Monday, December 31, 2007

Robert Capa

Among the swell presents I got back here in Colorado was Phaidon's "Robert Capa: the Definitive Collection." Capa's always been something of a hero of mine, not only for his photographs (which are fantastic -- speaking as someone who tends to shy away from humans in pictures, his mastery of human emotion is impressive) but because, by all accounts, he lived a pretty full life. His "Slightly Out of Focus" (still in print, I think) is both impressive and fun, showing that in addition to his photographic talents he was no slouch as a writer, and that he had a hell of an appetite for the fun parts of life. Reading about him always gets me a little pumped up and this'll be one to have by the bed late at night.

* * *

Because God loves a good joke, I've come down with a nasty cough over the past few days, so I've spent much less time than I would have liked outside in the Colorado snow, and much more inside looking up "NASCAR's Worst Moments of 2007" on SI.com. Still, good to be back here. We headed down to the Walnut Brewery last night, and that gave me the chance to reflect on some things Boulder has done right over the years: keeping buildings low and streetlights minimal. (Not a revelation, but it really struck me last night -- perhaps due to all the cold medicine.) On a night like last night, when it's overcast and there's a little snow coming down, the man-made parts of the world seem pretty insignificant, and the natural parts -- the sky, the mountains -- overwhelming and impressive. You don't see this in Atlanta, where nature is (at least visually) far friendlier. It's likely a product of the environment where I grew up, but the immense and intimidating mountains and sky are more my style.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Colorado Über Alles

(pretend there's a picture of snow and mountains up here -- genius me forgot the digital camera USB cord)

Back in the homeland, world of sharp clear air, thick snow, and family. It's a cliché but I feel the stress draining away. No time off since August and these last two months have been Sisyphean -- being back in Boulder, even for a few days, feels like a hot bath at the end of a long day. I've got a week and two days now to avoid thinking about work and world news, and I intend to take advantage.

I'm ready for 2008. There are few people in my circle of friends who would consider 2007 a good year on a personal level; it was a drain for me, and worse for most others. A friend recently commented "I'm not a superstitious man, but this year is cursed." It's been a lot of wasted opportunities on my part. So many things I wanted to accomplish; so few actually accomplished. The blog has reflected that; it hasn't languished because I don't care about it, but because the bottom has dropped out of the Greg's-creativity market.

So new year, new opportunities, new Klouček jerseys.

* * *

Two quick books: #51 -- "The Total Penguin" by James Gorman, and #52 -- "End Zone" by Don DeLillo. I've always been a penguin fan, since early childhood -- I used to tell girls that it was because they sort of reminded me of me, being a little bit clumsy, a little bit proud, a little bit charming. Eventually I realized that's a pretty damn weird thing to say to a girl, and I stopped. Someone bought this for me years and years ago; it's kind of a coffee table book, but with more text than normal. Bored a weekend or two back, I read it. It is, indeed, all you need to know about penguins, and Gorman's a funny guy. Enjoyed it. Feel I know a bit more about penguins now.

I first read "End Zone" back in college, I think, and was suitably impressed. Now, it seems a little forced -- a lot of the heavier stuff is just eye-rolling. Pretty funny (I probably get DD's humor a lot more now than I did when I first read this) but not the intellectual juggernaut I once thought it was. Also notable as one of the few good works of fiction relating to the game of (American) football -- Elwood Reid's "If I Don't Six" (extra points for the Mule reference) and Dan Jenkins' "Semi-Tough" are the only others I can think of.

* * *

Link note: my brother has started a blog of his own, MidAdopter. It's industry-oriented but pretty good, so stop by and say hi.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Burn the Goat!



This is a Christmas tradition I'm going to have to see in person at some point: the Julbocken i Gävle, Sweden's giant straw goat. This was first brought to my attention by the Elk (natural enemy of the goat, I guess) way back in 2006 -- each year, some Swedes put up a straw goat, and other Swedes then try to set it on fire. This is what 20 hours of darkness daily does to you.

Wikipedia has (against all odds) a comprehensive and helpful page on ol' Julbocken, including a timeline that makes for great reading, particularly after a few drinks. Some highlights from the goat's history, dating all the way back to 1966 (!):

* "Local hillbillies ran the goat over with a car."

