Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 Into 2007

Just home for a bit after a hell of a disappointing football day. Feh.

In a few hours, it'll be 2007. This prompts some stock-taking, of course. I won't bore you with it -- some good, some bad, plenty of questions still unanswered.

I got to Russia in 2006. I did some other cool shit. All in all, not a bad year.

Aside from goddamn football, of course.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

#50

And that does it.

#50 -- "Blood Feud" by Adrian Dater

I'm going to review this on Jes's site at some point, so I won't here -- it's a hockey book, and a good one, but definitely of interest only to hockey fans. (Update: the review's here)

So, with a little burst at the end, I made it. I doubt that I'll do this again next year -- the 50 books challenge, that is (I'll keep doing the book review diary). I put all sorts of arbitrary restrictions on myself, and it became more of a slog than something fun. Plus, I'm planning to read "Against the Day," "Mason & Dixon," and "War and Peace" in '07 -- I might not hit 10 books for the year.

For the record, this year's books were (review links included for those actually reviewed):

"Resurrection" by David Remnick
"Our Band Could Be Your Life" by Michael Azerrad
"Snow" by Orhan Pamuk
"Spring Flowers, Spring Frost" by Ismail Kadare
"Burr" by Gore Vidal
"Life is Elsewhere" by Milan Kundera
"The Moor's Last Sigh" by Salman Rushdie
"The Life of Graham Greene" vol. 1 by Norman Sherry
"The World: Life and Travel 1950-2000" by Jan Morris
"Our Man in Havana" by Graham Greene
"New York Underground" by Julia Solis
"Europe Central" by William T. Vollmann
"Ballad of the Whiskey Robber" by Julian Rubinstein
"Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell
"Notes From Underground" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
"The Hidden War" by Artyom Borovik
"The Lost Heart of Asia" by Colin Thubron
"A Time to Keep Silence" by Patrick Leigh Fermor
"In Ruins" by Christopher Woodward
"Tropic of Hockey" by Dave Bidini
"The Gold Bug Variations" by Richard Powers
"Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" by Haruki Murakami
"The Successor" by Ismail Kadare
"Zorba the Greek" by Nikos Kazantzakis
"The Atlas" by William T. Vollmann

"Hotel World" by Ali Smith
"The Lost Continent" by Bill Bryson
"St. Augustine" by Garry Wills

"God Lives in St. Petersburg" by Tom Bissell
"The Lawless Roads" by Graham Greene
"Speed Tribes" by Karl Taro Greenfeld
"Postwar" by Tony Judt
"Imperium" by Ryszard Kapuscinski
"All the Shah's Men" by Stephen Kinzer
"Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro
"Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
"I Served the King of England" by Bohumil Hrabal

"A Fan's Notes" by Frederick Exley
"The War of the End of the World" by Mario Vargas Llosa
"Rites of Spring" by Modris Eksteins
"The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson
"My Life As A Fake" by Peter Carey
"The Whore's Child" by Richard Russo
"Mani" by Patrick Leigh Fermor
"The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James
"An Albanian Journal" by Edmund Keeley
"Dictionary of the Khazars" by Milorad Pavic
"Twelve Days" by Victor Sebesteyn

"Speak, Memory" by Vladimir Nabokov
"Blood Feud" by Adrian Dater

Best fiction read this year: "The Gold Bug Variations." "Europe Central," "The Moor's Last Sigh," "Cloud Atlas," "Never Let Me Go" runners-up.

Best non-fiction read this year: "Postwar." "Twelve Days," "Rites of Spring," "The Lost Heart of Asia" runners-up.

One Down, One to Go

So it looks like (barring the sudden onset of illiteracy) I will indeed hit 50 -- I've got one to go, nothing to do until tomorrow (even if it's New Year's Eve, it's still Football Sunday) -- and a Christmas present that should be a good quick read (no, it's not "Against the Day").

#49 -- "Speak, Memory" by Vladimir Nabokov

I love Nabokov, but somehow I've managed to avoid two of his acknowledged classics (this and "Lolita") up 'til now. Not sure why. I've tried "Lolita" several times, found it great, then put it aside (lingering discomfort with the subject matter?) -- this one, I'd never even cracked.

Yesterday, I chose it for the plane ride back, and I dunno why I found it so imposing. If there's an easier book to lose yourself in, I'm not sure what it is. These are Nabokov's reminiscings of his childhood in Russia, but the subject matter really isn't that important -- he could be writing about cricket and it would be engrossing. John Updike once said that Nabokov wrote "ecstatically" -- nowhere is it on better display than here.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Winter Wonderland

last night

this morning

I fly out of here at 4:30 this afternoon -- all systems are still go despite the above images, which would tend to not be conducive to flying, you'd think. With a little luck, though, I'll be back in Atlanta by nightfall.

Without a little luck, I'll be the unshaven guy with the thousand-yard stare, sitting on his backpack in the background of a TV report.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Two to Go

The snow has begun. This may be my final communication. Actually, it doesn't seem that bad yet, but I imagine that's what people were saying at the start of last week's Death Storm '06.

Two things read so far on the trip:

#47 -- "The Dictionary of the Khazars" by Milorad Pavic

Oh boy, is this an odd one. Notable (to me) for being one of the few examples of Serbo-Croatian literature on my bookshelf, I was motivated to finally read it after going through the Sandman series. This seemed like it might draw on similar material, being heavily influenced by dreams.

It's really indescribable. It purports to be three encyclopedias -- Christian, Muslim, and Jewish -- giving histories of the long-gone Khazar people and their mass religious conversion. There's all sorts of puzzles in here, and oblique references, most of which would take multiple readings.

A lot of it is nonsense (as dreams often are), and it can be frustrating to read -- Pavic is creating a mythology, but "real-life" (for lack of a better term) mythologies have power because they're based on some sort of reality. These aren't. It's an enormously creative novel, and I do wish I had the time to give it the repeated readings it probably needs.

#48 -- "Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution" by Victor Sebesteyn

A Christmas gift and a much-appreciated one. I've long known only the basics and the romance around the 1956 uprising -- this is a very comprehensive retelling of the tale, and it's great. The revolt and its bloody suppression come across as accidents, with indecision on the part of those in power (in Hungary, the USSR, the U.S., and the U.N.) determining the course of events and preventing a rational solution.

Sebesteyn is both sympathetic and unsparingly honest -- Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy, the hero of legend from the revolt, comes across as being helplessly swept along until the end, and while many of the revolutionaries are honest and upstanding, others are out for personal gain. It's a very readable book, and I hope to see something similar about the Prague Spring at some point.

Watching the Skies

Colorado is supposed to get hit by another snowstorm today -- and they're predicting anywhere from two inches to two feet. I leave (in theory) tomorrow, so we're waiting for the deluge. The skies have gone gray, the mountains are barely visible, we know it's coming. It's like a Stephen King novel, except that the oncoming storm won't strip the flesh from our bodies, but rather make driving and flying rather inconvenient.

It's probably no surprise by now that I spent a good portion of my childhood in fantasyland, and to those purposes, I liked gray weather more than any other. Weird, out-of-this-world stuff just seemed more possible when the sun wasn't out, I suppose. I'm more down-to-earth these days, but I think a bit of that appeal holds over.

That said -- I'd be happy with four-five inches of snow. I'd like to be back in Atlanta for New Year's, and trying to reschedule canceled flights is more horrific than anything King ever dreamed up.

* * *

I went out for beers with the legendary Tapeleg last night at the legendary Sobo 151, winner three years running of the "Colorado Bar I'd Most Like to See Relocated to Atlanta" award. TL is a gentleman and a scholar, and we held lengthy discussions on the Avalanche, poor deluded people who don't like the Avalanche, how we can get those people to appreciate the Avalanche, etc.

