, holding the book open with the other, then realizing, oh shit, you need a free hand to hit the "jump" button. All things considered, it's good my parents didn't take me to arcades too much.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Out of Order

Home internet service is really really sick, so I'm lucky if I can log on for five minutes. So neat stuff further delayed.

Briefly, though --

#39 -- "Reappraisals" by Tony Judt

I foolishly put off reading this, because the Economist kinda slammed it and I feared it would tarnish the memory of "Postwar." I needn't have worried -- it's fucking fantastic (feel free to use that on the cover of the paperback edition, guys). This is a collection of Judt's essays from the past, oh, 15 years or so, and there's nary a misstep throughout. In a few cases, I don't know enough about the Marxist scholars or whoever he's discussing to be able to respond critically, but it's often enough to spur me to check out the stuff he's writing about. And when he's discussing current/recent/historical events, he's at the top of his game. The opening essay, "The World We Have Lost," is so spot-on that I want to photocopy it, send it to everyone I know, and say "This. This is where all discussion should pretty much start." I recommend this and I re-recommend "Postwar." I want more Judt. The guy needs a blog.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nashville, Briefly

An unexpectedly busy week so I still really haven't had a chance to look through the pictures. Hopefully this weekend.

Nashville was a fun town (we stayed in the heavy tourist part of the city, and it was a blast -- Atlanta has nothing comparable), and it's a bit of a shame that it's taken me this long to visit -- it's only four hours away. I've been really remiss in seeing things outside of Atlanta, outside of the occasional photo-seeking half-day trip. I haven't been to Savannah in five or six years, haven't been to Charleston since I moved here, and so on.

It was also hot as hell, and more humid than Atlanta. That's not such a great thing. I had figured "Nashville is farther north = Nashville has more bearable temperatures," but WRONG.

Anyway, more to come.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Beaten by Bovary

Nashville pics probably coming tomorrow -- I'm a bit lazy plus returning to work today.

#38 -- "Something to Declare" by Julian Barnes

This probably suffers a bit because I wanted it to be something it isn't, and also because I don't share the author's interests. I'd expected it to be a France-oriented version of "Letters From London," and that's not the case -- it does start off with little essays on French culture, some of which are pretty fascinating (on the Tour de France, for instance), others not so much, but still well-written.

The second half-plus of the book is all about Flaubert and his circle, and again well-written, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it if you're really, really (as Barnes is) into Flaubert. I'm not. One essay would have been enough for me -- there's ten, though, and I found myself losing interest pretty fast.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Music City Miracle

So hey, I've been in Nashville for a few days, without any real internet access save the Holiday Inn lobby computer, which had Net Nanny installed so that I was prevented from accessing "adult content" sites like One Base On An Overthrow.

The photo above can be chalked up to one of two things: I was shocked because I'd just consumed several "Key Lime Martinis," and thus realized that I'm not actually a 35-year-old man but instead a 19-year-old sorority girl, or because it's the first time I've seen the word "Predators" in the past twelve months without someone concurrently shrieking at me about Jim Balsillie.

More pictures and HC Kometa Brno info available once I catch up. I'll end the suspense, though -- N-ville's a fun town!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fighting the Bryan Adams Joke Urge

#37 -- "Summer of '49" by David Halberstam

A few months back, I realized that I'd never ever read any of Halberstam's books, so I picked up a few. Naturally I read the baseball one before any of those dealing with serious subjects.

In my teenage years, I read just about every baseball book in the Boulder Public Library, except for this one and one or two of Roger Angell's books, which looked, I dunno, too serious for me.

Anyway, "Summer of '49" was a nice end-of-summer read, pretty quick and nicely paced. I burned myself out on baseball literature long ago, but this is probably a bit headier stuff -- Halberstam's a big fan, but he can't curb his intellectual instincts, which is a-ok with me. There's a good case to be made for the pennant race occurring at a crucial juncture in American history (granted, you could probably make that case for any race between, say, the 1940s and the 1970s), as radio had started giving way to TV, the color line was still newly broken, stars' feet of clay weren't visible, etc etc.