* "The goat was burnt even before it was erected. A new one was built and fireproofed. It was destroyed and broken into pieces."

* "Burned by unknown vandals reportedly dressed as Santa and a gingerbread man by shooting a flaming arrow or molotov cocktail at the goat at 21:00 on 3 December."

Not to mention a visitor from the troublemaking city of Cleveland, Ohio, who had his cigarette lighter confiscated afterwards because he was not responsible in using it. Oh, and this entry:

* "it is said that one night a couple made love inside the goat. As a result, in subsequent years the inside of the goat has been protected by a chicken net." -- Sex gets them to protect the goat, but not repeated burnings?

The goat now has his (her? its?) own webpage, with two webcams (so you can check on goat-burning status) and the goat's own blog (far more regularly updated than this one, let me tell you). Again, some pretty good reading, especially when the goat or his/her/its ghostwriter suggests that Santa is going to pass out in a ditch in Sweden and the goat will have to take over present-delivering responsibilities, and as a result you should leave some mulled wine out.

On that note, Merry Christmas from the PPA! I head back to Colorado on Friday, at which point, hopefully, the batteries will recharge a bit.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's the End of the Year ... There's Another One Coming

In an otherwise incoherent drunken e-mail rant to a friend, I wrote something about "seasonal bands" -- there's a couple albums out there that I ignore most of the year but then pick up when December hits. DC's Embrace is one, and has been since I was a teenager -- something about the overwrought self-examination goes hand-in-hand with the reluctant reflection on the past year. The Strokes are also on the list, for whatever reason. Partly, maybe, because I first heard them in DC (again) at a sort of uncertain time in my life, partly because the overriding feeling in most of their songs seems to be wistful disappointment. The Velvet Underground are also there, though they get a decent amount of play the other 11 months of the year.

It's been gray and depressing here for the last week or so, something I initially embraced (the sun gets boring, and Atlanta needs rain) but has now, I think, started really wearing on me. I'm on the second day of my weekend now and have accomplished virtually nothing. Not that I intended to learn a language or anything, but aside from a little socializing and watching a DVD of "The Wire" (and having the plumber out not once but twice, but that's not something I really wanted to do), I've just ... existed. I went out to a solo lunch yesterday, taking along my notepad and a book -- but I ended up not writing, not reading. Just sitting there. (Well, and eating.) This has been going on much of this month. I'm turning into a hermit, and not doing much other than working (a lot). Haven't been watching hockey (which led a semi-incoherent commenter on Jes's site to suggest, I think, that I'm the reason America doesn't deserve hockey), haven't been taking pictures, haven't been hiking.

Head to Colorado this coming Friday. Hopefully a trip back to the promised land (and a week off) will serve as a jolt.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An Old Friend

Post-work, went out drinking with Fidel tonight, and somehow bourbon got offered up to us. I don't drink much bourbon, so unsure how that happened.

The bourbon in question was Bulleit -- which played a major part in one of the finest nights of my life, an unpublished bit of fiction, and really, my growth as a man.

This was probably the first time since the bourbon tasting (or at least since we all finished off our complimentary bottles of Bulleit from that night) that I'd had the stuff, so it's a momentous occasion indeed. In fact, I don't think we're going too far to say that it's obviously some sort of sign.

Of what, I'm not sure.

(It tasted great.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Banality of the Subconscious

I've had lots of really vivid dreams lately. Vivid and stupid. The type that only have one message for me: "you're an idiot."

One from the other night: I had a bunch of dollar coins, and was feeding them into a vending machine -- then noticed a sign informing me that using dollar coins would make the machine blow up.

Nonetheless, I kept on feeding them in. And nothing blew up.

Another dream: I was Superman, attempting to conceal something (not sure what) from Batman.

Anyway.

* * *



#50 -- "Cities of the Imagination: Prague" by Richard Burton

I picked this up in a used bookstore some time back, kind of expecting it to be a glorified cultural travel guide. Having finally read it, I can say that if you use this as a travel guide, you're a lot smarter than me. It's subtitled "A cultural and literary history," and that seems as good a description as any. It's not just (as I expected) pointing out "here's how Prague played into the work of Kafka" -- rather, a fairly ambitious discussion of how the arts have affected Prague, how Prague affected the arts, the role of the arts in the identity of the city (and sometimes country) under the Habsburgs, the Nazis, the Communists, and the Czechs themselves.