We also drank lots of Czechvar, the world's second-best beer (behind Fat Tire, of course). It remains a cruel injustice that Czechvar still isn't available in Atlanta. When CV finally sorted out their legal dispute with crappy Budweiser and the beer became available in North America, Atlanta was one of the test markets, and life was glorious. But the company ran into a new legal dispute with its Georgia distributor, and (I'm told) until the contract runs out, it won't be on sale in Atlanta. Meanwhile, it's become available everyplace else. It's a sad, sad story, up there with "Old Yeller" for pathos. Friends of mine think Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen are as good as it gets for Czech beers. I so want to show them what the world has to offer.

Back to the round-the-clock vigil in front of the Weather Channel. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Drying Out

Photo above actually taken Christmas Eve. It's sunny now and some of the snow has melted, to my chagrin

When the Colorado Avalanche first came out here, there was an interview with Adam Foote complaining about "how bloody dry it was." I'd just moved back from Arizona, so Colorado seemed tropical by comparison, and I didn't know what the hell Foote was talking about. I concluded that off the ice, he must be an enormous pussy.

Having now lived in the miasma of humidity that is Georgia for most of a decade, I must extend an apology to Foote, wherever he is. It's goddamn dry. As much as I love the place, if I don't drink about six bottles of water during the night, I wake up feeling like I'm in the later stages of some wasting disease. Blowing my nose (which I've been doing constantly) produces a kleenex coated in blood. Since I don't do coke, I blame that on the dryness.

Sorry. Unpleasant post, I know. I just had to share. Just be happy I didn't scan in one of the kleenexes.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

a scene from the PPA family's Christmas tree, seriously. Far too hard to explain.

Christmas in Colorado! It's all been great since getting back -- the Xmas Eve travel was relatively painless, there's tons of snow (more arriving yesterday afternoon), the Buccaneers won while I was in the air, the Broncos won a weird-ass game as I was parked on Mom and Dad's couch seeing how much beer I could drink. Last night we held the traditional family Christmas Eve gorge on Chinese food, so I look and feel like Grimace today. Hurrah! Merry Christmas!



Woke up to a great sunrise over the snow today, poorly captured above. Perhaps it's time to rethink things, move back here and become a photographer for religious-themed greeting cards.

A bit of plane reading, natch...

#46 - "An Albanian Journal" by Edmund Keeley

When I got back from Albania in 2005, I promptly bought every book on Albania I could find in the Alibris stacks... then didn't read any, because if you read nothing but books on Albania, you turn out weird.

This is one of the few travelogues ever written about the place, and one of the fewer relatively modern ones. Keeley went over with a group of writers in 1995, in the early post-Communist days and pre-pyramid schemes.

It's pretty good -- he's a witty guy and sensitive toward the Albanians. There was a lot on literary politics and the difficulty of being a vegetarian in Albania, neither of which I care much about, but the stuff on the country and people themselves was interesting. Much of his observations seemed pretty accurate to me, even ten years on.

Next up I'll probably have to read Robert Carver's "The Accursed Mountains," which was pretty controversial, at least in Albania-fan circles.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Revisiting Old Ghosts

The same person with whom I had the discussion about the book diary gave me a nice big box of short books, in hopes they might help me reach my goal. It's now officially "too close to call" -- on one hand, after today, I'm off work the rest of the year, but on the other, I'll be in Colorado for most of that time, visiting family. It's going down to the wire!

One of those books was...

#45 -- "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James

Years ago, when I was a horror nut, I tried to read this one. At the time, I was much less into subtlety than I was into sheer terror, and couldn't get into it.

Now -- I enjoyed it, if that's the right term to use for something that fills you with nervousness from start to finish. I was reading it last night and unable to put it down -- while also dreading each page. The horror is only briefly front-and-center, and its source is left very ambiguous. "Turn of the Screw" is open to a number of interpretations, and I kinda wish that one of my college lit classes had this in it. It would benefit from discussion.

I remember, from those teenage years, hearing that Peter Straub's "Ghost Story" (a favorite of mine) drew heavily from this, and oh yeah, it sure did. Kind of fun to see the inspiration for an old favorite.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Officially Missing Snow

Hey, I reserve the right to change course at any time. My Dad sent some pics from shoveling the driveway, and it looked beautiful -- then I saw Tapeleg's post here and was reminded just how visually stunning snow can be. So allow me to amend what I've had to say: I miss snow like you wouldn't believe, though I'm just fine avoiding the shoveling and the driving. If I could sit by a window with, say, a Fat Tire beer, and look out at the views I'm seeing in those photos -- I'd be a happy and contented man.

Head back Sunday, and I'm assured there'll be plenty of snow still there. Let's hope. In the meantime, I'll try to concentrate on work, watch the Thrashers try to hold on against the Winnipeg Penguins, and ponder New Year's resolutions (seriously - and as you may guess, I suck at keeping them. This year's will be "eat healthier" -- I presume by the end of February I will have developed a french fry-only diet).

And I still read. Yes, I read.

#44 -- "Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese" by Patrick Leigh Fermor

I've raved, and raved again, about Fermor, and guess what -- a third rave.

I know little about modern Greece -- my interest in the peninsula ends at the Albanian border -- but like all Fermor's work, this makes me want to walk in his footsteps. It's an appealing ramble through the tiny towns of the region, drinking tons of wine, hiking, and going off on diversions and theorizing about Greek history. Good God, the man is educated. He'll take off on a tangent about the possible offspring of the last Byzantine emperor, or the appeals of different kinds of Orthodox ikons, and writes it so naturally that you'd swear he just was going from memory. (Perhaps he was.) At times it's exhausting, and I'm astounded at the man's capacity for information. He wrote another one about northern Greece, "Roumeli," also recently brought back into print by the good people at the New York Review of Books, which I'm itching to read -- but I'll wait a while. I need to read something that doesn't strain the boundaries of my knowledge quite so much.

I had a discussion about this book diary the other day (seriously -- and no, it wasn't a discussion with myself) and some of the rather arbitrary rules. Specifically, the rule banning highbrow comics (Maus, Persepolis, Sandman) from counting. I was told that it makes me a book snob. I beg to differ (and if I did include those, I'd be over 50 already) -- I appreciate the art in all of these, and consider all of them bigger achievements than most novels. The best response I can give is that the comics, no matter how complex, require less of a time commitment than even the simplest word-centric book. And, also, dammit, I make my own rules.

All that said, I re-read "Maus II" at the exhortation of the Ski Bum yesterday, and was blown away. I've read the original volume a dozen times over the years, but this one only once before (and probably a decade ago). I tend to forget just how powerful Spiegelman's work is, so this was a bracing shock to the system. Even now, trying to describe it seems to cheapen it -- "a tale about the Holocaust and family using mice as characters" is woefully inadequate. It's just amazing -- go read it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Officially Not Missing Snow

Ok, I love snow to death, and the images coming out of Colorado tonight look really lovely. But my Dad just sent a photo of him shoveling the driveway-- for the second time in two hours. That would kill the romance stone cold dead. So would sitting for days in an airport (even Denver International, which has many bars that serve Fat Tire beer). Thankfully, it all promises to clear up by Sunday (when I fly back). I love winter weather, as long as it's kind enough to not inconvenience me.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Patron Saint of PPA

above: not the right St. George

I'm currently reading Patrick Leigh Fermor's "Mani" -- not to ruin the suspense for anyone who lives and dies by my book diary. In it, he goes on a wonderful digression about unofficial patron saints that the residents of southern Greece established on their own (mostly, I guess, gods of old adapted to the Christian tradition).

Among them: St. George the Drunkard

According to Fermor, St. G the D "presides over alcoholic excess and smiles on its votaries."

