Thursday, August 31, 2006

Portents and Messages

Just dragging myself awake after a strange night -- first one of the powerful, terrifying, judgment-of-God storms that Georgia is known for, thunderclaps erupting at volumes that seem louder than normal, some harbinger of apocalypse. Hours later, long after the storm had eased off into pounding, constant rain, my extended rise from slumber was entwined with a dream laden with symbolism, some of it fairly obvious, other parts flashing me back to efforts to understand Dostoyevsky in high school.

I'll spare details (which are fading fast), but it's got me on another of my self-absorbed kicks, contemplating aging as I sip my coffee, extra-moodily.

Instead, a few photos of an odd building, taken on another gray day not long ago. I drive by the Lake Building daily, and I've always figured it was in full use -- it seems well-kept up, the sign's pretty prominent, and it's in an area that's undergone a spate of new condo creations -- I figured it must be in use if it's survived. But I was stricken recently that for an office/apartment building, there sure aren't many (read: any) cars in the parking lot.

It appears the chiropractic practice (which was featured in Mitchell's "Ponce de Leon") is, indeed, long gone. The phone number is transferred to another chiropractor, elsewhere in town. You can see into what appears to be a waiting room, but it looks like a museum piece, with old uncomfortable-looking chairs and a fallout shelter sign. Well kept but obviously disused. Elsewhere in the building, though, there are signs of life; walking around, I heard faint phantom voices behind doors, and leaving, noted a plant on a balcony. It's a curious building; the architecture suggests it was once a motel, but that's a completely uneducated guess, not based on any actual knowledge.



Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Oh, Great.

First Alanah at VCOE did it, then Brushback. With all the cool kids doing it, I tried the Celebrity Face-Matching thing today (same drunken, vaguely crazy-eyed pic as the Blogger profile used), and, uh:

Who the hell is Becky Griffin? And is it my imagination or is she a chick? (which, I should note, I am not) I mean, nothing against girls, obviously, but I prefer looking at them to looking like them.

#2 is Woody Harrelson, which is a bit more gender-appropriate.

Time Off for Good Behavior

I stayed in last night, a rather foreign concept on a night off work -- part of the parallel to my Commitment to Health, the Commitment to Responsibility. I think the latter will be a temporary experiment -- I've currently allowed myself Sunday (day off) to eat crappy and drink lots and end up asleep under a bus station bench somewhere, and I think I'll have to expand that to Monday as well. Sobriety's just too damn boring.

So I did some research on what people do on a night off besides go to bars. I started off watching a movie -- unfortunately I'd rented "Duets" from Netflix, which pretty quickly proved to be not remotely what I wanted to see. Moved on to reading -- Tony Judt's "Postwar," which is fucking great (to use the technical term) but also pretty damn complex. My attention span couldn't handle it.

By this point, I was looking contemplatively at the wine bottles, so I did something desperate: I busted out the computer games. I rarely play games, but as we've already established, I'm a pretty big nerd. I own some. They're there when I need them.

I ended up spending much of the evening playing "Civilization IV," continuing a string of Civilization-addictions that began with all-night sessions playing the first "Civilization" at my friend Stefanie Boyd's house, back in college. But before that, I fired up some other old favorites for the first time in years: the Infocom games.

God, I loved these as a kid (and teenager, and though rarely played, as an adult). Text adventure games, featuring deeply-thought-out worlds, crazy hard puzzles and quirky humor.

At this late date, I can't remember how exactly I got into them. What is known for certain is this:

* I initially played the original "Adventure" game soon after Dad got our first PC

* the first Infocom game I owned was "Deadline," passed on by a friend who couldn't stand it

* my friend David had "Zork I," and I remember a sleepover playing that the whole time while everyone else did more traditional sleepover activities (dipping someone's hand in a bowl of warm water).

What pushed me over the edge was when Infocom put out a text adventure version of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." I was a big fan of the books (and I keep meaning to re-read them, for the first time in ages), so I had to have the game. My parents caved in, got it, and oh God, another youthful obsession.

I was, it only struck me later in life, awful at these games. The puzzles are, I repeat, hellishly tough -- though it strikes me that perhaps my more imaginative 13-year-old mind was perhaps better suited to tackle them. Yesterday, I gave "Trinity" a whirl, a game I distinctively remember doing ok at as a kid. To get past the opening scene of the game, you need to get over a patch of grass that you can't walk on. To do it (ANYONE WHO STUMBLED UPON THIS SITE AND DOESN'T WANT A SPOILER, FOR GOD'S SAKE, AVERT YOUR EYES NOW), you need to climb into a baby's pram, and open an umbrella, after you've made the wind's direction change (don't ask). When I was a kid, I could figure that out. Here in 2006, I had to turn to the internet to get past it.

Infocom went under years ago, a combination of bad business decisions and a market increasingly reliant on graphics. But the games are still popular, and there's still a large, and active, community of people making their own. I rarely check in any more, but my friend Robb makes some really good ones (in fact, that's how we met) -- you can check them out here.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Continental Breakfast is not Real Breakfast

Atlanta is made for driving. It's spread out all over the place, the public transportation is negligible (by the time I get to a MARTA train station, I'm 3/4 of the way to work). And it's especially not made for walking. Long city blocks with no tree cover combined with the heat (which I may have mentioned before), sidewalks that look like they've taken mortar rounds, or often, no sidewalks at all.

But perversely, that can make walking more rewarding. You end up seeing Atlanta from a perspective not normally used, and you pick up many things often missed.

Back in Boulder, where the temperature is always perfect and all the people are beautiful and there's always rainbows and smiles, I walked a lot. When I moved out here, I initially lived in one of the lacking-sidewalks areas; there was a bar about 50 feet down the street, on my side, but I had to wander out into a six-lane road to get to it. Once I moved down to the Highlands, I got back into it a bit, and over the last few days, thanks to the 2006 Greg Commitment to Health, I've been doing it a ton.

And no one that doesn't have to do it, does it -- you'll have the streets to yourself. Off the main shop/restaurant drags, you don't get asked for money because the homeless guys figure you must be nuts if you're walking in Atlanta.