My interest wavers depending on my interest in the field -- very interested in the literature, not so much in the theater, middling on the music and architecture. It gave me several names to track down (notably, a reminder to finally read something by Ludvik Vaculik, who seems to have been a fairly prominent figure -- moreso than I thought, at least). Next time I go to Prague, I'll take this along -- its analysis of the statues on the Charles Bridge makes that worthwhile on its own.

Observation: last year I laid out the goal of reading 50 books in a year, and barely made it -- this year I set no such goal, and made the deadline easier (and will have read a few more by December 31st). The moral of this story is: don't have goals.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

République du Tchad


Ok, so the polar opposite to a post I'd made before but thought was new -- here's one I was certain I wrote at some point, but apparently didn't. Such is life.

Some time back, I mentioned in passing that when I was a youth, I wanted to dress up as the nation "Chad" for Halloween one year. Weird enough, but that was far from the limit to my obsession with the country.

The origins of my fascination with Chad (and, to a lesser degree, Angola) are shrouded in mystery. A check with Mom PPA reveals that I heard about the story of some guy who fell off of a ship off Angola's coast, and swam behind until he was picked up -- I have vague memories of drawing pictures recreating the scene. Not sure how I became interested in Chad, though. Maybe I just warmed to it because it looks kind of like someone's face (fig. 2, below).



At some point -- probably preschool -- I met a kid named "Chad" and became really angry that he was allowed to have that name. Unfortunately for storytelling purposes, no violence ensued. In general, though, my Chad fandom was pretty mellow. I was happy when the country got any mention in the pages of "Time," for instance -- even though news out of Chad was, then as now, generally bad. Parallels between this and my later Tomas Kloucek fandom have been noted.

On the, um, "favorite countries" list, Chad's dropped as the years have gone on, bypassed by upstarts like "the Czech Republic" and "Albania." But I still retain a fondness for it, and still exclaim when I see it in the news (usually in things like "Least Livable Countries" lists). I haven't thought much about visiting, though it would be interesting, and I've heard that the local "Gala" beer is pretty good. Maybe I'll set up a Paypal account -- "donate money and send Greg to Chad, he'll report on how the beer is."

(EDIT: love the internet. A 1977 ad for Gala. In 1977, Chad was deep in a civil war, about two years away from seeing the capital conquered by rebels. So this shouldn't be taken as a representation of Chadian life, most likely.)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Out of Touch

It's been six days since I updated this? Wow. I swear that it wasn't because of my shame over recycling an old post. I've just been busy. Really busy. I'm not even paying attention to hockey -- until Milan Hejduk scored six points tonight, I could not have told you anything that's happened in my favorite sport in, oh, a week and a half.

Meanwhile, a week or so late, I'm just now finding out that Tom's Tavern is closing. Not sure why this hits me so hard -- I probably went to Tom's fewer than 10 times my last Boulder go-round -- but geez, it's another Boulder institution closing down. Tom's Tavern was there forever (my parents were teenagers when it opened). It was there when the Pearl Street Mall opened, it was there when I moved to Boulder, it was there when I went away, there when I moved back, there when I moved away again.

Now it's gone, following a string of Boulder landmarks (Crossroads, Stage House) into oblivion. Such is life. It just makes me a bit sad. I've been insanely homesick for Boulder lately, and somehow, the demise of a place that barely registered on my radar makes it a bit worse.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Something I've Never Seen Outside of Atlanta...

...people who try to negotiate the price of groceries.

I haven't seen it often, but I have seen it several times over the years I've been here -- and I haven't seen a single incidence anywhere else. People will try to haggle with the cashier, in an attempt to get the price lower.

Does this ever work? I've never seen it work. I'd imagine large grocery store chains are pretty set in their ways. But you'll still see people trying to get a deal on their bag of Doritos or whatever.

It's kind of interesting to watch. Unless you end up in line behind the haggler, in which case it just sucks.