That's all PLF has to say, and the alternate St. George must be pretty obscure because he only turns up two Google hits (for some festival on Crete), but count me in. It makes sense that I've got a patron saint watching over me. I get ruinously drunk from time to time, but word has it I always remain polite, friendly, lovable. There's only two possible explanations for that: my startling mental powers, or a patron saint. Out of humility, I'll go with the saint.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Southern Winter

It's 65 degrees right now, on December 18th -- earlier today it was in the upper 70s. I've been wearing shorts all day, and I was uncomfortably warm in a long-sleeved t-shirt (vintage Revelation Records!) earlier.

I have a habit of assuming things are extreme -- warmer/colder/wetter/drier than previous years, depending on the conditions -- but I think this is pretty definitely unseasonal, even for Georgia.

It's all rather incongruous -- leafless trees and short days seem wrong with weather that wouldn't be out of place in May. I fixed pierogies and Hungarian goulash for dinner -- a hearty meal that would have been apt if it was 30 degrees colder. I'm meeting friends at the wonderful Brick Store Pub later tonight; a perfect pub for a cozy beer on a cold day. I know the northerners won't be sympathetic, but I kind of like my winters cold. Bring on some snow -- I'm disoriented here.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bah Humbug

I generally prefer to work off-hours, but when I'm at work on a Saturday night, and my commute home is going to coincide with the simultaneous letting-out of the Falcons and Hawks games (both right by my place of employment), and the only distraction I've had all night was watching the Thrashers continue to self-destruct -- my mood sours.

Times like these, I start to question the validity of this whole "work" thing, and fantasizing about living on the barter system. But I doubt my family would want hand-made Christmas gifts (at least hand-made by me), and Czech hockey jerseys don't buy themselves, so I'm screwed.

I'm gonna do some updates to the links on the side sometime soon -- anyone have any fun sites I'm missing? I figure my tastes are sorta obvious by now.

Dream, 12/16/06

I was driving over to my parents' house, which they had rented out to Barry Bonds (why not?). A hurricane seemed to have struck, which is a bit unlikely as my folks live in Boulder -- but the vegetation all looked much more Southeastern, so maybe they moved.

I drove past (and over, I think) downed power lines, to arrive at the house, which was a mess. There was popcorn with mold on it, which chilled me considerably. I knew (in the dream) my parents had a new dog, and I was worried that I couldn't hear it barking.

I walked out, and there was the dog, dead (note: not the family's real-life dog), and my parents, cooking (note: they weren't cooking the dog).

According to the book I'm reading right now, some residents of the Peloponnese believe (or believed) that your dreams are prophecies of the opposite -- i.e. dreaming of death means life. I'm not sure what this dream means, except that my parents probably won't be renting out to Barry Bonds.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Hits Keep Coming

#43 -- "The Whore's Child" by Richard Russo

If I'd gone at this pace all year, why, I'd be in the 70s by now. Seven books to go, two and a half weeks. If I were a younger man, I could do it, but now... I don't have the spunk I once did. It's time to leave this reading business to younger men.

Anyway. I've always enjoyed Russo's novels quite a bit, and the same skill is on display in this short story collection... but I'm just left feeling a bit hollow. I'm much more novel-oriented than short story, and reading this as opposed to a novel is like a plate of hors d'oeuvres as opposed to a real meal.

They're all pretty good, particularly the shattering "Buoyancy." But compared to his novels -- "Straight Man" and "Empire Falls" probably being the best -- I'm left a bit unsatisfied.

Albania's One-Man P.R. Agency

The "Queen of the Adriatic" (I just made that up) is the NY Times' Budget Destination of the Year. You should all go.

Perhaps that's my calling -- Albania travel agent.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I Should Listen to Other People More Often

#42 -- "My Life as a Fake" by Peter Carey

I read part of Carey's "Jack Maggs," geez, almost a decade ago -- wasn't too thrilled, didn't finish it, remember nothing. About two years ago, a friend recommended this one -- I picked up a used copy, since she has a history of great recommendations, then promptly forgot about it.

Until this week, when I picked it up and blew through it, perhaps quicker than anything else I've read this year.

The tale, briefly: a literary magazine editor makes a trip to Malaysia in an effort to learn the truth about a family tragedy, and gets drawn into a decades-old scandal. In the midst of this very down-to-earth novel, a supernatural element is introduced, very skillfully and naturally.

It's not a happy novel, but an extremely good one. It's rare something so intricate goes so quickly; it reminds me a bit of "Never Let Me Go," just because I was left with a similar reaction.

And there's another connection: the same person recommended both books. I don't think there's anyone I know who has such a high success rate, so if you're reading this, Katy -- kudos.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Bottom Line

It's humbling, and a little painful, to read stuff I wrote when I was 18. It's not something I indulge in too often. But cleaning out a few weeks ago, I came across the sole issue of "The Bottom Line," my hardcore 'zine of the early '90s.

TBL had a complicated path just to its one, solo, under-printed, not-reviewed-in-MRR issue -- my friend Daron had conceived it around 1988 or so, never did anything with it, I came on the scene and we started working on it, Daron dropped out, and Brendan from Groundwork came on to wrap it up with me. That led to a little bit of incestuousness, as Groundwork was one of the bands interviewed within, but since I'd already compromised myself by helping put out Groundwork's first 7", such concerns were obviously not too high on the list of priorities.

The cover (shown above) caused confusion right off the bat, with the art leading people to think it was a Hare Krishna-oriented 'zine (for the unitiated, that was a very big deal in those days); the back cover, with requisite ironic use of art from a Jack Chick tract, led some to ask if we were anti-gay. The schizophrenia continued inside, in our columns -- my snotty denunciation of the Hardline movement (details here -- rest assured the reality managed to be far more ridiculous than it sounds, if that's possible) was side-by-side with Brendan's criticisms of drinkers, non-vegans, religion, abortion, and plenty more. It's the kind of stuff borne of my fervent belief that people were looking to the tall, skinny guy in a Turning Point t-shirt for deep insight on, say, abortion rights.

The bulk of the mag was interviews, reviews, and photos -- the interviews were 411 (fun, bombastic), Triggerman (actually pretty insightful as hardcore band interviews go), the aforementioned Groundwork (very sincere), and Pittbull (meatheaded). The reviews... well, I'd forgotten I ever owned, much less adored, the vast bulk of New Age Records' early catalog. The photos were of whatever bands came through Tucson (most photos with a young, floppy-haired, serious-looking me somewhere in the background) plus whatever photos I could grab from better-located and more-experienced zine-producers like Dave Sine and Dave Mandel.

There was a second issue, largely completed, with a Born Against interview, Kent McClard interview, and I forget what else (I think I was going to put a photo of Supertouch on the cover, which boggles the mind). Brendan and I had some sort of hazily-remembered dispute about something unimportant -- I believe it was whether to put in an interview with Struggle, which may have been the worst band ever -- and it fell apart. A few years later, some Tusconans were assembling a "community 'zine" called "Alarm!", and the Born Against interview was resurrected for that, along with a kind of stupid interview I did with Integrity, and a column I wrote asserting that the band Spitboy's suckiness set back women in hardcore (possibly the most accurate thing I ever wrote). I dunno if "Alarm!" ever came out -- in any case, I don't have any copies.

Now, it's 15 years later, I'm no longer straight edge, no longer vegan or even vegetarian, and no longer skinny. The Bottom Line has become the Post-Pessimist Association. At least I'm not having to pay for printing here.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Hibernation

It's barely peeked above freezing the last couple days, and while I know most of my regular readers are in places far colder than this, it's still pretty damn cold. Wake me up in March.

#41 -- "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson

This is the first in a brief series of "best-sellers of recent years that friends lent to Greg." Not the snappiest title for a series. I've got "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" and "Primary Colors" lined up -- anyone want to lend me "The Da Vinci Code"?

In the late '90s and early nothings, I spent a lot of time in Chicago, making a few trips a year. I wish this book had been out then, when I was about as familiar with that city's layout as I was with Boulder's. I recognize a lot of the place names, but the details have been replaced by hockey stats or Czech pronunciation in the intervening years.

