Wednesday, February 25, 2009

God Save the Avalanche

Remember long ago when this blog covered hockey semi-regularly? Such different, more innocent days. I still love the sport but it doesn't get much of my attention these days. A while back, when I was writing on Jes's blog, I mentioned that I hadn't seen a game in two weeks and some commenter held me up as an example of all that was wrong with hockey in America, proof positive that the Southeastern Division should be forcibly relocated. Last night's game was the first I attended this year, and I hadn't seen any on television in more than a month. I wonder what that anonymous fellow would think of that. Probably that I should be shot.

The last time I saw the Avalanche play in Atlanta -- probably 2000 or 2001 -- the Colorado goalie (David Aebischer) gave up three goals in the first period on the way to a shameful loss. Last night, the Colorado goalie (Peter Budaj) gave up three goals in the first period. The only thing that's really changed is that in the early naughts, only Atlanta sucked. Now both teams do.

Last night was a revelation: though I've logically known that Colorado is not what it once was, my heart has continued to hold true that this is just a momentary downturn. The game put that to rest. It ended up close thanks to a late goal, but with a few exceptions, the Avalanche are pretty putrid.

It was nice to see Milan Hejduk playing really well (two goals, a constant threat). I've started thinking of him as an ailing dog, much loved but soon to go to a happier place. But he looked great last night. Ryan Smyth looked good. Paul Stastny wasn't bad after a long layoff.

The rest... I noticed Scott Hannan a lot, but in a "how can one defenseman be so out of position?" way rather than a good way. I noticed Peter Budaj, repeatedly looking sadly over his shoulder after another puck trickled into the net. And I noticed a lot of players looking very confused, skating into each other, tripping over sticks, waiting for some divine power to explain what they should do.

Making up for lost time, I've got a lot of tickets for games in the last half of the season. It's looking like this is going to be a meaningless season for me. Saves stress on the heart, at least.

* * *

Other notes:

* They still play that fucking Blur song after every Thrashers goal. It would be great if they stopped that.

* I didn't hear the attendance announcement -- maybe none came -- but I think there were about 22 people (half wearing Avalanche jerseys). I guess there's not a lot of desire to see 14th place versus 15th place.

* The most energetic fans: a 50-some couple, man in a suit and woman in off-duty hooker outfit, sloshed out of their skulls and engaging in spirited foreplay (without spilling their drinks) when the Kiss Cam fell upon them.

* I was wearing a Kometa Brno jersey (second round of playoffs start tomorrow!) and ran into a group of Czechs between periods -- including a girl from Brno, who was amazed to see the team's jersey here in Atlanta (and on some schlub from Colorado, no less). I complained about the lack of Kometa t-shirts in my possession. I should have asked if she had any professional connections over there.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Case of the Vapors

I thought I was well into the "boring" part of recovery, but then I started mildly hallucinating in the middle of Whole Foods yesterday. I don't have any past hallucinations to compare -- STRAIGHT EDGE IN YOUR FACE! -- but it was pretty strange, as images of my brother and an old friend superimposed themselves over reality, along with a recurring Lichtensteinesque picture of a man screaming. I pulled myself together and got out of there, and everything returned to normal once I was out (although I did emerge with both blueberry salsa and "Mexican Sweet Chili" tea, both of which are pretty weird). Most likely, skimping on breakfast and then overexerting myself caused all of it.

* * *

Oh hey, more books.

#20 -- "The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop." by Robert Coover

#21 -- "Black Dog of Fate" by Peter Balakian

The baseball novel has been on my to-read list for years, and holy crap, it wasn't at all what I expected. It's the comic tale of a lonely old guy who runs his own fictional baseball league -- that much I knew -- but when one of the imaginary players dies, he goes off the rails, and the result is post-mod hijinks, then taking a sharp right turn into creation myth. It's absolutely bizarre while still remaining clear. There's a lot going on here, probably far more than I caught, and it's by turns funny, horrifying and sad. At one point I described it to myself as "Flann O'Brien writing about baseball," and I think that's fairly far off the mark, but it makes me sound kind of smart so I'll leave it.