* * *

Those who live and die by my plumbing drama will be relieved to know that the plumber came out today, my sink once again drains as sinks should, and all for the low, low cost of $165. Plus my pipes are apparently so bad that I need them to be completely replaced, which will cost several hundred more dollars. Time to resume the male prostitution side gig.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

December

The new month dawned bright and clear, but my garbage disposal is still fucked up. Some product from Lowe's is currently working on it; hopefully that'll work, otherwise I'll just abandon the whole place and start a new life, somewhere else.

Last night, when not screwing up my sink or choking to death on food, I watched "Wages of Fear." Not a perfect movie by any stretch, and the ending is ridiculous, but for about 80 minutes or so it manages to maintain a level of tension that I've never seen in a movie. (it wasn't aided by me, unaccountably, deciding to have a pot of coffee at 8pm).) At one point I realized that the movie made me gulp audibly, and it really did sound like "gulp." At another point someone's car alarm went off during a particularly tense moment (the scene where Peter van Eyck is trying to remove the rock from the road) and I nearly collapsed.

It was later remade as "Sorcerer" -- I should be ready to watch that in about 15 years.

I also read stuff!

#49 -- "The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick

Dick (tee hee!) was one of those writers that people were usually shocked I haven't read -- I think now John Updike takes the number one spot on that list. Alternate history, Axis won WWII, and my feelings were mixed:

Pros --

* I blazed through it. Very fast read.

* I'm not much of a fan of alternate history, simply because it usually goes along fairly predictable lines -- dystopia! Robert E. Lee's face on money! Chaos! But this veers off and sets itself apart simply because so much of life is banal -- it's not all brave bands of rebels, but a lot of people who have found a way to live under the occupation and are just trying to get by.

* Good job of not just laying things out there -- we figure out what happened in Africa, what happened to Hitler, through carefully dropped hints. No awkward expositions, nothing set out on a silver platter.

Cons --

* I tried to give the benefit of the doubt and believe that it was just an attempt to convey non-English speakers talking in English, but I really think Dick had a tin ear for dialogue.

* Oh holy God did the ending suck. Apparently PKD used the I Ching a lot in developing some plot points, and that was probably a mistake.

Overall? Good fun read, but I won't be rushing back to the Dick trough quickly.

Friday, November 30, 2007

November

Perfect ending to a perfectly shitty month: I decided to stay in and have a quiet, peaceful wine-soaked night, and now I'm dealing with a garbage disposal that picked now to move on to whatever heaven garbage disposals go to. Thankfully, I'm just sober enough to say "don't stick your hand down the garbage disposal, Greg," preventing this from getting gory. Earlier in my "quiet" evening I started choking on a chunk of salami, but again thankfully, some bit of my subconscious said "you don't want your obituary to read 'choked on salami¹,'" and I'm a-ok. But I'm really anxious for the calendar page to turn.

Hard to believe that this month started off with such promise: I was gonna write a novel! Instead I got completely swamped with work, burnt out, shitty things happened to people outside of work, and at this point I feel comfortable saying "November, let's try this again next year." I'm moderately and not relaxingly drunk, my kitchen/disaster area is viewable from this vantage point, the whole place smells of burnt popcorn, and some guy was just (seriously) rapping about cigarettes right outside the window.

One good thing: Tomáš Klouček scored another goal not long ago, and his tryout has become a permanent (for this year, anyway) gig with Zlin. Good job, TK! (Thanks, Vak Fan, for keeping me up to date)

I was gonna write a longer post on some other stuff, but screw it, I'm just going to go read and finish off the wine. Tomorrow.

¹ Apologies, future perverts who get here through a Google search on "choked on salami."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rreth flamurit të përbashkuar



That, of course, is from Albania's national anthem -- appropriate since today marks Albanian Independence Day. Given the Albophile (?) nature of this blog, or at least this blogger, that bears mention. Not sure if there's any celebrations going on today in the Atlanta area. If there are, no one invited me.

Slate has a little photo essay up, some nice shots of Albania and Albanians.

Shocking Development

The Gremlin is gone.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Counting Down

Back in high school, suffering through Mr. Hurst's German class, I used to make grids of 45 squares, and check one off for each minute that I got closer to escape. Sometimes I'd get distracted for a couple minutes and get the bliss that came with checking off three or four boxes at a time.

I'm feeling a bit of that now. December 28, I start vacation, one that's pretty sorely needed. It'll come after a period of four months with only one extra day off. I'm about ready to set myself on fire. And I need to budget my time off better next year, obviously.