This morning I headed down to a few neighborhoods I know little about -- Cabbagetown and the old Fourth Ward. Didn't see much of either, but cool sights abound (this tower, f'rinstance -- no idea what it is, never heard of it. It appears to be opposite an old train station, but no clue). Up around the hip Krog Bar and Rathbun's, there's shells of old buildings (as above).

An Atlanta-native friend once bemoaned the city's relationship with its history -- saying it was only too happy to pave over everything unless it can be turned into a profit. That's largely true, I fear, but if you get off the main roads, get away from Peachtree, it becomes less true. There's a hell of a lot of cool old shit out there, and some of it's doing a good job surviving.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Out of the Closet

That probably wins the award for "Headline I'm most likely to regret," but the only alternate I can think of is "Greg's a gigantic dork."

I'm pretty open and unashamed about my collection of game-worn jerseys. Yeah, non-hockey fans (and some hockey fans, for that matter) think it's a bit weird, but they're accepting.

But I suppose I'm not really open about the extent. Or that I have a webpage devoted to the collection. And, in fact, have for many months.

Last night, a friend stumbled upon it, so I suppose it's time to come clean. Sigh.

Those who are into such stuff, go here. (Non-hockey-fan friends -- you probably don't want to.)

Speed Reading

A bit ahead of schedule, went ahead and broke the fast. Not because of some overwhelming desire for nachos -- why, I think I've transcended nachos -- but because of some health concerns. The guidelines I was using for the liquid fast said that you shouldn't go beyond 36 hours for your first fast (I was already way past 36 hours when I read this) and that if you have an irregular heartbeat (I do), you should be careful.

What, doesn't everyone read the instructions after they've already been doing something for two days?

Lest everyone find their faith in humanity shaken, I'm holding on to the healthy eating for a few days -- sticking to fruits, vegetables, and the fasting juice. And I'll do it again -- I just sorta want to get my doctor's ok on the heartbeat thing.

Self-absorbed aside complete -- now:

#31: "Speed Tribes" by Karl Taro Greenfeld

First became aware of this when I was steered, for reasons I forget, to Greenfeld's 1993 article on Japan's otaku. "Speed Tribes" deals with some of the same territory (and has a chapter on the otaku) -- it's a series of short clips, glimpses of the seedier side of Japanese culture, soon after the bubble economy burst. Each vignette features a different person from "outside" normal Japanese life -- a porn star, a rock star, a drug dealer, a teenage hoodlum, an otaku, a leftist student, etc.

It's quite good. It went really fast, and felt more like a sampler -- I'm rather distressed that Greenfeld doesn't have more in book format. I know little of Japan behind the surface and the stereotypes; this book tends to indicate that when someone decides to drop out of high-pressure mainstream Japanese society, they do it in a big way. I'd be curious to see what Sid thinks of this, but he's in hiding.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

YouTube: the Lazy Blogger's Refuge

Alanah over at VCOE got me thinking about some of my favorite hockey commercials, which in turn took me to YouTube, which in turn means screw productivity. Hunting around, I found this -- one of the better moments in Colorado state history:

A Country of Disappointment and Despair

30+ hours in and everything is surprisingly ok. The caffeine headaches were crippling yesterday, but they've subsided to a dull roar today. I didn't wake up hungry, which is impressive. I had some weirder-than-hell dreams, but don't know that those are connected.

* * *

#30 - "The Lawless Roads" by Graham Greene

Finished this a few days ago and just haven't had time to sit down and set out my thoughts. For some reason, though I love Greene and love travel lit, I've generally been slightly disappointed by his non-fiction journeys. They aren't bad, not by any stretch of the imagination, but they don't match up to his finest work, and they don't match up to the finest travel writing.

"The Lawless Roads" is something of a precursor to one of my favorite Greene novels, "The Power and the Glory" -- an account of GG's wanderings through 1930s Mexico, during a time when religion was suppressed.

He's got a very keen eye, and some of the book's finest moments come when he recounts some small slice of life. The trip sounds like it was very unpleasant, though, and that seeps through into the writing. It's well-written, of course, but I can think of a bunch of Greene novels I'd recommend before this one.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

This Should Be Good

Whether it's residual Boulder hippiness, or some sort of ill-defined spiritual quest, I'm trying something new for a few days: a "liquid fast." I'm consuming nothing but a strange blend of lemon juice, syrup, cayenne pepper and water, eight-to-twelve times a day.

I've been thinking I should come up with some awesome fake reason for this -- that I'm purifying my mind in advance of hockey season, or that I'm not eating until Lubomir Vaic is back in the NHL, but the mundane reality is that I've been feeling lousy lately, have been eating crap ("nachos" is not a food group, no matter how much I love Monterey Jack cheese. Neither is "beer."), and could stand to lose a little weight.

So, this is a test run -- three or four days. Nothing but the above-mentioned brew (and water). Chew on that for a second -- no booze. I usually measure my time without drinking in hours, not days, so that's a chore. Even more worrying -- no caffeine. My need for coffee makes my alcohol habits look responsible.

A few things I've learned so far: the stuff tastes weird as hell. Not bad, actually. But strange. It also doesn't cure the hangover I earned at a friend's birthday party last night. And I also realize that by the end of this, I'll be equating this brief fast with Bobby Sands' hunger strike.

In preparation for this, I went looking for this guidebook I'd heard about, before realizing that the info was available online (score!). And looking at all the "natural health" books at Borders, I was struck by how unfun they are. Really, I think the market is crying out for books that tout a fun path to health. What do you people think -- will the PPA health series, with titles like "Casual Sex: Your Path to Spiritual Happiness" and "Drink Yourself Thin," sell?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Castleberry Hill

This is an Atlanta neighborhood I don't know a ton about -- my experiences with it have been brief and random, generally driving through only when I've taken a wrong turn somewhere. Recently, I came down here to get my visa for Russia, and the place sparked my interest a bit.

Castleberry Hill is getting a reputation as the artsy neighborhood around town, and studios abound, but it's still evolving and really, it's hard to tell how it's going to end up. Gated communities and Baptist rescue missions are side-by-side. Trendy art shops are neighbors to long-boarded-up storefronts. Homeless people wander by hip lofts. Fully-renovated buildings are next to overgrown vacant lots and roofless, burned out shells of warehouses.