"Black Dog" was also not really what I expected. A bit of backing up: Tapeleg is currently winding his way through the western U.S., watching tons and tons of hockey along the way. One of the stops was at the Armenian Heritage Night game in L.A., which produced an absolutely fantastic post, and inspired me to pull this off the bookshelf. Balakian's book is first his chronicle of growing up Armenian in the U.S., vaguely aware of (and confused by) his heritage, then becoming more conscious of it and aware of the 1915 genocide in Turkey. So it begins the tale of an adolescence in American suburbia, then becomes a tale of unspeakable horror, and somehow works well. This earned all sorts of critical acclaim, and I can see why. There's a sequel and I'll pick that up as well.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Stylin' in Brno

Another ad from the 1970s Brno yearbook. A couple observations:

* that's the least happy fashion model I've ever seen

* I know that it's tough to cut dark hair out of a dark background, but didn't anyone in the design process get tipped off by the shape of his head? Perhaps this is how they were wearing their hair in 1974. Another example of the horrors of totalitarianism.

As far as I can tell, this is an ad for a textile factory rather than a store -- the line at the bottom, according to the mixed skills of Google Translator and me, says something like "Producing interesting fabrics for men's and women's clothing." Interesting indeed.

There's a few web references to the Vlněna factory -- it's defunct now, and here's a fellow who hunted around in the ruins. I found another reference (I'm too lazy to look it up again) that indicated that the building is going to be converted to high-end apartments, Atlanta-style.

Unconnected to any of this except that it's Brno -- again, if any Brno residents happen by, I still need a Kometa t-shirt. The team won't answer my e-mails.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Taking Care of Business

First off, congrats to my little brother and his wife, who had their first child thist week. I'm Uncle Greg now. He checks this about once a year in normal times and his life just got exponentially busier, so this is a bit pointless, but it's still pretty great and deserves notice.

Mom PPA headed home yesterday, after I got the all-clear to drive (look out, Atlanta -- I'm still on painkillers!), and I've now been learning which tasks I'm still unable to do thanks to my weak right arm. One of them is taking out the trash, so if you're in the neighborhood, stop by. Things are starting to smell.

* * *

I'm starting to wander a bit farther afield on my daily recuperation walks (and "farther afield" still only means "15 minutes from my house"), and the other day I took the camera along for the first time in centuries, to capture a little sight that's been there forever but that I've ignored.

It's a fence on Highland Avenue, covered in junk/discarded items. And it's pretty cool. There's car grills, medical supplies, carousel horses, all presented without explanation. It runs between an old residential (apartments, I'd assume) building and a car wash; I guess it's associated with the apartment building, since the "installation" curves around behind it.

The building is 995 N. Highland, but a quick Google search doesn't turn up any clue as to the reason behind this. It's sort of out of character for the neighborhood -- it's not a real funky place -- and I kind of dig it.

* * *

HC Kometa Brno has swept through the first round of the 1. Liga playoffs, crushing Olomouc four games to none. TEAM OF DESTINY. They'll now play KLH Chomutov, and here's where I wish I spoke Czech so I could talk some shit.

* * *

Books, books, books:

#18 -- "Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn" by Gary M. Pomerantz

#19 -- "Plowing the Dark" by Richard Powers

I wish I'd read "Peachtree" some years ago; if I'd read it when I first moved here, I might have felt like I had a bit more of a handle on Atlanta. Pomerantz tells the history of the city through two prominent families, one white, one black. He obviously loves Atlanta, but he's also straightforward and honest about the confused and often hostile race relations here. Anyone who moves here, pick this up and get a better start than I did.