32 days to go, if you're counting.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Confession Time

NaNoWriMo ain't happening. This last week has largely been lost to me, and hopes of making something out of this weekend evaporated in a burst of back pain and whining. But it wasn't gonna happen anyway -- it's been a while since I've transcribed the piece I was working on, but I'm probably still well short of the halfway mark. One thing for sure -- if I try this again next year (third time's the charm, right?) I need to take some time off work.

There were some other issues too. I don't like the narrative voice I created -- the narrator (a college student) was a self-pitying, passive character who frankly deserved to get slapped around a bit. Also, while I had the book outlined up to a point, I lost sight of where it was going, and it rapidly because variations on a theme -- the same plot point, repeated in different ways.

Don't want to be too negative. There were some passages that I was kind of pleased with, and are probably salvageable. I've written more this month (between this and some other projects) than I have in years, and got (at times) into a nice little pattern. Now, hopefully, writing (of some sort) will continue.

* * *

Spent much of this weekend lying around, complaining to the walls about how much my back hurt. It left a lot of time for reading. As a result:

#48 -- "Love and Garbage" by Ivan Klima

Of the main pre-Velvet Revolution Czech writers (I'll throw Kundera, Skvorecky, Hrabal in there), I've read the least by Klima. I've got a few of his books on the shelf, but just haven't delved in.

It's very beautiful and intricate, dealing with the narrator's marriage and affair, and keeping all involved sympathetic. The time and place keep jumping unexpectedly, but it's remarkably easy to get used to it. It's a little pretentious at times (the garbage metaphors are pretty strained) but overall a good read (and perfect for miserable gray days).

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wonderful

It's a weekend of painkillers and boredom here at the PPA House -- I've wrenched my back something awful, and I'm on call for any emergencies at work, so I just sit here and write/read/watch movies/stare at the walls. Oh, and Xbox 360. A friend of mine lent me his for a while, so chances of me accomplishing anything (or leaving the house) are low over the coming months.

On a whim, I picked up an old favorite over the past couple days...

#47 -- "The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul" by Douglas Adams

This is probably the first time since high school that I've read anything by Adams (actually, maybe college -- I read the last Hitchhiker's book when it came out, not sure when that was). There was a time when that would have been unthinkable. In junior high, I kept the Hitchhiker's trilogy in my backpack, and read and re-read them constantly.

But as is probably apparent, I'm prone to phases, and I moved on (to horror, then hardboiled mysteries, then out of genres in general), and somehow, years down the line, this is the only Adams paperback I still have.

I remember enjoying this when I first read it (as opposed to the first Dirk Gently book, which I didn't), and it holds up now. Adams' combination of loony humor and wistful loneliness still works for me -- I suspected it wouldn't. I'll probably pick up a copy of the Hitchhiker's trilogy one of these days, to see how that's held up from my youth. Probably pretty well.

This is one of those vagueish, undetailed book posts I swore off, isn't it? Blame the painkillers. I'm not on top of my game right now.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Spirit of St. Louis

In the first half of 2003, I visited Washington, DC (for a friend's wedding) and St. Petersburg, Florida (to sit on the beach, relax, and get really drunk). Since then -- all of my trips have been to Europe or Colorado. It's been four and a half years since I traveled to any non-Colorado locations in the U.S. For someone who really loves to travel, that's a bit odd.

From the mid '90s through the early '00s, I visited St. Louis quite a bit. It was always for different reasons -- sometimes friends, sometimes just to get away. It's always difficult to explain my fascination and love of St. Louis. I've had a disproportionate number of friends and girlfriends from the Mound City -- when I've enthused about their hometown, the reaction has invariably been confusion and suspicion. St. Louisians (?) generally seem happy to leave -- they don't get why I'm so into visiting.

I adopted the Cardinals and Blues growing up, because Colorado lacked pro baseball and hockey. I think the fact that St. L had both sports made me think that it was a real massive metropolis. For a long time in my 20s, I really tried to get a job there -- once applying to be the Post-Dispatch's classical music critic, a position for which I was comically unqualified.