This is the tale of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, told through two parallel stories -- that of Daniel Burnham, the fair's chief architect, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer. It's good potboiling stuff. Larson does a good job of creating suspense in things not normally suspenseful -- will the architects meet their deadlines, f'rinstance. The hunt for Holmes's victims after he's already in the slammer is also quite well-done.

Nice, quick, and an evocative piece of American history. Since #40, I've had a hard time concentrating on any book for more than a chapter -- hopefully finishing this one will get me back on the stick.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Holiday Cheer

I sent the last of my Christmas presents off to Colorado today-- not because of any overwhelming organization or sense of responsibility but because I freakin' hate malls and I freakin' hate lines at the post office and I'd just as soon avoid both in the weeks to come. Have fun on December 22nd, suckers!

A friend was sharing her sense of satisfaction after finding an impossible gift for a niece, and that reminded me of my impossible gift: when I was, oh, three or four, I asked my parents for a penguin.

Not a stuffed penguin, mind you. But one that could walk. And talk.

In the unlikely event they couldn't find a live penguin that could talk (and survive in Owego, New York), I gave them the option of making it a ROBOT penguin.

It's kind of a miracle they still speak to me.

(I also, at roughly the same age, wanted to go as the Republic of Chad for Halloween. I was kind of a weird kid, I guess.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My Eyes!

Last night, a friend said (in reference to my last jersey post): "I like the blog, then I see something like that, and wonder 'how do I know this guy?'"

I resisted the temptation to come right back with another jersey post this morning. But even better, Brushback has the latest installment in his tribute to ugly jerseys. Some real eye-bleeders there. I figure it's only a matter of time before the NHL starts with the one-game wonders, and then we can all share in the idiocy.

A Place for Everything

I'm a bit obsessive-compulsive, in a rather passive sense (I can't be bothered to go to the doctor and find out if there's an actual disorder-type thingy). Whatever the deal is, it's seemed to worsen this year.

Just as an example, if I light a candle in the house -- odds are 50/50 that I will later, after leaving, panic and think that I left it burning. (it's never still burning.) I've driven home from work or other errands, or called the property manager to go in. Then I feel like a fool, but I still do it the next time.

There's also the standard cooking worries (left the coffee maker on, left the stovetop burner on). They never pan out.

So the question is, if I'm so constantly concerned about the state of my home, why the hell am I such a slob?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Brrrrrrrrr

I finally woke up with some drive and sense of purpose today (despite a crushing football-Sunday-induced hangover). Unfortunately, it's barely getting above freezing outside, so I'm not gonna leave the house unless I must. So the drive and sense of purpose has manifested itself in a cooking binge and now, on this.

And since I'm not doing anything of interest today -- how about another jersey? Hooray!



This is one of the biggest bargains I've ever found; I got it on eBay for about $20. It's a late-1980s jersey of Czech club HC POLDI Kladno, one of the country's older teams.

I haven't been able to turn up any information on who would have worn #22 in this period. I've seen pictures of Jaromir Jagr wearing this style jersey, but (alas) he was #15 at the time.



It's a pretty thin mesh, made by Tackla, and as such is pretty trashed. Lots of holes and tears, some examples seen better here, and tons of stick marks. Everything's sublimated, including the number, which looks vaguely like something I would have drawn on my notebook when I was 12.



The lady's profile here is the logo of POLDI steelworks, the club's sponsor just about forever. In the late 1990s, they dropped the POLDI part of the name and became HC Velvana Kladno, with a stylized penguin as the logo (during his later Pittsburgh days, Jagr had some sort of role in the team's management or ownership, I believe) and now they're HC Rabat Kladno, with a kinda silly bulldog logo that Bush League Factor would probably hate. I like the old-school woman plus star the best, and have another, later jersey with the same logo. It's no hedgehog, though.

There's virtually no advertising on this one; just a small, tasteful Tackla logo on the front, and this enormous, ugly "LogoStar" logo underneath the back number. I'm going to guess that LogoStar handled some sort of printing or design duties. It sounds like some awful toy you'd see in a late-1970s Sears Christmas catalog -- "LogoStar by Mattel."

As ever, the idea for these jersey biographies stolen from Jerseys and Hockey Love. Previous entries are here and here.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Metamorphosis

There's a sense of change coming, needing only a kick-start from me -- so naturally this week I've done virtually nothing, delaying it as long as I can. Whatever happens likely won't be a bad change, and in fact it's greatly needed, but there's a certain comfort in the status quo that breeds reluctance.

A week of doing nothing (pressed for achievements... I made enchiladas. That's about it) kind of explains my silence here -- I'd rather sum up nothingness in one post rather than spreading it out over a week of dull posts.

One thing I did do: back when I dumped all my comic books, I did keep some of the higher-quality stuff that was collected into trade paperbacks. Among those few, the fairly well-known "Sandman" series. Over this past week, I re-read all of them -- and was surprised at how well they hold up.

When the series first started -- back in, I think, the late '80s -- I was kind of intrigued by it, but it was a bit too intricate and not superheroic enough for my tastes. Giving it a fuller read in my 20s, it seemed much better, but I was never into fantasy and I was probably a bit put off by the baggage that came with being a goth cause celebre.

Now? Older and a bit more tolerant, I think it's great. Neil Gaiman did an amazing job of setting things up and weaving a complex little universe in this series -- things I didn't properly appreciate when I was younger. Nice to be able to appreciate something more as I grow older. Also nice to be able to read 10 volumes of a comic book series in a week, but feel no compulsion to start collecting the damn things again.

* * *

Late breaking newsflash: I've just learned that there's finally actually an honest-to-Vaic Czech restaurant/bar in the metro Atlanta -- "Prague in Motion," up in Norcross. A field trip is in order.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Covers Corner

By accident rather than design, two songs that have recently had me hitting the "back" button on my car's CD player are both Bob Dylan covers. 16 Horsepower's version of "Nobody 'Cept You," and Entombed's version of "The Ballad of Hollis Brown."

Two very different bands, two very different songs, both great (though I can't imagine La Nanuk having any time for the latter). While I like Dylan just fine, I've never been anywhere near a diehard fan. But he must have something in his songwriting -- covers of his songs tend to turn out well (and while I like both the aforementioned bands a lot, neither has what you might call a spotless record when it comes to covers).

A Warning to the Youth

I'm not sure what exactly was meant by that last post, but I'll leave it up as an example of the perils of mid-day drinking. Don't do it, kids, no matter how much it may appeal to you, no matter how cheap and cold the Pilsner Urquell is, no matter how friendly the bartender is. It just leads to the online equivalent of smearing feces on yourself.

It's no wonder I spend every winter down herebattling a succession of low-level insurgency colds. Tonight, one week after the infamous brief glimpse of snow, it's up in the 60s. It's supposed to stay in the 60s and 70s all week.

Despite the weather, I'm starting to feel all irritatingly Christmasy. Did some shopping today, and not coincidentally, I'm staying in tonight despite the nice weather (after the Russia trip, I'm not far above giving handjobs in Greyhound station bathrooms to fund Xmas). This is the time of year when I generally turn into a big, gooey ball of love, getting all emotional and crap and telling all my friends how much they mean to me. It's like a Lifetime movie except I need a shave and I'm frequently drunk on smoked beer.

Checking Out

I've avoided the news completely since Saturday (unless you count "the Atlanta Falcons' receivers suck" as news), so only in the last few hours did I see the rather alarming (unless, like every human on earth, you dislike him) footage of Silvio Berlusconi collapsing at a rally. And even then, I only saw it because I was spending the lunch hour (three hours) at Atlanta's fine Atkins Park pub (doctors suggest that a bar is the best place to spend three hours at midday Monday).

