Thursday, January 31, 2008


With a hearty GNNOORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRK I welcomed my 35th birthday this morning, deep (again) in some horrendous terminal illness. I saw "Atonement" the other night and I think I'm about as charming as the scene of the wounded from Dunkirk, where everyone's expelling ugly-looking fluids from every orifice. Since, of course, nothing's going to stop me from drinking tonight, I would presume that 35 years and one day will be the extent of my time on this planet.

Haven't done much with vacation, which is no bad thing. Part of it's been because the last few days have been sorta illness-dominated, partly because I'm just relaxing, partly because it's been pretty cold and it's hard to get yourself up to go and take pictures of old buildings when it's 35 degrees and windy.

I did see a few movies -- "Scarface" and "Atonement," sort of opposite ends of the spectrum. "Scarface" is kind of ridiculously fun (I've started to watch it before, but, uh, I was always really drunk), quotable in that cult film way, over-the-top violence that seems cartoonish now. "Atonement" was beautiful and sad as hell, some gaping holes in the plot but with good performances, and for a two-hour-plus movie, it zipped along.

Also have gone out to see a fair amount of hockey, last night's Thrashers-Penguins game and Sunday's All-Star Game. At the latter, while wandering around aimlessly before the game, some guys doing a radio show loudly proclaimed my jersey (HC Velvana Kladno, '99-'00) the best they'd seen all day. Sadly, that was probably my greatest achievement of 2008 to date.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Your Excuse

From BLDGBLOG -- all of a sudden I have all sorts of new excuses for lack of writing:

A British novelist has been awarded legal damages in excess of £100,000 because she writes thrillers, not literary masterpieces. What's at fault? She's been inhaling fumes from a nearby shoe factory.

I figure I've got all sorts of lawsuit options now -- for instance, I obviously draw inspirations from old run-down buildings, but Atlanta turns them all into condos (which then sit empty, and will be old run-down buildings again in a few decades). Or maybe I'll file a suit because I live next to a bar -- is there anything more damaging to productivity than that?

* * *

I'm on vacation again, the annual birthday and Super Bowl and relaxation week off. Thus far, I've accomplished little (see above for possible reasons!), not even taking photos of old buildings -- I went down to Atlanta's West End to take some photos yesterday, and ha ha, my camera's batteries were dead when I got there. Another time.

Haven't been reading books, haven't been taking pictures, haven't been writing, haven't been exercising -- I'm hard-pressed to establish just what it is I have been doing. Well, up 'til Thursday, working a ton. But now, new era, new motivation. It begins now, to coin a phrase.

* * *

In lieu of me doing anything: amazing photos and video of a Namibian ghost town being reclaimed by the desert. Link via Boing Boing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Short Story Roundup

This is needle in a haystack territory, but I'm trying to remember the titles/authors of two short stories that I read as a kid -- I seem to recall that they were in an elementary school or junior high classroom anthology, though both seem a bit morbid for school.

* two guys are in a car, fleeing a bank robbery (and possibly on drugs). They enter a tunnel, and find themselves deep in gridlock -- and the tunnel never ends, and it turns out they were actually in a car accident, and are now in Hell or something to that effect.

* a woman is approached by a stranger, who gives her a box with a button on it. He tells her "if you press that button, someone you don't know will die, and we will give you a shitload of money." She takes the box, thinks about how horrible it is, thinks about how great the money would be, and finally, after a few days, presses the button. She waits, and gets a phone call: "hey, someone pushed your husband in front of a train." The stranger shows up with a big bag of money, and the woman is pissed -- "you said you'd kill someone I didn't know!" The stranger replies "ah, but did you truly know your husband?" EDIT: the Ski Bum cracked this one -- "Button Button" by Richard Matheson

Neither were great literature, but for some reason, they're both bugging me. Anyone recall these?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Back on the Map

I love maps, always have. I tore through atlases as a kid, loved globes -- even now, I spend way too much of my money buying another map of Central/Eastern Europe in order to plan the route of a hypothetical trip. I seek out old maps of Atlanta to see what's changed. Stick a map or an atlas in front of me and I'm transfixed.

When I was a kid, my Mom passed on her old college atlas, which had a few (to me) oddities -- she went to college in the early '60s, around the time of the major African push for independence, so the borders and names of those nations were very much in flux. I found that fascinating.

Less easy to explain: the book had a couple of maps of fictional locations -- maps of Treasure Island (I think - may have been Robinson Crusoe's island) and Atlantis. They were played pretty straight, so being kind of literal, I took them as gospel. And so when a teacher referred to Atlantis as not real, I took umbrage, and brought in the atlas as proof. Don't remember if this teacher was the same beleagured person who had to deal with my anger over another kid's name.