Once upon a time, this must have been a pretty important part of the city; one of the main railway stations was just a bit to the north, and you can wander down to the still-used tracks to the east. It's filled with long-defunct warehouses, enormous ghost signs still visible.

I idly shot a bunch of photos while strolling about yesterday -- check them out here. They aren't labeled, organized or cropped -- Webshots is being extraordinarily tempermental today and I lack the patience. Eventually, I'll get these all up in a better format on the gsdgsd site, but for now, browse around.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Nothing to See Here

A lethargic Sunday afternoon, several ideas of things to write but they all require actual "work" and "thought." Maybe later. In lieu of effort, I'll present another bit by Adam Buxton (the guy behind the Pope video).

This one's also from Fidel -- how Al-Jazeera always gets those Osama bin Laden tapes.

More soon, hopefully preventing this from simply becoming a warehouse full of Buxton and Stephen Colbert videos.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Images From the East

Cool stuff here -- a friend passed along a link to the photos of Luke Tchalenko. Some combine Russia and urban decay, making them of obvious interest to me -- others are of recent events in the region -- and others are just nice shots.

No Country for Old Men

There's been a power shift in the NHL's Western Conference over the past few years, though I think perceptions have been slow to catch up to reality. For the past decade, the Red Wings and Avalanche (and to a lesser extent, the Dallas Stars) have loomed large over the conference, but the last three Stanley Cup finalists to come out of the west have been Edmonton, Calgary, and Anaheim. The Big Two are really a thing of the past, and so is the rivalry.

Oh, Avalanche-Red Wings games are still going to be events, but without the conference-shaking importance they once had. I doubt the Avs will make the playoffs this season, and while some seem to think signing Dominik Hasek makes the Red Wings prohibitive Cup favorites, there are also some people who think that the earth is flat.

Neither team has dealt much with large-scale failure over the past decade, but this could be the year. The Avalanche have two moderately-large cap spots taken up by players who are ready for the glue factory, Brisebois and Turgeon; the core of the Red Wings' defense has a combined age of deceased. Detroit's offseason signings trump the Avalanche (Hasek and Markov > Klee and Arnason -- actually, just about anything > Klee and Arnason), but the Wings had a big chunk of their emotional core taken away this summer.

I don't see the enmity between the two teams leaving any time soon -- Detroit fans will continue to be inordinately angry that Colorado is allowed to exist, and Avalanche fans will continue to make fun of people who have to live in Detroit.¹ But really, what's the last really memorable Avs-Wings matchup? 2002?

There's still a large part of my hockey soul that's thinking in terms of late '90s/early '00s, but looking at the Western Conference, there's a bunch of teams more exciting than the two grandees -- Nashville, Anaheim, San Jose, Calgary, even Vancouver and Minnesota. I could be wrong about this, sure -- Arnason and Leopold could make people forget Forsberg and Blake, or Hasek could find himself physically and spiritually cleansed and go 82-0. But I don't think so. The Colorado-Detroit rivalry is still going to be fun, but really, at this point they're the two old men sitting on the porch of the nursing home, arguing over something long ago, while the young guys chase girls around outside.


¹ Well, I will, anyway.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Would-Be War Junkie

Rootless, aimless and jobless after finishing college, I entertained Hemingway-fueled fantasies of going off to war, finding my way as a freelance war correspondent. In these fantasies, I'd go off to Albania, which I figured was due, file insightful pieces, become famous, and make love to many beautiful women. And I'd "find myself" in the process.

The mundane end to the story, of course, is that I got a job as a music critic in Colorado, Albania didn't erupt into full-fledged war, and with hindsight, I realized that I would have been well out of my depth in such a situation.

But the idea never really lost its romance.

#29: "God Lives in St. Petersburg" by Tom Bissell

The characters in Tom Bissell's short stories share a similar sense of being in over their head. Almost without fail, they're idealistic Westerners who have headed to Central Asia in search of something undefinable.

A gift from PPA reader Coco, the stories were a good quick read on the plane. Mostly bleak portrayals of people losing hope, they aren't romanticized. The losers aren't heroic -- just real, confused people.

The two standouts are the two that break the mold the most: the blackly comic "The Ambassador's Son," and the final story, "Animals In Our Lives" -- which takes the action back to the U.S., and has a painfully real look at a dying relationship. Initially I thought that of all the stories, it failed -- but a day later, it's stuck with me the most.

Dram It All to Hell

(it's been a long day. You try doing these damn headlines)

The day started perfectly -- I woke up, refreshed, stepped outside to get a last lungful of Colorado air. I arrived at the airport and found out that I'd been bumped up to first class. The trip was ending on a triumphant note.

If the plane had then plowed into a mountainside, I would at least have gone out on top. I got back to find out my luggage was still in Denver (where it is now, I know not). The drive home reintroduced me to Atlanta traffic in the least pleasant way -- a normal 20-minute trip took well over an hour. I got back sweaty, grumpy, and with my underwear somewhere over Kansas.

Once home, thank the lord, I went and saw the Drams. They're composed of the remnants of Budapest One and Slobberbone -- the latter, as I've stated, in the running for best band in the history of music.

The live show was pretty good. Not the transcendent experience I hoped for/needed, but very well put together. As a new band, there was a ... for lack of a better term (I'm tired, tipsy, and more tired) ... reluctance to stray too far from the set structure. The band was also hampered by the audience's obvious unfamiliarity with the new stuff (the CD has only been out a few weeks -- a Neil Young cover and a Slobberbone track drew the biggest response). But it was good fun, they were nice and tight, and the stuff sounded great.

A realization, that's been growing as I've listened to the new album recently: whereas I loved the more drunken, loud Slobberbone tracks, with the new band I'm way more into the slower stuff -- "Holy Moses," "When You're Tired" (which they didn't play), uh, the Des Moines song (the CD and track list are in the missing luggage), etc. I'm an old, old man.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Big Ned

A few years back, I heard of a possibly-apocryphal study -- stating that residents of Boulder were the second-most overeducated people in the United States, based on some combination of college degree levels versus job status (lots of PhDs working as bartenders in Boulder).