The cause was, apparently, an irregular heartbeat. I remember when I felt hip and cool for having an irregular heartbeat, but now decidedly un-hip George W. Bush and Berlusconi have both suffered its ill effects. Back to the drawing board.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Lost Month

Uh, November's almost over? What? The month that began with such optimism -- thoughts of a novel in a month -- has sort of gone nowhere rapidly. When the inevitable best-selling biography of Greg is written, November 2006 will be summed up in two words: "little happened."

As you've probably gleaned, the Nanowrimo attempt went nowhere. It wasn't even a valiant attempt. I grew un-thrilled with my initial idea about 1500 words in, decided to switch, and just didn't get going.

Curiously, I'm not that discouraged (though displeased by my shoddy work ethic). I'm actually anxious to resume work on a previously-started project, so maybe some good will come out of this.

* * *

But in the absence of Nanowrimo, what have I been doing? Well, I'm not really sure. I haven't been blogging that much. I haven't been out shooting photos. I haven't been climbing mountains. I haven't been furiously plowing through books. The month's just sort of ebbed away.

* * *

Did get through another fine book though-- pretty much just getting it to the point where I'll fall just short of 50 for the year, disappointing everyone:

#40 -- "Rites of Spring" by Modris Eksteins

I picked this up on a whim some time ago, then worried that it was far too academic for my tastes, as it gathered dust on the shelf. I'm glad I did follow my whim: it's fantastic. Oh so complex, but wonderfully written.

Eksteins links the birth of modernism and avant-garde in art to the changes in society that brought about the World Wars. The thread may get a bit thin at times, and I'm not sure I have the necessary background to be able to even grasp some of his arguments, but it's a great book. It's a testament to his skill that Eksteins can make things like ballet interesting to me -- I was captivated by "Rites of Spring" and found myself reading it in bigger chunks than is normal for Mr. Short Attention Span over here.

I don't know how general the appeal is -- this isn't for a casual history buff, really -- but I learned a considerable amount and enjoyed reading it. It highlighted, also, just how little I really know beyond the basics of WWI, something that'll have to be addressed sometime in the future.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fame and Fortune

Official player of the Post-Pessimist Association Tomáš Klouček is in the news -- the subject of a feature in the Syracuse Post-Standard. Uh, it's all about how he's taking a shitload of penalties this year, but he seems to have a positive attitude about it all, and hey, fame is fame. With fellow Cruncher Jaroslav Balaštík getting called back up, it's only a matter of time for our boy. Semper fi! Put in the orders for your Klouček jerseys now!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Maximum Overdrive

I think the planet passed through a comet's tail over the weekend -- nearly simultaneously over the past two days, my cell phone, internet, and cable television (for the fifteenth time) crapped out. That led to lots of helpless swearing and inability to communicate with anyone. The phone and the internet were magically resurrected at different points last night (the cable remains out), but my joy is limited since I presume my microwave oven is going to begin enriching uranium.

In addition, it snowed last night. (Just a bit, not enough to impress someone from Cleveland, no residue to justify photos) While this isn't exactly unheard of -- this is Atlanta, not Nouakchott -- I think it's the earliest it's snowed since I've lived here. Snow in January yes, but November? Comet's tail, I tell you.

* * *

Went to the much-ballyhooed Georgia Aquarium yesterday, amidst two days where I did Atlanta-type things I've been putting off far too long (ate at the Sundial atop the Westin, strolled through Centennial Olympic Park), and it's pretty nice. Dunno about $24 worth of nice (the last aquarium I went to was Chicago's, which I'm pretty sure was free), but well-put-together. I don't have anything really intelligent to say beyond Fish! Lots of fish!, but those fish are pretty cool. It's a primer in crass commercialism -- I thought it was a mall when I first stepped in, and the mascot is an orange fish named "Deepo," as in aquarium sponsor "Home Depot." But whether it's the holiday spirit or some newfound tolerance, it really was kinda pleasant.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Bestest Bands Ever

(above: Born Against, Phoenix, 1991 or so. Photo by Thayer Johnson, one of the many people I've lost complete track of over the years. Taken from the back cover of "Bottom Line" 'zine #1 -- that's a post for another day, though.)

Most likely, when I discussed aborted plans for a list of every band I've ever called my favorite, my subconscious really wanted to do it -- it was just looking for an excuse. Brushback complied with encouragement, and here we go.

As time goes on, in the chronological order of things, this gets tougher. When I was in fourth grade and Uday Narahari and I would sit down and make lists of everything -- favorite bands, favorite songs, favorite football teams (this was a leisure activity -- in retrospect a bit weird) -- I had clearly-defined favorite bands. Later in life, though, I've become less-devoted and it's a bit tougher.

Anyway. Let the embarrassment commence:

The Precursors

Before I'd really started listening to bands on a regular basis, two artists stand out: Abba and the J. Geils Band. I loved one song off of my parents' copy of "Abba: the Album" -- "Hole In Your Soul." Diehard Abba fans I've encountered later in life don't even recall the song, but I would play it over and over. Same deal with "Freeze Frame" by the JGB -- that actually became the first album I ever owned, on my own. Everyone else on the internet seems to have a Kiss album as their first, but I'll lay it out straight. J. Geils Band. "Freeze Frame." It only gets worse.

Duran Duran

A product of MTV -- my parents got it, I was in fourth grade or so, and the videos off of "Rio" and the first album were pretty freakin' exciting. Uh, there was "Rio," "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Is There Something I Should Know"... I remember staying up for the World Premiere Video of "Save a Prayer." They could've become my first-ever concert (and oh, how differently things might have turned out), but I got the chicken pox before their Denver appearance. I began fifth grade and found out that Duran Duran's status had been changed to "gay" among my peers, and I wasn't too into "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" anyhow, so I moved on...

Mötley Crüe

Maybe I was really into eye makeup as a kid? Unsure. "Looks That Kill" seemed fraught with excitement and danger, I bought "Shout at the Devil" (clandestinely -- I was afraid of getting into trouble because they might be devil-worshippers), and played the shit out of it. Discovering "Too Fast For Love" just increased my fandom. Read an interview with Nikki Sixx in "Hit Parader" or whatever in which he discussed how he got his hairstyle -- the ingredients were something like "lots of eggs and sleeping on my face." I considered emulating that. Eventually became my actual first concert, with Autograph opening at McNichols Arena. Started losing me as they got glammier.

Rush

Sort of a 1A to the Crüe's 1. A "Grace Under Pressure" t-shirt was my first band t-shirt. Had just about all their '70s/'80s albums and listened to them well into college, though anything after "Grace Under Pressure" held little appeal, and even that one was suspect. "2112," though? "A Farewell to Kings"? Oh yeeeeeeeeeeeah. Creem Magazine used to make fun of Geddy Lee a lot, which would move me to fury.

Anthrax

Goddamn MTV again -- the video for "Indians" was played over and over, a promo for some concert involving that big metalfest at Castle Donnington, and my friend Andy Seery and I embraced the Anthrax ethos wholeheartedly -- half a dozen t-shirts, goofy shorts, the band logo painstakingly traced onto the back of my denim jacket, and yes (this'll only make sense to anyone who saw that video), "INJUN" written on the brim of a baseball cap. I think "Persistence of Time" was the last album I bought.

Black Flag

It starts getting better here. Got some special "Thrash Metal" magazine due to my fascination with the previous band, and it had a bit on the recently-disbanded Flag. The cool (to a 14-year-old) name, the crazy-looking photos, and the Pettibon album covers in the SST ads just looked nuts to me, and I got my hands on the "Wasted...Again" compilation and "My War." Good thing too, if I'd started out with "Family Man," I probably wouldn't have revisited the band again until I turned 30. I still listen to "Damaged" a lot, and a few of the others have pride-of-place in the collection. They hold a space similar to the Rolling Stones in my heart -- a relatively-brief period of greatness, only four or five releases, but those four or five releases are some of my all-time favorites, whether I'm 16 or 33.