This is all a long-winded way of getting around to my current favorite site -- Strange Maps. It's been around for a year and a half, I guess, and it's a tragedy that it's taken me this long to find it. I've occupied the greater part of the last two days hunting through the archives, enjoying every post.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Greetings From DeathStorm 2008

Ok, not really, but the city's shutting down -- I just spent a few hours hunkering down at Manuel's, and the TV is entirely devoted to a listing of what's expected (snow 'til 9pm) and what's closing down (everything, including the meeting of some high school's 1961 alumni group). The BARRY MANILOW concert was canceled, so you know it's serious. In Colorado, this would be a pretty average winter day, so it's kind of amusing -- but since no one here is accustomed to snow, and can't drive on the clearest day of the year, it's a bit more serious. Thankfully everything I need (read: bars) is within walking distance.

Notes from a bar, vol. 1: they were flipping through the TV channels (up-to-the-minute weather reports got tiring) and the description of one show read, in total, "A man is sucked into a jet engine on an aircraft carrier." I didn't catch the show name, but that constitutes must-see TV.

Winter Wonderland

This may seem a little silly and self-indulgent, since about 90 percent of regular readers live in places where snow is more an annoyance than a novelty, but hey -- it's not often that it snows twice in a week here, and if self-indulgence was a problem for me, this blog wouldn't have lasted a week.

The snow's really coming down harder now, and it looks like we're gonna get a good accumulation. And I don't have to work. Wheeeee!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Memorial Drive

(and surrounding areas)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Snow Day

It's purportedly snowing outside -- unfortunately, I'm stuck inside windowless work, missing it. While I'm all for the recent nice weather, I get a bit homesick for a good snowy day.

It's been a few years now since we had a good Georgia winter storm. Every few years, we'll get socked, and it's kind of fun -- it's a change, at least, and much better when it happens once every few years rather than twice a winter.

The last major one I can think of was January of 2005, when we got nailed by a major ice storm. Solid ice on my (then-brand-new) car, streets and sidewalks impossible to navigate. When the sleet started coming down, I escaped next door to Atkins Park for a bit, to get a last fortification before I was house-bound.

I ended up next to a hunched, put-upon fellow, who soon started telling the bar at large that he had been sent out to buy firewood. By his "bitch of a wife," he soon elaborated. The grumbling about the wife soon escalated into a full-blown crazy man drunken rant, as he downed drink after drink (occasionally reminding us that he was supposed to be buying firewood). The wife anger apparently shifted to the bar staff as well -- he ordered food, then when it arrived, angrily denied that he'd ever ordered anything. Fun guy all around.

Then his cell phone rang. "Oh, hi, honey," in a sweet/powerless voice. "I'll be back soon!"

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Soak Up the Sun

I'm kind of a pessimistic sort and can usually find the bad in anything, but I'll admit, when it's 60 degrees and sunny in mid-January (rare, even for Atlanta), I'm able to put aside my fears about climate change for a bit and revel in the ability to go sit in the sun, drink Pilsner Urquell, and write for a bit. Unfortunately, #3 on that little list turned into "staring helplessly at an empty page," which hampered my enjoyment of #s 1 and 2, so I read, instead.

#2 -- "Good Omens" by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

I read this when it first came out, back when I was young and skinny, and didn't really think about in the intervening years until last year, when I thought "hey, I bet a first American hardcover of Gaiman's first book goes for lots on eBay." Wrong, as it turns out, so I left it alone. Then Tapeleg mentioned it in the comments of another post, and I made a mental note to (rather than sell it) read it again sometime.

After reading "In Europe," and sort of afraid to start on "Mason & Dixon," I told anyone who would listen¹ that I needed to read something escapist. And thus, I found myself blowing the dust off of "Good Omens" yesterday.

When I got this, I'd never heard of Terry Pratchett, and Gaiman was just starting to become known for his comic work on Sandman and Black Orchid. I probably bought it because of Gaiman's DC Comics connection and because (I dimly recall) it was described as "like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but about God" or somesuch. In the intervening years, I've gone through and ended a Pratchett phase, gone through and ended several comic collecting phases, and Gaiman's become a best-selling author and hero to millions. I've gone from being a gawky 17-year-old to a moody 34-year-old. How would "Good Omens" hold up?

Pretty well, as it turns out (and honestly, I didn't expect it would). I laughed a lot -- I'm not one to laugh out loud too much, being a man of serious thoughts, but I cracked up a few times sitting out on the Pilsner Urquell-supplying patio this afternoon. I probably get a few more of the jokes, the occasionally saccharine tone doesn't bug me like it probably did at 17. I feel a bit of guilt for reading it instead of something I haven't read before, but not enough that it'll prevent me from enjoying the NFL playoffs (go Seahawks) this afternoon. In short, if you like Hitchhiker's, and haven't read this (unlikely, I admit), pick this up.