I've raved about Powers repeatedly in the past, but "Plowing the Dark" completely fell flat for me. Maybe if I were more computer-oriented it would have worked, though perhaps not. When I read "Gold Bug Variations" I kind of wished that the characters were real so that I could know them. But here the characters are flat and unmemorable; the relationship between three is very reminiscent of the center of GBV, and seems like a pale imitation. At times the book reminded me of Steve Erickson's work -- lots of big ideas, ultimately not really going anywhere. Every day can't be sunshine, I guess. I still think the world of Powers and look forward to "The Echo Maker," but I can't recommend this.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Summer Project

It's been a while since I made any flavored vodkas around here, but now, thanks to Noah, I've got something to aspire to. This looks kind of gross, and extremely alluring. It's a while until I'll be able to drink again, but once I'm back in the game, LOOK OUT, WORLD.

* * *

#17 -- "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson

This is getting a lot of press, partly because of the backstory -- Swedish media figure dies suddenly, leaves behind the manuscripts of several completed novels. It's being hailed as a mystery masterpiece, and I wouldn't go that far. It's choppy and sometimes oddly paced -- it'll build up to a dramatic revelation then fail to deliver, then a couple chapters later start off "One day, so-and-so made several huge discoveries." It's got a few subplots that drag on too long, as well.

But -- it's oddly gripping, and once I got into it, it kept me enthralled (though occasionally frustrated). It's the kind of mystery that appeals to the researcher in me, with a decades-old crime and lots of scrutiny of old documents and photographs. It may be a bit overhyped, but it's entertaining, and I'll probably pick up the two subsequent books when they're eventually published.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Breaking Down the Stimulus

Very drunk man, yelling at laughing people outside my window at 2 a.m.: "this is just another way that the government's trying to control me."

The insight you gain, living next to a bar.

* * *

#15 -- "No Mercy" by Redmond O'Hanlon

#16 -- "Vagabonding" by Rolf Potts

I'd started "No Mercy" several times before, but this time it finally clicked for me. Go figure. It's a chronicle of O'Hanlon's trip deep into the Republic of Congo, and a pretty harrowing trip is made entertaining by the author's sense of humor and desire for knowledge. It drags like no one's business toward the end, but for 3/4 of the book or so it was enjoyable.

"Vagabonding" is a little "you can do it" guide on the subject of long-term cheap travel, which holds a lot of appeal for me. I always buy these books thinking they're going to reveal amazing secrets -- "here's how you get free airfare," etc. -- which of course aren't there. This is a nice book, though, in terms of making it all seem very possible. This is something I'll keep around simply for inspiration.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Milestones Achieved

Despite plenty of spare time, I haven't been writing much, because really, does anyone want to read about "I walked two blocks today" or "my incisions are healing nicely"? I think not, and I don't really want to write about it. I will say that long-term healing is a pretty boring process, though I wouldn't think that if it suddenly went wrong.

I'm facing one little ethical dilemma. Some guy in New York apparently used my e-mail address to establish his account for a popular "hook up with married people" dating site. (my personal e-mail address is one that is easily chosen if you hit random keys, unfortunately.) So I'm getting lots of e-mails with notes like "LuvsHumpin09 has sent you a message!" That's pretty irritating. I sent a note to the site's customer service asking them to remove my e-mail address from this account, with no luck.

Here's the dilemma: when I click on links in the e-mails, I'm into his account -- without needing to know the password. Since he freely used my e-mail, would it be so wrong if I changed his password? Or changed his preferences so that he was broadcasting some interesting new fetishes to the NYC dating pool?

These are the tough questions of our day.

* * *

Speaking of the milestone mentioned in the title:

#14 -- "Mason & Dixon" by Thomas Pynchon

I had a grand old time reading this, finally. I also understood maybe 50 percent of it. If there's a heaven, I'll spend a chunk of time there with ol' Tom P explaining what he was doing in his books, line by line. I probably wouldn't have had the patience for this with any other author, but with Pynchon it's pretty energetic and fun. And great timing, too, since he's got another book coming out later this year.