My last trip was a tad comical -- this would be, hmm, 2001 or so? I went to a sports bar to catch a Blues game, and realized (after a long while) that it was a very flamboyantly gay sports bar. Later, I went to a Blues game at the Kiel Center or whatever it's called these days, and afterwards, riding the Metro back to my hotel, a child pointed me out to his daddy and said "look, it's Chris Pronger!" (the next day, wearing a Blues jersey as I wandered around (don't judge me) a homeless guy flagged me down by yelling "hey, Brett Hull!")

I also met up with some friends while out there -- one was trying to hook me up with one of her co-workers (it was something of a dry spell). In a classic tactical error, I went out of the way to act as if I weren't simply interested in a one-night stand, which of course was the whole point. I ended up alone at my hotel that night.

Ah, but I still love the place, and maybe it's time to visit again. Good Italian food (I've never been to another city where they have ravioli stands), good bookstores, good music (both Drunks With Guns and Uncle Tupelo hail from there!), hockey, a river.

It's just one of a handful of cities (DC and Chicago are also on the list) that I used to visit at least once a year if not more -- I've fallen badly off the pace. Perhaps it's time to do a little traveling that doesn't involve a passport and inoculations.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Feng Shui

Soon after I started working at the Boulder Planet (more than 11 years ago -- good God), two women came in -- one middle-aged, and a cute blonde about my age. The older woman was there to try to get us to do a story on her feng shui business; while she was making her pitch, the young cute one looked at my desk and said, with concern: "you have horrible feng shui!" I stammered something in reply, lost to time -- my co-workers encouraged me to call her up later, but I was pretty shy, and also probably knew in advance that she wouldn't be too into debates about whether Tony Twist or Chris Simon were the better fighter, and I wouldn't be too into discussions about feng shui.

I thought of those women this weekend, for the first time in a decade. Lately I've been chronically stir-crazy. I have a hard time getting anything done around the house, and I'm wondering if it's just that I don't have it set up in a spiritually fulfilling way. Other friends of mine have equally small places, but they seem more livable (though that may just be the whole grass-is-greener thing).

It could also just be that other people don't store their unpaid bills on their couch.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

PPA Sports Heroes of the '80s

Indulge me, if you will, in a little pointless nostalgia that's been kicking around in my head lately. It will, at least, get us out of the cycle of despair and boredom that is "Greg writing."

For about the last month, I've been a little nostalgic for baseball -- during most of the '80s, it was my favorite sport, a far cry from now (when I really don't watch it at all). Not sure what's prompted this -- the Rockies' run? I'm not a Rockies fan, and I didn't watch much of the Series, but it was nice to see friends and family excited. More likely, though, it was just misfiring synapses, the product of age. Whatever the case, old beaten-up Bill James books have reclaimed a spot by my bed, and I've yearned a little bit for those old days when I actually gave a crap about the sport.

Having some idle time the other day (most likely, I was staring at a blank notebook page at the time) I started thinking about some of the oddballs that made up my favorite players as a kid. Some make sense -- Cesar Cedeno and Cal Ripken Jr. were my absolute favorite players (I had a Ripken poster above my bed, and thought he was cruelly underpublicized -- hard as that may be to believe now).

But some of the others? Not quite as popular.

Rance Mulliniks -- if Ripken and Cedeno were the top two, Rance Mulliniks was not far behind. Why? I really don't know (as is the case for a lot of these -- you've been warned). He looked like a friendly guy, I guess. He was a smart, good hitter, and it pissed me off that he never seemed to get recognition (because he was a platoon player, a distinction that escaped me then). When Sports Illustrated ran a one-page profile on "Mullinorg" (the Blue Jays' third-base platoon of Mulliniks and the less-loved Garth Iorg), I read it to tatters -- somewhere in the PPA archives (my parents' basement), there's still the clipped-out photo from that article.

Tim Raines -- One of the rare players that actually had a local connection -- he starred for the Denver Bears (and hit a home run in the first baseball game I ever saw, at Mile High Stadium). I always felt vindicated by the fact that he went on to star in the majors. Two other Bears that I figured would follow in that path -- Dave Hostetler and Randy Bass -- didn't quite measure up. Bass went on to be big in Japan, the precursor to bands I knew in college who boasted of being big in Italy. And oddly enough, checking my facts for this little bit, I note that Bass is now a member of the Oklahoma state senate.