Most overeducated? Nederland, Colorado, about 17 miles to the west, up Boulder Creek.

I went up to Nederland today, for the first time in a few years, and it's not hard to see why people want to live there. It's a beautiful, peaceful little town, west of a reservoir, clean and nice, more hippie than yuppie, without the nuttiness of your Aspens and Vails. It's 3,000 feet higher than already-high Boulder, so the air is just incredibly thin, and crisp.

The purpose of the trip was to visit my friend Doug, who's lived there for years, since before I knew him. He built his house just outside of the town, and for the first time today, I really understood the desire to live up there. In years past, it seemed like a nice place to visit and spend extended time, but I always figured I'd languish away from the big city. Perhaps it's just the irrationality that comes with vacation in the most beautiful state in the U.S. (Colorado's beauty level, of course, established by the Duff-Jenner Pretty States Act of 1956), but today, I found myself thinking "hell, yeah, I could do this." I've been relaxed on this trip -- going up there for a few hours managed to take that relaxation to new heights.

Plus, we had a cute waitress, and got six great beers and chips and salsa for a total of $15. Welcome to Heaven.

Buried History

Boulder -- and nearly every place around it -- was originally a mining town. You wouldn't really know that now; Boulder became a full-fledged university town early and that's defined its identity.

One of the writing projects I'm working on incorporates a massacre of striking miners as a minor plot point, based in part on the famous (and Woody Guthrie-popularized) Ludlow Massacre; doing some research on that, I stumbled upon violence much closer to home.

Out in eastern Boulder County, the little town of Serene became the scene of a bloody incident during a state-wide 1927 coal strike. The story in brief -- a much more in-depth account, as well as a book on the killings, is here -- the Columbine Mine was one of the few mines to remain open during a state-wide coal strike called by the International Workers of the World. Some of the miners continued working, others picketed.

On November 21st, police and mine guards refused to let the strikers into Serene -- things escalated, and machine guns were brought into play. Six strikers died, dozens of people were wounded.

This all happened just miles from where I grew up, but I never heard about it until coming across it during my research a few weeks ago. Part of that is my own fault -- despite being raised here, I always took little interest in local history. But even so, it seems impossible that an event of such magnitude (in what has forever been a small community at heart) is so little-known.

Out in Lafayette, a town that's more in touch with its mining past, there are a few more signs and tributes. Five of the slain miners are buried under a monument at Lafayette Cemetery, seen below (set up only in 1989). The Lewis Home -- a meeting place for miners during other strikes -- is now a mining museum (closed the whole time I'm here, alas).

Serene, these days? The whole town is buried under a landfill, apparently. That's history for ya.



* * *

Completely, 100% unrelated to the slaying of striking miners: I've got a preview of sorts of the Thrashers up at Hockey Rants. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lit and Me

Indiscr... Natalia Antonova has this pretty cool literary bit up on her site, which I shall steal:

1. First book to leave a lasting impression? Geez, a tough one right off the bat, so open to interpretation. I mean, I could say "The Hardy Boys and the Secret of the Old Mill" and it wouldn't be wrong, technically. But I'll go with Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" series, which effectively placed fantasy situations into the real world.

2. Which author would you most like to be? Graham Greene, minus the "dead" part. An interesting, well-lived life.

3. Name the book that has most made you want to visit a place? A few non-fiction books come to mind; Robert D. Kaplan's "Balkan Ghosts" (Balkans) and Michela Wrong's "I Didn't Do It For You" (Eritrea). Fiction? I want to visit Murakami's Japan, but I'm not totally sure it exists. Ditto Pelevin's Russia. Peter Hoeg's "Smilla's Sense of Snow" made me want to visit Greenland; I'll go with that.

4. Which contemporary author will still be read in 100 years time? Hopefully many of them. I'll vote for Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez.

5. Which book would you recommend to a teenager reluctant to try ‘literature’? Haruki Murakami's "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World."

6. Name your best recent literary discovery? Richard Powers.

7. Which author’s fictional world would you most like to live in? Again, Haruki Murakami. Tailor-made for a loner, unpredictable, with beauty in small things.

8. Name your favourite poet? Uh, not terribly applicable to me. I'll vote Czeslaw Milosz, just because I think he's about the only poet whose work I own.

9. What’s the best non-fiction title you’ve read this year? "The Lost Heart of Asia," by Colin Thubron. Hauntingly beautiful travel.

10. Which author do you think is much better than his/her reputation? James Ellroy. So many people dismiss him as just pulp, but God, the man knows how to write.

Monday, August 14, 2006

We Have Voted to Expand the Offensive

Changes afoot: I've been invited to contribute regularly over at Jes Gőlbez's Hockey Rants, and my first post is up. The PPA will still continue to function as it always has.

Flying High

Greetings from Colorful Colorado!

As hard as it may be to believe (well, it's hard for me to believe -- you probably haven't devoted much thought to the matter), I loved flying as a kid. It was an immense adventure, moreso than the destination itself. Why a kid who spent all his time reading got so thrilled about three and a half hours more when he'd just read, I know not, but if we weren't flying on a trip, I was disappointed.

Part of it may have been because I was the right height to fly. It's much more comfortable when you're 4'8" than when you're 6'1". Part of it may have been childhood, when anything new and different is amazing. And, who knows, maybe I suffered from some severe mental disorder that made me like pain.

Now? Now it's just a grueling chore. I went through a brief reversal in high school and college when I was terrified of flying (though I turned that to my advantage, once telling a girl that I was afraid the plane would go down, and I'd die without having kissed her), but everything eventually smoothed itself out, and flying became simply a big bucket of shit, but at least not a scary one. (though: for some reason the last few days found me digging out Firewater's "Psychopharmacology" album for the first time in years, having forgotten that it contains the song "Black Box Recording" -- maybe the worst thing ever to listen to before you get on a flight.)