The race was probably pretty gripping, but there's not a lot of drama -- even if you don't know the end result, I think you can figure out who's gonna end up winning pretty quickly. Good pleasant read, in any case -- next I'll have to take up some of his political work.

* * *

Linkage: when I was a kid, Casa Bonita in Denver was one of the locations for kids' birthday parties -- I remember magicians, divers, mazes, mysteries, loads of stuff (and I'd bet some of the recollections are fanciful or mistaken). It's probably been nearly 25 years since I've been, so it was a trip when Noah passed this along -- an adult's trip back to Casa Bonita. It seems really dingy and depressing, which it may have been back then too (I thought Chuck E. Cheese had the world's best pizza back then, too, so it's not like I was some amazing ten-year-old arbiter of taste). It was quite a trip reading it, and I'm glad someone else did it rather than me.

Meanwhile, Double Cross has posted part of an interview with Gavin of No For An Answer (who just showed up in the comments at this blog, I think -- again, wheels within wheels!). NFAA remain one of my favorite bands from that era, and it was really a blast to read about their genesis. You can bet I'll be breaking out "You Laugh" in the coming days.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Two Things

a) well, that sucked.

b) no idea what happened to the banner -- I drunkenly changed it last night, decided much later that part of it was not in keeping with the high-class joint I run here, and apparently blew the whole thing up.

Opening Day!

There's something cheering about football starting up, even if it's still summertime temperatures outside -- it's another indication that the world will soon be a bit more bearable. And even if I don't expect much from either the Buccaneers or Broncos this year, it's still a pleasure to have it back.

Of course, I'll be watching most of it from work, but we all have our crosses to bear.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Girls Would Turn the Color of an Avocado

Irritating things: whenever I hear the name of former Brewer/Phillie Sixto Lezcano (not that often), my brain takes it and starts an ongoing loop of the Modern Lovers' "Pablo Picasso," substituting in "Sixto Lezcano." It does this with Cesar Cedeno, too, but it doesn't last as long.

I'm nearly on hour 24 of "Sixto Lezcano was never called an asshole." At least it's better than "Raising McCain."

Thursday, September 04, 2008


I recently came across an early-1970s hockey magazine from Czechoslovakia* -- which has a bunch of cool and interesting ads in it. Some remarkably similar to North American ads at the same, others very different. I'll be posting them here from time to time, until I run out or get bored.

The bit along the side says, roughly, "for modern men from the national company." I'm not sure which national company; hard to tell whether this is an advertisement for "Rex" or "Kras Brno." "Kras Brno" is listed as a garment producer that went out of business in the 1990s; there's a business called "Rex" at Podnásepní 1 in Brno, if you want to drop by.

It's kind of reassuring to know that even in the murkiest depths of the Cold War, both sides had goofy pants.

* - the magazine is devoted to the ZKL Brno hockey club -- ZKL has evolved over the decades into our new hockey heroes, HC Kometa Brno. They came through and won the Tipsport Cup on Tuesday, scoring three times in the final period to rally from a 4-2 deficit. Nice job, guys. They're also apparently facing a dispute with the city, or the people who run their arena, or both -- the details are too convoluted for my poor language skills or Google translation.

Also, I still haven't figured out a way to get my hands on a t-shirt, so if anyone's reading from out Brno way...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Atlanta, Last Day of August

You go to the trouble of making a stencil with your dopey stab at irony, sneak out under cover of darkness, get your message on to a hapless utility box -- and never think to double-check your spelling? You people make me crazy. Crazy, I say.

Once upon a time, this must have been a fairly bustling little corner -- the building to the right was the Ford Factory, and the trains would have rumbled by just overhead. Now the factory has been converted into decrepit lofts and struggling businesses, the train tracks are overgrown and forgotten, and this was taken from the vantage point of a run-down Kroger parking lot. The Beltline would run right by here, on the old tracks, which might actually do something for the area (or make it worse, I guess. I really need to learn something about the project).

Even the police stations go out of business around here.

If I ever do a coffee table book of Atlanta's best signs, rest assured, Dugan's, you'll be featured prominently.