I'm a bit at a loss with what to do with myself now -- promising to read "M&D" has been a constant in my life for years now.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

This Had to Happen

Done here. I'm spending too much time in the house, obviously.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Great Unread

I've started reading Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon" again, and that's seriously about the tenth time I've written or said that particular phrase in the past few years. I'm optimistic that this time I'll get through, though, since my schedule's rather light these days.

A few days ago, I picked up "The Flanders Panel" by Arturo Perez-Reverte, another one that I've tried to read multiple times. I got about 60 pages in before admitting to myself that I really wasn't enjoying it at all, and cast it aside. I did so with a little sorrow -- I honestly have intended to read "The Flanders Panel" since I got it ten years or so ago, but I never will. The poorly-drawn characters overshadow the appeal of a historical mystery. It's time that it goes to the used bookstore.

In a spurt of settling accounts, I went on to acknowledge that there's a few other books that have had a lengthy stay on my shelves and will (despite my best intentions) likely never be read.

* "Oswald's Tale" by Norman Mailer. I read the first few pages once and said "gee, I read 'Libra,' why would I read this?"

* "Wrong Information Is Being Given Out at Princeton" by J.P. Donleavy. There's a decent chance I'd like it, but it's taken me ten years to get halfway through Donleavy's "The Ginger Man," so this is pretty unlikely.

* "The Book of Kings" by James Thackara. In the mid-1990s, there was a pretty fascinating New Yorker article on Thackara's struggle to get this published, and his uncompromising attitude toward editors. The article said it could be the "War and Peace" for World War II or could be crap. I read a little bit a while back and I lean toward the latter.

* "An Age of Mediocrity" by C.L. Sulzberger. Years ago, I read "A Long Row of Candles," the first volume of Sulzberger's memoirs, and loved it -- so much that I tracked down the long-out-of-print second and third volumes. More than a decade later, I still have barely cracked volume two, "Last of the Giants" (which looks to be a lengthy love letter to de Gaulle). With that clocking in around a thousand pages, the likelihood of me getting to volume three is limited.

* "A Son of the Circus" by John Irving and "About a Boy" by Nick Hornby. Two authors that I've liked in the past but feel no drive to read now.

There you are: my shelf of shame.

* * *

One I have read, now:

#13 -- "Europeans" by Jane Kramer

Kramer has written dispatches from Yurp for the New Yorker for years now (I think she still does, though it occurs to me that I haven't seen her byline in a while). This is a collection of some of her pieces from the '70s and '80s. They're all pretty good, though some are a bit dated post-Cold War. Kramer's thoughtful and observant throughout, and while (of course) there wasn't enough Eastern Europe for my taste, it's still a good collection.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Super Bowl

A few months ago, I dropped cable. It wasn't much of a sacrifice. I work nights, so I don't watch a lot of television, and generally when I feel like visual stimulation, I just watch a DVD. At the time I dropped it, I calculated that I'd spent well over $150 for about ten minutes of viewing over a few months, so it seemed like the right thing to do. I haven't missed it since.

Until last night, that is, when I belatedly realized that at my location in Atlanta, you can't pick up a broadcast signal without cable -- making the Super Bowl unwatchable. I'm still too weak to spend a few hours out, even in a non-smoking location, so Mom and I decided to listen to it on the radio.

Except the radio station wouldn't come in either -- I got scraps of football in the maelstrom of what sounded like a H.P. Lovecraft reading. So we followed the game through's online update. I'll admit that I kind of hoped for a blowout so that I wouldn't miss much, but by all accounts it was a corker. Sigh.

* * *

#12 -- "Cold Water Burning" by John Straley

Back in mystery-loving days, I was a pretty big fan of Straley. I never did read this one, apparently his final Cecil Younger novel before abandoning the genre. It's still pretty good PI fic, with the author's really good eye for Alaska as the driving force. The plot's pretty much secondary to the depiction of the town's desperate lives and relationships. It's grim and sad, and often beautiful. Straley's got a new novel out and I may be moved to track that down.