I say this, as I degenerate further into a young Andy Rooney, because I flew cross-country today. As flights go, it was relatively painless, but it's all a matter of scale. I really lucked out -- my seatmate was an attractive woman rather than the usual sweaty man with Tourette's Syndrome (answering many years of prayers -- God apparently waited until I was dating someone semi-seriously to bring out the hot seatmate. Thanks, God), and the children behind me only took their harassment to the physical level a couple of times. I also slept most of the way, and it didn't crash. I still hated it, and am wondering how I'm going to survive the flight to Russia without drinking myself insensate. And it strikes me, the terrorists have it all wrong -- if they really wanted to fuck with us, they'd make it so we have to fly all the damn time.

* * *

Indiscretions is being retired, and Natalia Antonova has a new home. Check it out.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

This Space for Rent

Off to Heaven on Earth (a/k/a Colorado) for a few days. I'll undoubtedly spew some crap while out there, just not as much as usual.

Gruesome Twosome

#27 - "The Lost Continent" by Bill Bryson (re-read)
#28 - "St. Augustine" by Garry Wills

Two quick reads, before I head off on vacation tomorrow, two very different books. The Bryson... hell, everyone's read Bryson by now. I just needed his trademark curmudgeonliness, and I've only read "Lost Continent" 500 times, as opposed to the thousand times each of "Neither Here Nor There" and "Notes on a Small Island," so I grabbed this off the shelf. It's great, it's funny, it somewhat curbed my recent desire to go see rural America.

"St. Augustine" is a bit of a wild card -- I'm not at all religious and not interested in becoming, but I was sent this as a review copy the better part of a decade ago, and hell, it's short. It's pretty interesting, too. Once Wills gets past an odd obsession with proving that St. Augie didn't screw everything that moved as a young man (something that had, frankly, never crossed my mind), it's a good primer on one of the great thinkers of his day. It lays out his influence well for someone like me, and it's fascinating to read about the early, lesser-known schisms in Christian thought. Glad I finally got around to reading it, and now I'll feel a little less guilty about reading "The Milan Chalupa Story" or whatever I pick up next.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I Buy Clothing Worn By Other Men

It's all Pete Van Vleet's fault.

Pete hosted a weekly all-night poker game, back in the early part of the decade. It'd often go through to dawn, with enough beer and food to last throughout. Pete also lived about four blocks from me, so things like "moderation" and "responsibility" were foreign concepts.

Late one night, early one morning, I stumbled home through 4 a.m. Atlanta, and, well, if you drink a lot, you shouldn't leave your computer on all the time. The next morning, I woke up to find out I'd spent $495 on a game-worn hockey jersey. Petr Prajsler, Los Angeles Kings -- remember him? No? With good reason. But he had a solid season for the Phoenix Roadrunners when I lived in Arizona, and he'd lodged in my mind all these years.

That's how it all started.

I became addicted to surfing the net, searching for jerseys. Thankfully, I quickly decided to limit myself to Czech players, in the name of sanity. Even with the limitation, I found plenty of cool stuff. An '80s Leafs Miroslav Fryčer jersey. A few Sparta Praha jerseys, including one of David Výborný's. And a bunch of cool stuff that I wish I had bought back then -- a Šlégr Canucks, a Jiří Hrdina Flames.

Soon enough, sanity prevailed, and I stopped buying. I had a few cool jerseys making a nice display on the wall, and that was that.

Until the lockout. And then the end of the lockout, and the reflowering of my hockey passion. And two unfortunate things happened at once:

* I found a Pavel Skrbek HC Poldi Kladno jersey on eBay, and

* I found this post, referring me to the magical place where Czech jerseys are auctioned off.

I won the Skrbek, didn't win Balaštík, but I was hooked. The Skrbek jersey was great, absolutely hammered, and it was off to the races again. Pretty quickly, I realized I had to drop aspirations of getting a big NHL collection; $350 is now bargain-basement for a NHL jersey. (Exceptions: various favorite players) For the most part, I've been collecting European jerseys (primarily Czech league) now -- they look cool and generally are far more heavily worn than their North American counterparts.

So what's the appeal, exactly? I've never been big on having things just to have them -- I'm most acquisitive about books, which I can actually read -- but the jerseys just look cool. Hockey jerseys (and sure, I'm biased here) are far more attractive than those of the other major sports (only baseball comes close), and the wear on the actual game-worn jerseys does tell a story. I've got a few jerseys from Czech team HC Sparta Praha, dating to the '70s and '80s, and they're just destroyed.

I've stopped purchasing, now, unless something really cool comes up, but there's quite a variety to the collection. Jerseys from seven countries, ten leagues plus international play. Almost all Czechs, with the odd Slovak (Demitra, Vaic) and one Pole (1980s national team goalie Gabriel Samolej).

It's a small place I've got here, so I restrict the jerseys to three on the wall at one time, in the hallway. That's not enough to escape the slings and arrows of friends, alas. Girls usually range from wide-eyed fear to a dismissive "hey, that's pretty neat."

The triad effect lends itself to themed displays -- the Ales Pisa good-luck charm, the Klouček vigil. Right now it's all Czech jerseys, as seen above (left to right: Ales Pisa Pardubice, unknown '70s Sparta player, Pavel Vostřák Dukla Jihlava, complete with hedgehog), marking the season getting under way over there.

Some random facts and figures about the collection:

Most jerseys, one team: HC Sparta Praha, five (two unknown jerseys from the '70s and '80s, Leo Gudas, David Výborný, and Robert Schnabel).

They're followed closely by the Thrashers with four (Klouček, Kaberle, Štefan, Hnilička), and HC Kladno, the Blues, and the Los Angeles Kings (?) with three each. Only one Avs jersey (Josef Marha) -- they haven't had a lot of Czechs, and Milan Hejduk jerseys tend to be pricey.

Most jerseys, one player: Klouček, with four (Rangers pre-season, Predators, Thrashers pre-season, Chicago Wolves. I think the only other player with more than one is Roman Vopat (remember him?).

Favorite jersey: Late 1980s Gudas Sparta Praha jersey. He was regularly among the top penalty-getters in the Czech league at the time, and it shows it -- a giant gash in the front, lots of marks all over the place. Plus the little "fighting saint" logo at the bottom of the numbers. Photos here and here, but they don't really do it justice.