Minor Threat

See, ok, everything's improving here. I was introduced to them shortly after moving to Tucson -- I'd yet to learn of straight-edge, and they (by this point, six or seven years gone) were pretty damn inspiring to me. Another band I can still listen to a lot today. Gorilla Biscuits probably get another 1A designation here.

Born Against

We discovered politics! Probably about half our little Tucson crew (and these lines weren't clear until much later) embraced the smartassed Born Against/ABC No Rio thing (from afar), half embraced the whiny/Ebullition/Downcast thing. I guess that makes it clear where I fell. Ugly, pissed-off music, coming from a perspective that I could understand -- well-off suburban kid. They just seemed a lot more articulate, witty, and rational than most political punk bands. I still listen to BA occasionally, still follow the stuff Sam McPheeters does.

Drive Like Jehu/Rocket From the Crypt

And I started getting a little less hardcore. The San Diego scene replaced NY in my heart. As was so often the case, my little brother was way ahead of me, getting into these while I was still listening to the Up Front album over and over. Still listen to Jehu, lost some excitement over RFTC after they produced a string of marginal albums before breaking up.

Laughing Hyenas

One of the many bands I discovered too late -- I actually had the chance to see them about 1991, but passed (probably because they took drugs!). The aforementioned Thayer saw that concert and described them as "an even crazier Pittbull," which was what passed for praise in our circles. Again, finally saw them about the time of "Hard Times," well past their prime. "You Can't Pray A Lie" and "Life of Crime" remain two of the best things I've ever heard.

Uncle Tupelo

Hey, there's a shift. Moved to Boulder, discovered alt-country (to the eternal amusement of some friends). "No Depression" remains a favorite, even if it's less accomplished than their other albums... I guess 'cause it's the first I ever heard. Remain a fan of the various offshoots. Listened to the Old 97s a lot, too.

Slobberbone

Combined the best elements of AC/DC and country. Lotsa songs about beer. Last album was kinda dull, but they put out some great stuff.

As you can probably guess at this point, I'm losing some enthusiasm for this project -- not just due to length, but because as I've grown older, it's become less important to pick favorites (and I'm a much more passive music fan now -- a few concerts a year as opposed to two or three a week). If I were to pick a band now for favorite? I probably have listened to the Hold Steady, Wilco, Steve Earle, and Entombed the most in the past year or so -- of those, the Hold Steady could lay claim to the top spot, perhaps.

Anyway. Kind of a fun trip down memory lane -- hope you get a kick from this exercise in self-indulgence!

Some honorable mentions over the years: the Rolling Stones, Hot Snakes, 411, Unsane (the band I asked about their recently-deceased drummer), Bruce Springsteen

The Bucs are Saved

Finally -- some good news.

When I Put That Photo Up...

...I didn't plan on it being the top thing on the blog for the next four days.

More soon, I'm just sick of seeing my stupid drunk 25-year-old face eternally.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Eight Seconds

Discovered this while digging through some crap. This was at the Grizzly Rose in Denver, late 1990s.

I didn't last eight seconds.

Monday, November 13, 2006

As Promised...

The Russian pics are up at gsdgsd.com. Go here.

Whew! Hope you like 'em.

Teaser

I should get an album of the St. Petersburg photos up sometime today. In the meantime, here's a panoramic shot (using the stitch feature) of the Hermitage, Palace Square, Alexander Column and the General Staff building. The vagaries of the stitching make the latter look a bit like it's collapsing, but other than that, I like this photo (these photos).

Click on this one for a larger version -- it's a big sucker.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hunkered Down

It's cold here this morning (well, it's crept up to 50 now, but I'm still not in any mood to go cavort in the sunshine), I've done nothing of interest in the past several days (taking it easy recuperating from the cold -- I didn't even get drunk to celebrate Petr Tenkrat's return to glory), so as I kill time before going to drink beer and watch football (the Bucs aren't even playing 'til Monday), it's time for another jersey introduction!



It's an Aleš Píša home HC IPB Pojišťovna Pardubice jersey, from the late '90s. It's one of two Píša jerseys I own -- I could have picked up a third (a Rangers jersey) a month or two back, but I've sort of restricted the jersey-buying these days.

After a few star-level years with Pardubice, Píša came over to Edmonton in the early part of this decade, seemed to be doing well, and got traded to the Rangers -- then headed back to Europe when (I think -- I'm going by memory here) the Rangers refused to give him a one-way contract (the same problem that led to them trading away Marek Židlický's rights). He's spent the last few years with Severstal and Khimik in Russia, before moving back to Pardubice this year.

It's a really cool jersey, another of my favorites. I've never seen this numbering style anywhere else, and for once, the European ads don't really bother me. There's a lot of wear on it, and a bunch of what appear to be blood stains (though maybe a previous owner was wearing it when someone spit V8 juice on him).



When I bought the jersey, the seller said "I don't even know how to describe this one -- it's pretty weird." Actually, I think it's pretty sedate -- the lion head was the symbol of (now-merged) IPB Pojišťovna, an insurance company, and it's a rare advertisement that actually makes a good sports logo. IPB sponsored Pardubice from 1997-2002 -- in what must have caused some confusion, Sparta Praha was also sponsored by IPB at some point during this era, and had the same logo on the club jerseys for a time. Pardubice is now sponsored by Moeller Electric, and has had jerseys with that company's logo at times (other times, it's a cartoony horse, a version of Pardubice's traditional symbol). Which would you rather see on a jersey, a regal lion's head or a freakin' bell?



For the most part, everything is sublimated on this jersey. The EVC patch above the left breast is stitched on, and is a different material than the rest, and the nameplate is stitched on (but the name itself sublimated). Each shoulder, though, has an embroidered Staropramen patch. I've got a Kladno jersey from the late '90s that also has such a patch -- I believe Staropramen sponsored the Extraliga for a while. As beers go, Staropramen's no Czechvar/Budvar, but I'd take it over Pilsner Urquell. Now I'd like a beer, actually. Thankfully in just over an hour I'll be drinking some (but sadly, it won't be Czech).



I always thought Semtex was some sort of plastic explosive.

Once again -- the idea for these jersey profiles was stolen from the good-natured Tapeleg at Jerseys and Hockey Love. It's one of my favorite hockey blogs out there -- check it out!

(Addendum - one other credit: I scanned the pic of the Sparta jerseys out of the super-cool "Naše krev je Sparta" book. Anyone with an interest in Czech hockey -- which, I presume, is every single one of you -- should pick that up.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Writing Tutorial

#39 (Special Doug Weight edition): "The War of the End of the World" by Mario Vargas Llosa

This one took me a loooooong time to read -- I started it back in the summer.

Head and shoulders above everything, it's got a great lesson for writers. There are roughly one hillion jillion characters in TWOTEOTW, and every single one is fully-realized and fleshed out. There are some nasty, nasty folks in it, but they're still human. I've read far too many books over the years that pretty much divide the characters into "good" and "bad" camps, and the bad guys are just hateful cardboard standups. Everyone who's starting to veer that way in their writing should read this and see how a pro does it.

TWOTEOTW (even THAT is too much to type) is a retelling of the story of Canudos, a religious and rebellious community founded in Brazil's backwater in the 19th century. Its creation drew the unloving attention of the government, which launched a series of bloody assaults to wipe it out.

It's not a perfect book by any means -- I think it's far too long (remember when you were a kid and went to see "Out of Africa," and it got to a point where you said "ok, that seems to be a logical end," but it kept going, and you were squirming in your seat? You don't? Ok, maybe it's just me) and somewhat padded, and there's some rather unsettling treatment of women. But despite the occasional slog, it was a pretty great read. And after the length of time it took, I actually feel a sense of accomplishment today.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Rambling Wreck

I remember a Fox Trot comic strip from many years back, showing the mother hollow-eyed and crazy, listing off all the things she'd done in the past three hours, and then lamenting that she'd taken antihistamines with coffee. Today wasn't quite like that, but after calling out sick, the coffee/DayQuil combination (try it at home!) spurred me on to new heights of activity. None of it mental, though. I'm good for unthinking actions only. It's probably a mistake to sit down and write on this; it's all I can do to avoid writing an entry about how I moved a filing cabinet today. (It looks GREAT in the new location!)