¹ Not as many people as you might think

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Books 2008

#1 -- "In Europe" by Geert Mak

As I mentioned, I meant to start off the year with Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon," but... I received this for Christmas, quickly became engrossed, and since it's of a monolithic size (800+ pages) itself, Pynchon will have to wait a while.

I first read about "In Europe" in the Economist sometime last year, and the feature made it sound pretty appealing -- then saw a review or two that wasn't so positive. I'm pleased to report that it's really fantastic.

The idea is this: in 1999, Dutch journalist Mak traveled all throughout Europe, reliving the century -- beginning with the cities that were most influential in 1900, ending with the cities that marked the 1990s.

It sounds ripe for abuse, but I'm happy to say it's not contrived at all. Mak is perceptive and sympathetic without being nostalgic. It's an effective history, told through anecdotes, oral histories, and Mak's end-of-the-century travels. It's long, but pretty engrossing, and belongs on the shelf next to Tony Judt's "Postwar" and Mark Mazower's "Dark Continent."

Link: Geert Mak's website

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

PPA 2.0

Ok, I think I've managed to not botch anything: a new layout (hardly radical, just changed the "Son of Moto" template to "Mr. Moto" - I was a bit sick of the green), switched to the updated version of Blogger (about eight months late), and added a header photo (first suggested by Brushback many moons ago). Posts and comments seem to be ok. Full speed ahead!

Over the holidays, my more technologically-oriented brother sold me on Google Reader. I've fooled around with feed readers before, but finally, this one seems to actually be changing the way I use the internet a bit.

The PPA blogroll was basically supposed to be my own bookmarks, reminding me to check things out -- that didn't work out. At least thus far, Google Reader is better for that -- blogs that I've previously tried to stick with (Boing Boing) but dropped because of the flood of posts now seem more manageable. It seems to be a good tool for those more-frequently-updated blogs (BB, Wonkette, Juan Cole etc). I'm pretty thoroughly addicted to the reader now -- during down time at work last night I was checking it twice a minute.

(Tim was one for two, alas -- his efforts to hook me on haven't been so successful so far)

More stuff (including more photos, I hope) coming soon.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Don't Be Alarmed

There'll be some changes popping up here and there over the next couple days, as I try out some new looks. Hopefully, I'll do this without deleting everything or shutting comments off.

Monday, January 07, 2008

We Hardly Knew Ye

I haven't written as much about football this season as last year, for a few reasons -- I've been working every Sunday (and thus, have been sober every Sunday), I've had a lot of things take precedence over sports the last few months, and the Buccaneers were winning, which is somehow less fun to write about.

More fun to watch, though, which makes the rather sudden playoff flameout kind of hard to take. Seems like I didn't even have time to get really excited about the playoffs before they were bounced. Today's first quarter was fantastic -- the rest, a slow, dull descent into despair.

I'm freed up to calmly enjoy the rest of the football postseason now, much in the way that a lobotomy patient doesn't fret about much. I don't really have much feeling for any of the other teams -- I'd even get a kick out of seeing the Patriots, suddenly America's most hated, run the table. It's all the same to me now.

* * *

In other sports news, a question for Vakfan... has hero to millions Tomas Kloucek been suspended? I see that he apparently picked up five and a game misconduct against Usti nad Labem, and then doesn't show up in the next boxscore -- but my laborious attempts to translate the Czech stories word-by-word aren't getting me anywhere. Is TK too tough for the Extraliga?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Five Books to Read in 2008

ICJ's message board has seen some recent threads on New Year's resolutions and video games to play in 2008, so altering the idea a bit for my own purposes, here's five books (already on my bookshelf) I intend to read this year (and if I fail, it'll be pretty shameful):

Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon. The only Pynchon I haven't read, and multiple assaults on its pages have been turned away by the tough-to-penetrate 18th-century dialect. I actually intended to start reading it the morning of January 1st, but got engrossed in Geert Mak's lengthy and excellent "In Europe" while in Colorado and the launch has thus been delayed.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I started it last year, found it to be as fantastic as everyone says, then put it aside. Why? I know not.

The Dream of the Decade by Afshin Rattansi. I am bad, bad, bad about reading books by friends of mine (witness the copy of "A House White With Sorrow" by Jennifer Heath on my shelf -- I'll read that too), an unadmirable quality that I intend to change this year.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. One of the FDs I haven't read -- started it last year, cast it aside. I've got the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, so there's no excuse not to read it, and I need to put a dent in the unread-Dostoyevsky pile.