Honorable mention: Tomáš Divíšek Pardubice, Roman Meluzin Tappara Tampere, Marha Avs

Ugliest jersey:
Poor, poor Lubo.

Honorable mention: Jaroslav Balaštík Syracuse Crunch (do they not have graphic designers in Syracuse?), Libor Zábranský Worcester Icecats (or maybe it's just the AHL -- though half the time I think the Zábranský jersey is really pretty cool).

Religion Corner

Forwarded by Fidel (the friend, not the Cuban leader). Not sure what it is, but it's hilarious:

A New Pope on Transbuddha

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Dream, 08/09/2006

I was in a car, a SUV, barreling through Atlanta. I wasn't driving. I'm not sure who was. Islamic militants were in control of much of Atlanta, and the streets were aflame.

We avoided some roadblocks and went around a corner -- and realized we were in a dead-end. Not just a dead-end, but a dead-end that was actually a large room. We got out of the car, just as someone closed an enormous door behind us.

Several of my friends were in the clink with me, but I can't remember most of their identities (with one exception). About this time, some of our captors came in, and I realized this group, at least, wasn't made up of militants: they were all cyborgs. Homemade cyborgs, who had grafted metal crap into their bodies to make themselves tougher, meaner, stronger. They were strolling in and out, waving guns at us, laughing at us.

About this time, my friend P.J. was thrown in to join us, and then I woke up.

Hot August Nights

An evening of fine vintage, a rare sense of everything coming together. I planned on one glass of wine after work -- instead, it ended up being a cross-town adventure, our usual little bistro to the hip punk bar to the Chinese burger joint parking lot with arguing crackheads, a mixture of friends old and new, close and little-known. It all ended on a side street in an ignored neighborhood, in a backyard with one of the five or six best views available of Atlanta. None of the pictures came out quite right, but that's a lot to ask, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

We Are 638

Second Misfits reference in a post title, first to combine the Misfits and Castro.

The Guardian has a bit on all the efforts to off Fidel over the years. Good healthy fun.

You Were My Thrill

Recent vodka-based misadventures aside, I've always loved blueberry-based foods, which brands one as a bit of an outcast in the U.S. When "Boo Berry" cereal makes its annual return from the grave, I buy several boxes, and not for ironic reasons. I buy them because it's blueberry-flavored cereal.

So even when the results don't quite match my expectations, blueberry flavor -- hell, heavily blue packaging -- is enough to win me over.

Since the vodka travesty (and that's the last time I'll mention that, promise. If you must try the blueberry vodka, it's at the Local Pub, on Ponce in Atlanta), I've resumed my search for a "lost" blueberry product, one dimly remembered from childhood, and not seen since.

Complicating matters is that it's a product of the brief period of my childhood spent in Mainz, Germany, much like Fix und Foxi comics (which I'm relieved to see are still around). But it's one that shouldn't be so hard to find. The product? Blueberry milk mix.

Just a simple drink mix, much like your Nestle Quik. I remember it (accurately, I think) as having the same unhealthy slate-blue coloring as Boo Berry. We drank it fairly frequently during our time over there.

But over here, even in the specialty groceries, there's nothing. A search of online German groceries turns up nothing. A Google search on "blueberry milk" isn't helpful; a search on "blaubeermilch" tends to turn up results in German, which I can't read. I know there's some multinational-based products available in Europe that you can't get here -- just try to find paprika Pringles in the U.S., and you've gotta have the hook-up to get Shokata Fanta -- but there's no one that's importing some German brand's blueberry milk mix? Are you kidding me? (this rather excited page has a list of blueberry products from around the world, including Icelandic and Finnish blueberry milk -- but it's pre-made. I want the mix.)

I doubt I'll have the chance to haunt the groceries of St. Petersburg and Prague for the stuff when I'm over there, so I'll put out a plea -- any Europeans who happen to read this, do you have any idea where I can score?

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Banality of Intersections

Above you see the intersection of Decatur and Pryor Streets, downtown Atlanta, circa now. It's a pretty standard downtown four-way, nothing really of note -- a pawn shop, a book store, a multi-use condo/office building.

But 100 years ago next month, it was the flashpoint for one of Atlanta's worst moments, the start of a race riot that lasted several days and left at least 25 people dead (sources seem to vary on this, with numbers up to 40 given -- I'll go with the most common number). It was Atlanta's second race riot in five years; the first, the Pittsburg Riot, was pretty small change compared to this.

Put at its simplest, as is my tendency, the causes seem to be two-fold: a nasty race for governor marked by all sorts of race-baiting, and (likely overhyped) reports of black men assaulting white women. Thousands of whites gathered at the above intersection on September 22, 1906, then proceeded to go wild for four days, attacking the city's black population and causing considerable damage.

I only recently read up on the riots -- and realized that the starting point was in fact this site, an intersection I've driven through hundreds of times since living here. There's an idea in my head, I guess, that it should be more dramatic, more looming, there should be a sense of destruction even a century on. But it's just another bland cityscape.

* * *

Some more info on the 1906 riots:

Coalition to Remember the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot -- a group working to increase Atlantan knowledge of the riots, and to put together more information on the victims.

Walter White -- a first-hand account of the riots.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Weird Things Are Afoot at the Home Depot

Wish I'd had my camera for this one -- a few days back, I was over at Home Depot, and there was a fellow there wearing a t-shirt celebrating the virtues of cockfighting. I don't know Spanish, but it was pretty obviously in favor of the practice, rather than opposed (one image of the cocks fighting, another of a single proud rooster). Weirder still, if my interpretation was correct, it appeared to be boosting one particular bird.

I've seen it all now. Shirts celebrating a favorite team? Normal enough. Shirts celebrating favorite NASCAR drivers? Sure, whatever. Favorite bands? Authors? Video games? Sure. But a favorite (sorry) cock? What a strange world.