* * *

A while back, I was thinking about an entry on "every band I've ever called my 'favorite'." I abandoned it because the opening trio of Duran Duran/Motley Crue/Rush is pretty damn embarassing. But one of the bands that would (unashamedly) be on it was the Laughing Hyenas, who I loved in the early '90s. So it was with that muted shock that greets the passing of someone you didn't actually know, that I read about Larissa Strickland's death the other day.

I got into the LHs really late, and missed their glory years, but discovering their back catalog sent me -- it was a reflection of an anger and pain light years from the stuff I was generally listening to at that point. For a sheltered straight-edge suburban kid in Arizona, they (and their notorious lifestyle) were terrifying and alluring. I didn't see them live 'til it was way too late (about the time of the "Hard Times" album, which I've only in recent years been able to admit wasn't very good), but nonetheless, I worshipped pretty heavily at the altar in college (to fredoluv's disgust).

Rest in peace. I'll dig out "You Can't Pray A Lie" this week, the only sort of tribute I can really pay.

* * *

By the time of Tuesday's elections, all my optimism had dwindled away -- I was resigned to the Democrats not only failing to take the Senate, but also failing to take the House. So the actual result has been a hell of a treat, and everything since (Rumsfeld out, Bolton a dead issue) would have me doing backflips if I wasn't shoving kleenex up my nostrils at every opportunity. It's almost too much. I feel like I've overdosed on Halloween candy.

When it became apparent the other night that George Allen was really going to lose in Virginia, I text-messaged a friend and said "now it's time for shattered illusions." It's gonna be a tough time after the euphoria -- people on my end of the spectrum satisfied by nothing less than world peace and socialized medicine, people on the other end looking for any excuse to pounce. The glow's already draining away.

Still, that asshole Santorum is out, Allen is out, Bolton is done. The silly optimistic part of me is giggling like a fool. I was also kinda happy to see Heath Shuler win, though only on party lines and nostalgia -- I don't think I actually agree with him on anything.

* * *

As noted elsewhere, I finally saw the Thrashers play in person the other night. In addition to a ripping good game (what I saw of it: parts were missed as I awaited a new refrigerator), I noticed a new feature this year: you can text message things to get posted up on the scoreboard. Yeah, I imagine it's commonplace by now, but it's the first time I've noticed it. Most were of the garden variety "Hi Joey!" type, with a marriage proposal thrown in (I hope to God it wasn't sincere), and the random "I like turnip greens." I wonder how many "Bring back Kloucek" messages can go up before they'll block my number?

I Get Things Done When I'm Sick

Prague pics are up! All of 'em! Go here.

Russia pics coming soon.

The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn

I've got some sort of awesome death disease that's torn out my throat linings and made my nose a snot faucet, so I'm going to spend the day shuffling in between bed and the couch. That means I'll likely write, but it'll be whiny! Or NyQuil-fueled. One of those.

In the meantime, Kynan W.K. reminded me that I haven't updated the Bucs-Raiders contest, partly because both teams suck so badly that it's grievously depressing. I've done it now, and two surprises:

1) the Buccaneers have broken 100 points? HOW?

2) I forget #2. Stupid NyQuil.

Anyway: the graph! More later.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Late Greats

Three days off work and I had no time to think; a friend moving, parties, getting a new refrigerator, hockey, football, other duties. Many things were neglected (chief among them: Nanowrimo -- update to come tomorrow). Things may be returning to normal. We'll see.

#38 - "A Fan's Notes" by Frederick Exley (re-read)

I recommended this to the Ski Bum not long ago, citing it as one of my all-time favorites though I hadn't read it since 1998. That reading was by a much younger, disaffected Greg, and one who was going through a rather confusing time in his life -- so when Ski Bum wasn't so enthused by the book, I worried that perhaps I'd romanticized crap.

I didn't. "A Fan's Notes" is still beautiful and painful, and if anything I appreciate it far more now than I did as a younger man. It's Exley's "fictional memoir" of his life -- it's up for debate how much of it was actually true-to-life (his biographer says, basically, all of it) but if even bits of this tale were true, Exley had one hell of a path to walk.

Full of tales of failed marriages and friendships, going in and out of asylums, destructive drinking, "A Fan's Notes" is a chronicle of failure. It's honest on a level I can't conceive-- I think of myself as pretty self-aware, but if I were introspective on Exley's level, I'd be incapacitated by despair. It's brutal.

Doesn't sound very pleasant, does it? And it's not. But it's also captivating, and oh so well-written. Exley's life's battle was to become famous; his entire body of work is this and two sequels (generally far less well-regarded, but I remember them being pretty good -- again, it's been some years), but "A Fan's Notes" alone is enough to justify whatever fame he achieved.

(He also has the coolest author photo ever. Makes me wanna take up smoking.)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Down to a Science

I think LP was joking in the comments to the last post, but I seem to have perfected my procrastination. After mildly getting over-analytical about my writing Thursday, I took Friday off from Nanowrimo (I may also have been hungover) to regroup. Then today I was helping a friend move all day. Then tomorrow is football, of course. Then Monday I'll be hungover.

I may not have the writing work habits where I want them, but my excuses are all-pro.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Maybe Deadlines Aren't So Good For Me

Dream last night: I had returned to Boulder High School as a 33-year-old (yes, I really did graduate the first time around). I was in a furious panic because I'd forgotten to go to school, and gone to Russia instead -- and so was trying to do a semester's worth of homework (though I'd only been in Russia for a week in the dream) in the hours before class. This is what one day of writing does to me?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Whole Bunch of Crap

A few things I've been meaning to post about, but have been too scattered to really address ... now in one convenient bundle.

Operation: Nanowrimo is going, uh, sort of. The webpage is getting kind of overloaded so uploading (or doing anything else) is tough right now. As such, I'll refrain from putting a link to my page there 'til it's a bit more stable.

I sat down this morning, flexed my fingers, started writing, sweated, agonized, and uploaded the first batch... and it came to 355 words. Less than 1/100th of the way there. Good lord. For the first time, I've had some doubts that I'll be able to do this. But, we shall perservere -- I got some more done later in the day (not sure how much, due to the aforementioned server issues), and there's at least a few more days before I start over with a chronicle of the wacky adventures of Vaic Fan, Pletka Fan and But Fan, or just use Brushback's "navel" excuse.

I think I'm really prone to writing overly briefly, after years in various media jobs, and that's a bit of a hindrance here. Anyway. No more excuses -- the next update will be triumphant.

* * *

Word has it that there was a World Series recently. It's a sign of how far my interest in baseball has waned that my nominal favorite team won the damn thing and I barely paid attention. Yeah, I've been busy, and more than a little stressed, but... you don't have to work too hard to find the World Series on television, and I barely saw any of it. Glad the Cards won, enjoyed reading the Cards blogs in the series' wake, but I don't feel too much else.

Surfing about in its wake, I found Touching All the Bases, and digging through the archives rekindled a bit of the old (and really, it's been more than a decade since I was much of a fan -- close to 15 years) baseball love. Baseball really does, as Plimpton said, produce some very good writing. I've read "Ball Four" and Bill James and Thomas Boswell and a few others more than anything ever printed about hockey, and reading through TATB made me want to dig those out. The early '80s/late '70s baseball and football cards were also a nostalgia trip -- show me an '81 Topps football or '80 baseball card and I'm taken back.

