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.