Seven Seasons by Peter Forbath. I got this many, many years ago because I heard in passing that the plot tied into the Prague Spring/Soviet invasion of 1968. Never read it and it's such an old copy that it blends in well to my bookshelf -- it just looks read. This is the 40th anniversary of the above events, so an apt time to find out if this was a good purchase or not.

Many other things that I want to finish/read -- "The Ginger Man," "The Heart of the Matter," "Lolita," many more -- but these are the five I'm committing to. Clip this list, stick it on the fridge, remind me of my progress on December 31st.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

I Have Stigmata!

Either that, or the combination of really, really cold temperatures and really, really dry skin is causing my hands to crack and bleed spontaneously. I prefer the stigmata theory.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Hey, two posts in one day!

One of the things that Atlanta does for me: no matter where I go after this, I'll be a little bit content, because no matter what, the public transportation will be better wherever I go.

I see your smirk. "What about Baghdad, smart guy? What about Kabul?"

Well, I doubt I'll go to either, but I still bet it'll be better, ok? I did my once-a-year MARTA ride back from the airport the other day, and it was predictably stupid and hellish, but it did provide one benefit: glimpses of some oddball things from the elevated railroad track vantage.

The above graffiti -- "Last days has begun!!!", if it's too hard to read -- caught my eye. This morning, blowing my nose was losing its appeal, so I went out to try to track that down and some other stuff I'd noticed.

This building is kind of interesting just for the detail -- look at the work on the entry-way. Some web searching indicates it was most recently an auto repair shop, but that's kind of fancy stuff for a car place. It doesn't look occupied now, but I'm often bad at determining such things. The "PTC" (far as I can tell) dates to the early '80s -- the building itself was (according to records) built in 1942. There's some notes about a rezoning application for the property dating back to last summer, but they're pretty mind-numbing legalese and added nothing to the details I've got. I'm curious as to what it was originally.

Always dig the signs, you know. This part of town is pretty heavy on the repair shops.

This architectual style (which I've dubbed "sort-of Alamo-like") is kind of common in town (always on car/electrical places) -- I've never seen it anywhere else that I can remember.

For one of the first times ever, I was a little bit nervous shooting these pics -- not sure why, because there wasn't really anyone to be seen. Perhaps it was the sheer desolation, perhaps memories of the guy who yelled at me for taking photos of a not-actually-abandoned house. Perhaps it was because I just recently started watching "The Wire" and most of this area would fit right in there.

Now this was the other thing I saw from the MARTA train, and I'm afraid I'm nowhere near capturing just how weird it looks. A giant spiky turquoise silo. I'm guessing it's an art studio of some sort -- there's some large industrial sculptures in a neighboring yard (see the bottom of the picture) but I didn't see any signs, and places to park were scant. A quick search indicates that there are indeed a lot of art studios along Murphy, but none seem to match up to this thing.

The swordfish seems inordinately happy for someone who's about to be fried and eaten.

Ghost signs! Doesn't look as good as real life, but I'm surprised I've missed a specimen this good for so long.

Probably a year from becoming new condos.


Thanks to the ill-timed illness, I spent New Year's Eve at home, reading about Europe and dancing with Mr. Robitussin. My second straight lameish New Year's (last year was spent drinking for 12 hours and then passing out at about 12:02, as I recall), but hey, if 2008 is a good year, then I'll barely even think about being a dull old man on December 31st, right? RIGHT? Plus, I still have five days off, so I should be able to have some fun, provided I stop coughing up lung parts.

* * *

Quick best of 2007:

Best book read -- "Against the Day" by Thomas Pynchon. Yeah, it's got a lot of bits that would have been edited out of other authors' novels, but damn did I have a blast reading it.

Best album -- uh, I think I bought two albums that actually were released in 2007 (Jesu's "Conqueror" and the new Modest Mouse). Of those two, the Jesu wins, but I'm obviously getting pretty lousy about buying new music.

* * *

Like I said -- new year, new Klouček jerseys.

I'm at that stage (this is number six) where the collection seems less amusing and more borderline actionable, but at the same time, it's a blow to my honor if I don't buy every TK jersey I can.

This is his jersey from 2006-07 training camp and preseason, with the Columbus Blue Jackets. It's not heavily worn, because he was sent down right before the regular season. A bad move, of course -- the Blue Jackets went on to not win the Stanley Cup, which has happened to every single team that ditched Klouček. (look it up!)

You'd think this would be the end, right? You'd be wrong, of course. Just wait 'til his Zlín jersey comes available.

Happy New Year!