* * *

A whole bundle of new quality hockey links added to the right, most discovered during my surfing as the five weird things posts spread across the internet like wildfire. Please welcome Ingmar Bergman, Jerseys and Hockey Love, the Battle of California, Stick in Rink, Sisu Hockey, and Orland Kurtenblog. All good sites, all undoubtedly thrilled to be forever linked to a post about cockfighting.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mystery Solved

Well, part of the way, at least. My recent lack of energy can, presumably, be put down to the fact that I'm running a middle-grade fever. No idea what caused it, but maybe the combination of 95 degree heat with sudden rainstorms that make the temperature plummet 20 degrees in an hour is a contributing factor.

So, on a rare Saturday night off...

...I'm home, alone, surfing YouTube. Yayyyyy.

I thought the famous Chris Simon-Bob Probert fisticuffs from the 1996 playoffs might cheer me up -- the Avs have never had anyone like Simon since then (for evidence, do a YouTube search on Brent Severyn or Warren Rychel). Unfortunately, no one has put that fight up.

But someone HAS put up a video of Chris Simon buying gas!

Checking Out

#26 - "Hotel World" by Ali Smith

Odd little number here, a book I've had for a while but that was somewhat forgotten on the shelves. Vignettes featuring five women, one of them a ghost, all coming together at a London hotel one winter night.

The book relies quite a bit on wordplay, often to good effect, though sometimes it's just a distraction. The characters are rather broadly painted, as well. That said, I enjoyed this -- it's oddly affecting -- and would be interested in reading Smith's books written since; I get the feeling there's more potential than is realized here. A fun, quick read, regardless.

This Really Cheered Me Up

A friend of mine recently moved to Houston, and I'd like to think he had something to do with this.

Crawling From the Wreckage

There's a lesson here, I guess: don't put blueberry vodka into your body, especially when you have a doctor's appointment at 9 a.m. the next day. I don't know for sure that my Thursday-night shot at the Local is what laid me low, but I spent most of Friday in bed, with a headache alternately throbbing and piercing, trying desperately to sleep. The 98-degree weather didn't help either. I'm only now, on Saturday morning, more or less back to normal -- and I still have something of a headache. The only other possibility is that I have some horrible wasting disease, and I'll be dead shortly. Considering the scale of this headache, that might be preferable.

This morning, as I was drinking coffee like it was liquified life, I flashed back a bit to my job interview trip out here, in 1999. After a few months of unemployment, and getting desperate enough that I'd tried for a PR job at the U.S. Navy, I pulled the old "hey, I'm going to be in town visiting a friend, why don't I drop by and we can talk" move. Yeah, I was desperate enough to pay for my own trip to Atlanta, at the height of summer.

It wasn't all hardship, though. I really was visiting a friend -- my old college compatriot Laura, who's seen me through all phases of life, from shaven-headed angry teenager to whatever I am now. And almost as important, I would get the chance to visit Willi's Sports Grill.

Now, I'm not much for idolization. There are plenty of people I admire, but I'm rarely prone to hero worship. There's a few people I'd be thrilled to meet, mostly writers, but for the most part, I'd rather their works just stand alone and I'll judge them on that.

But I couldn't help but get giddy at the chance to meet Willi Plett.

It's been noted before, over and over, that I tend to gravitate toward kind of off-the-beaten-path players, but even so, I can't totally explain why Willi was one of the first hockey players I rooted for. By the time I was really watching hockey, his career was on the downward path. He was playing for Minnesota, a team I had little interest in. But there you have it. Along with Wilf Paiement, Bernie Federko and Brian Sutter, Willi was one of the first players to get my interest.

So when I was flying out here, I told Laura: "we've gotta go up to Willi's."

Thankfully, Laura (then and now) is always up for oddball adventure, and wasn't averse to going all the way up to Woodstock, Georgia (one of Atlanta's northern suburbs) just so that I could meet Plett. (and drink beer, and eat wings)

Once there, it wasn't hard to pick out Willi -- he was about twice the size of everyone, a mountain of a man. All cliches about "he looked like he was ready to step on the ice right then" apply. I told our waitress that he was a favorite of mine from childhood; the look on her face indicated that there weren't a lot of people making a pilgrimage from Colorado to meet Willi Plett.

He came over, chatted with us for a while -- very nice, funny guy. Signed an old Flames program for me, took some photos with me (which I'd post here, if they didn't make me look ridiculous -- the combination of a beer-induced flush and a hairstyle that I can't really justify mean that they stay locked in the archives). Laura, for her part, said later that Plett is "a beautiful man."

The place had, perhaps, the best wings I've had in Atlanta, and any place with hockey memorabilia all over the walls makes me feel at home. But, once I moved out here, it was a struggle to make it up there too often; Woodstock is far enough away, well beyond the reach of public transport, that the only way to drink there is to follow it up by carjacking someone.

Willi's is no more, which is a pity. (and surprising -- every time I went out there, it was pretty full) Last time I went out there, it was a karate school. Plett's still around; I think he does landscaping or something, and coaches youth hockey in suburban Atlanta. There is still one more former Flame-run bar -- Tim Ecclestone's TJ's, up in Alpharetta. But Ecclestone's career came before my hockey fandom, and I haven't ever been able to summon up the energy to make the long haul up there.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Five Weird Things

As payback for some bad shit that I did that I can't remember, Alanah has "tagged" me -- meaning I have to post five weird things about me by the morning, or I will die. Or something. Alanah just said "don't fuck with the magic, Avs boy."

She also said I can't post anything pornographic. YOUR LOSS!

So anyway.

1) I was a vegetarian for nine yearsish. Vegan for four of those. As happens so often, I was drunk when I blew it. In the vegetarian case, I saw a lonely leftover slice of sausage pizza. I told myself "if I feel bad about this later, I can blame it on the booze." I didn't feel bad about it later.

2) I'm crap with foreign languages, but I can say "you are very beautiful" and "may I kiss you" in Czech. I can't say, for instance, "I think I need a kidney transplant," but really -- which is more important?

3) Before I started this, back in January, I used to make fun of bloggers as self-important fools, and in fact attack them in the streets.

3a) I'm moderately drunk right now -- blueberry vodka, what the fuck? -- so it's all downhill from here.

4) Despite appearance, Tomáš Klouček is not my favorite hockey player. Nor is Ľubomír Vaic. Among current players it's Milan Hejduk -- all time would be Hejduk, Valeri Kamensky, or Willi Plett.