* * *

Indulge me in sappiness now: as mentioned, things have been a bit chaotic and stressful lately -- the trip threw things off, work has been a bit of a load, the weather's been crazy, bouncing from near-freezing to sunny and 75, with the occasional torrential rainstorm.

Contributing the most to the waywardness of the PPA ship is the imminent departure of my friend Mary (a/k/a MD, the trip companion) for London. She's been a good friend -- one of my two closest -- for several years now, a stable and reassuring presence, and it's very tough to see her go.

MD's a sweet, wholesome girl, who's been a good counter to my often-irresponsible lifestyle, and a generally nice person to be around. She's lent an air of calm when it's much needed. I doubt she's reading this -- she's not much on the Internet things -- but if you happen to, kiddo, I'm gonna miss ya.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Warehouse of Ideas

Fantastic -- I signed up, and the Nanowrimo site promptly went for most of this morning. It seems to be back up -- just in time to receive my first batch of greatness (I hope) tomorrow morning.

I do have an idea now, and a (very rough) outline -- the latter being my usual Achilles' heel. I've never been an outliner. The novel I've been working on sporadically this year is not outlined, and has suffered as a result.

This isn't the first time I've tried to write a novel. Not by a long shot. So, as much as thinking about some of them makes me wince, I present some of the previous unfinished novels that have run aground:

1) Horror novel, written when I was 15 or 16. I was inspired by Ramsey Campbell's example. Heavily indebted to Stephen King's "Christine," I wrote about a group of teenagers, one of whom becomes a werewolf (instead of becoming possessed by an evil car). No trace remains -- the only thing I really remember is a sex scene written in the inimitable style of someone who hadn't come close to having sex at that point.

2) Mystery novel, written during and after my senior year of college. Kept going to great lengths to make it quirky. One note: as much as not having an outline makes any novel difficult, that goes triple for a mystery novel.

3) 1999 in-transition novel. Written at a time when I'd quit my job in Colorado, was not sure where my life was going, and I was lovelorn, it was about a journalist who had quit his job in Colorado, was not sure where his life was going, and was lovelorn. Um. I think I gave my character black hair, though, so he wasn't me or anything. The character went up to Minnesota to housesit for a winter, and thus found himself. It was a whole bunch of long, serious conversations. A more humorless novel has never been written. I actually got further into this one than any other.

4) Wacky romantic comedy novel. Started when I realized how awfully humorless #3 was. Didn't get too far; elements ripped off Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch" (except the characters liked HOCKEY rather than soccer).

5) Graham Greene-style well-meaning-whitey goes to third world and realizes he's in over his head. Inspired by the story of real-life combat photographers. Actually had some potential but never went anywhere.

6) Black comedy, set in Iceland (a place I've never been). Started because I came up with a GREAT opening scene that I was just dying to use; went nowhere. Started it on the plane back from Italy in 2004. Opening scene later appears, in greatly altered form, in #8.

7) Similar to #5, about a minesweeper out in the African desert who starts going insane. Inspired by a fascination with the desert's cruelty, and disappointment in the books I've read that seek to capture that ("The Woman in the Dunes" was ok, I can't get beyond page 50 of "The Sheltering Sky"). Again, some nice passages, but went nowhere.

8) The novel I started working on early this year, and have kept up intermittently. The first thing since #3 that I've allowed others to read, a big step. Some stuff I really like; I need to figure out where to take it, though (see repeated laments about outlining). I'll eschew plot points, just because I don't want to jinx myself.

9) The thing I'm going to start tomorrow. Again, no plot points for the moment, though that may change.

There've been a few others, but these are the things I've actually put some amount of serious thought into. We'll see how tomorrow's goes. I'm pretty excited about it right now, but that could change the moment writer's block sends me into Exley-style depression.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Administrative Notes

In a further attempt to kick-start my writing, I'll be taking part in National Novel Writing Month beginning Wednesday. My friend Katy did it last year, and recommended it -- we'll see how it goes. I'll be starting from scratch (novels-in-progress are forbidden), and a day and a half before the start, I have no idea what I'm going to write. But deadlines always help me, and hopefully that'll be the case here.

Once I'm started, I'll provide more info on whatever I'm making public, and put a permanent link over to the right somewhere.

* * *

Extra work this week, so I still haven't made permanent photo albums from St. Petersburg or Prague. Soon. In the meantime, La Nanuk went to Italy, and has been putting up a bunch of cool photos. In lieu of me doing anything these days, check 'em out.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Language Barrier

I'm crappy -- CRAPPY -- with foreign languages. There's nothing left of my childhood German or college French. Repeated attempts to learn Czech have gone nowhere. As you can imagine, this is harmful on trips. I go in PROMISING myself I'll attempt to converse in the local language, but it rapidly degenerates into pidgin Czenglish, before the eye-rolling local says "look, buddy, I speak English -- save yourself the pain."

Nonetheless, I can at least recognize certain patterns and words, and end up communicating just fine despite the language barrier, particularly in the Slavic world. Even in Albania, the Berlitz pocket phrasebook, pointing, hand signals and the occasional memorized phrase got me through just fine.

Then I went to Russia.

Dunno what it says, but it looks serious

I've never felt as disoriented and lost as I did when trying to read Russian signs. Even when I know better, I see "P" and I think "P." I see "B" and I think "B." Cyrillic and I were just not friends. I tried to think of it as a code, but that only brought me limited success. With unfamiliar letters and familiar letters used for unfamiliar purposes, I couldn't recognize patterns. You know those illiteracy commercials with a bunch of gibberish that say something to the effect of, "imagine if the world looked like this to you"? I seriously understood that feeling.

Context, obviously, helped with some things:

"Make a run for the border"

and eventually, by the end of the trip, I was doing better -- I was very proud when I figured out that "PECTOPAH" (roughly) was "restaurant," and "bAP" was "bar." When I saw a sign that looked roughly like "CYBERMAPKT" and immediately thought "supermarket," I was so impressed by myself that I bragged about it to MD. She wasn't quite as impressed.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Interlude

Plenty more to come about the trip, but I forgot to mention this. I basically got off the plane, went home and slept a few hours, got up Sunday and went to watch football, and drank a couple thousand beers. And I got treated to one of the best finishes I've seen in a while. As a friend of mine put it, "he kicked it right over the fucking thing." (Friend is not a football fan and was himself drunk when he spoke.)

Yeah, it can be pointed out that both teams (Ronde "Jesus" Barber excepted) played like dog's breakfast, but in the end, all that matters is that the Bruce Gradkowski era is off to a rousing start, and it's only a matter of time until I log on to nfl.com drunk one night and order a #7 jersey.

Also: the Oakland Raiders scored some points Sunday! Congrats, Kynan. The Bucs still lead our "bet" but it's actually a matchup now.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

...And Now Prague

Same drill -- a smattering of pics. Since we had less time in Prague, and the sun was poorly placed during our time at the castle, less of a selection -- but still some good ones.

National founder T.G. Masaryk

Changing of the guard at the castle

Saint Vitus Cathedral, looming

Stained glass inside the cathedral

Cathedral detail

Still more Saint Vitus -- who knew the band was so popular over there?

Building detail, Old Town Square

Charles Bridge, Hradcany in the background

Svatý Jan Nepomucký (Saint Jan of Nepomuk), one of many famous Praguers to meet a grisly end

Monday, October 23, 2006

Visions of St. Petersburg


I'm still sorting through all the pictures (200+), but here's a smattering of my favorites from Russia. I'll put up some Prague pics tomorrow. Soon I'll do an album on gsdgsd.com a la the others, but here's a sampling.

The Summer Gardens in autumn

Cold day on the Neva River

The Church on the Spilled Blood -- get ready to see lots of this one

Nevsky Prospekt

The Alexander Column, from the Hermitage

Pushkin and friend

St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral

From the deck of the "Aurora"