5) I had skin cancer when I was 24, the result of passing out on a beach in Hawaii when I was 11 or so. I survived.

There. That wasn't so bad! Now, because I need to spread the hate -- Ze Nanuk (who isn't even a hockey blog, poor sucker) and Vaic Fan get tagged. My heart goes out to both of you.

Update: Both the Inveterate Introvert and Vaic Fan have DELIVERED! Good job, both of you!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Havana's Hockey Hero

Life isn't all gluttony and beer these days; as you may have heard, Cuban leader Fidel Castro has had a rough week. This has caused a great deal of excited pants-wetting in the White House, where officials think they may have another chance to make another country awesomer, and maybe they'll be able to get this one right.

Castro's a figure of legend, one of the last of the larger-than-life rulers in the mold of Charles de Gaulle and Don Shula. Whatever you think of him, when he ultimately does smoke the Big Cigar, his passing will mean the end of an era. To that end, I thought I'd share a little-known chapter of Castro's life.

The year: 1939. Graham Greene, who when not writing novels or conducting espionage missions did a little hockey scouting, was watching the Havana Tropicals in action. He was most taken by a teenager, not the fastest skater, but who always found himself in the mix of things, doing the dirty work, getting the goals. Impressed, Greene spoke to him after the game. The teenager responded:

"I began this hockey team with 82 men. If I had do it again, I'd do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and plan of action."

Greene didn't know what the hell the teenager was talking about, but nonetheless, he passed on the information to his friend James Norris.

Cut to: 1947. Detroit Red Wings training camp. Legends of the future abound. There's Gordie Howe, about to start his second season. "Terrible Ted" Lindsay. Sid Abel. And among them, unknown, a thickly-bearded young man who tends to speak with a heavy accent.

No one could figure out the "Havana Humbler," as he was known. But two things were certain: he and Howe had a magic, a chemistry. And he was really free with the good cigars.

(Below: long after Castro left the NHL, his influence was still felt)

In exhibitions, the Castro-Howe tandem lit up the scoreboard. But James Norris wasn't happy. His new phenom looked at him with a steely glare, as if he despised everything Norris stood for. Even worse, the young Howe was obviously influenced -- skating around the ice, number 9 was heard repeating "The revolution is a dictatorship of the exploited against the exploiters" to himself.

Norris made a decision. A fateful one, as it turned out.

In the next practice, following orders, Sid Abel drove Castro into the boards, and got his stick up a bit. Castro wouldn't stand for the dishonor -- he and Abel dropped the gloves. A flurry of fists ensued, and when it was over, the Havana Humbler stood supreme. A bloodied Abel, as he was helped off the ice, screamed "Get that Commie off the team!"

The next day, Castro was sent to the AHL.

He enjoyed a couple 45-goal seasons with the St. Louis Flyers, but disappointed by the obvious blacklist, he left the country, and started getting into baseball a bit more. Castro forged a bond with Maple Leafs backup goalie Ernesto Guevara, and the rest is history.

But hockey never fully left Castro's life. Gordie Howe never forgot his friend, and in the 1970s, attempted to bring him out of retirement to join the Houston Aeros. Unfortunately for hockey history, U.S. immigration authorities weren't fooled by the crudely-forged "Fidel Howe" passport, and Castro was denied entry.

Then in the 1989-90 season, he skated a few games for the IHL's Phoenix Roadrunners, as a publicity stunt. It was a disaster, and best not mentioned again.

Castro also served as personal hockey tutor to L'ubomir Vaic. Just in case you're wondering why one of the Czech league's biggest stars now finds it so hard to crack the NHL again.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Golden Anniversary

I'm impressed to see a bar that lasts for five years around here. Competition, property prices, changing tastes must make it difficult to survive, and keep a steady and loyal clientele.

All the more reason, then, to pay tribute to Manuel's Tavern, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week. (They're celebrating with $1.50 pints and $1 "loaded hot dogs," which include chili, cheese, sauerkraut, onion, relish and cole slaw. That's a right proper way to celebrate.)

Manuel's isn't all about beer and heart-destroying food, though. As loath as I am to get all misty-eyed about tradition, Manuel's is ... about tradition. The only comparable bar I can think of is Chicago's Billy Goat. It's an institution. Some of the stuff on the walls (including a filthy Atlanta Flames pennant) has been there for decades. Some of the regulars have been there that long, too.

The web site says something to the effect of -- Manuel's is a place where people of all walks of life rub elbows. The cliche is true. Decades of political and business deals have gone down here. It's a journalists' bar. It's a working man's bar. A place to watch sports. A place to gather with friends. A place to wonder why the hell there are playing cards and dollar bills stuck to the ceiling.

Manuel's was my first bar in Atlanta. The first night I was here, not knowing anyone in town, I made my way to Manuel's, and fell in love immediately. I'm a packrat by nature, and Manuel's has applied that ethos to decorating the place. It's also, if not immediately friendly, welcoming and comfortable.

Over the years, my Manuel's attendance has slipped -- but recently, I've been going more often. It's a rare treasure. Bars like this aren't going to come along any more.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Misdirection

I'm addicted, as I suspect many bloggers are, to my little Sitemeter, and finding out what web searches are bringing people in here. An unexpected amount are looking for hookers in and around Atlanta.

Yesterday brought a new one -- "fat grill having sxe." That really puzzled me for a moment, wondering what the hell straight edge had to do with grilling, until the light bulb went on, I transposed a few letters and dropped an extraneous "L." And then, my heart went out to the poor confused web searcher -- this guy must have heard all about the cornucopia of pornography available on the internet, but thanks to poor spelling skills, he's never going to find it.

The unexpected part of this story? The person carrying out that search was Chris Chelios

¹ At least, I haven't ruled it out.

Sayonara Šlégr

Member of the PPA Pantheon Jiří Šlégr has signed on with Czech side HC Chemopetrol Litvínov for '06-'07, all but certainly ending his NHL career. JS has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and will be missed. Jes Golbez has put together a nice tribute* -- go here.

* - though I could do without all the Šlégr-based soft porn