Al Hrabosky -- If anyone can find me an "I Hlove Hrabosky" bumper sticker, I will pay top dollar.

Britt Burns -- Another local connection, albeit briefly -- he did a rehab stint for Denver (they may have been the Zephyrs by then -- not sure) and was cool enough to sign a ton of autographs for me. Jamie Quirk, another favorite (most likely, because I thought "Quirk" was a cool name -- seriously) ignored my pre-pubescent shrieks of "Mister Quirk!" I still haven't totally forgiven him.

Bobby Murcer and Jim Spencer -- Forever linked, the two Yankees in the first pack of baseball cards I ever got (long before I learned to hate the Yanks). I really know (and knew) nothing about either of them as baseball players. Spencer died a few years back, and Murcer has had very serious health problems -- whenever I read about either, I feel kinda sad.

Kent Hrbek -- Always seemed like a hell of a fun guy. The Jamie Quirk Cool Name rule applies here.

Tom Herr -- I also liked Ozzie Smith, which was understandable. Tom Herr perhaps benefited from proximity. I'm probably being a little retroactively unfair -- I think my memory of him as a pretty solid baseball player was accurate.

John Mayberry -- When I was really young -- we're talking 7 or 8 -- I really found the idea of Canadian baseball teams exotic. The fact that there were teams in another country just blew my mind, and John Mayberry somehow symbolized that more than anyone -- when I think of the Blue Jays, he's one of the first names that pops into mind, and I can see him wearing those old jerseys. Again, checking things out, I'm shocked to realize that he retired at the relatively young age of 33. I was under the impression that he'd already played for centuries when I discovered baseball, and went on for a good decade afterwards. Not so.

Ron Kittle -- When you're an awkward kid with glasses, and you see some awkward guy with glasses playing baseball at the highest level and succeeding, well ... you become a fan. Kittle's Rookie of the Year award gave me hopes of greatness (hopes counteracted, alas, by an alarming lack of baseball skills). I even looked a bit like him when I was young. I'm still waiting for him to reach his potential, unfortunately.

Greg Luzinski -- See Kittle. Unfortunately, as I grow older, I'm resembling Luzinski more and more. Both guys played for the White Sox when they wore the weirdo "SOX" uniforms, which with childish tastes, I ranked only below the Astros rainbow jerseys for sheer awesomeness.

* * *

That was oddly fun. I'm sure there's a gazillion guys that I've forgotten, and will remember at 3 a.m. Some time down the line, I may do this with other sports.

The writing? It proceeds. Slowly.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

(Still) In It to Win It

Despite some naysayers (I'm not naming any names, except for Nanuk) I still am knee-deep in le writing project, even skipping pre-work football today (the Bucs had a bye week, so it wasn't total torture) to do some writing. I've been pretty good about it, by my (admittedly loose) standards. But I got an "encouragement" note from Nanowrimo the other day, suggesting that this weekend we all should've hit 20,000 words. I won't say how short I am, but at the rate I'm going I'll feel pretty awesome about myself if I hit 20,000 for the month.

Despite the almost inevitable failure and disappointment, I have been learning more and more. Latest revelation: I just can't write at home. I don't know why. I just can't focus.

I was talking about this with a friend the other day -- who said she couldn't write in a bar, but can at home. I'm exactly the opposite -- Saturday morning I tried to get things done at home, couldn't -- despaired, worried. Then I went to Manuel's later in the day, and the creative juices started flowing immediately.

At least now I've got an excuse to hit the bottle.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Wouldn't A Gremlin Have Been More Sensible?

Down a few blocks, in the Manuel's parking lot, this car seems to be evolving into a monument of a sort. I first noticed it, sitting in the nearest space to the bar, probably more than a year ago -- but it was only recently that I noticed that it's always there, any hour of the day or night.

It's an AMC Gremlin. I was vaguely aware of Gremlins as a kid (reason: see title reference), but never knew what they looked like -- I imagined them to be fairly bad-ass. This is actually the first I've ever seen.

I'm starting to wonder if there's some significance to its placement. Even the most mellow of bars isn't going to let a car sit unattended for more than a year, and the fact that no one's come back to get a car that has one of the Georgia "collector's car" license plates must mean something.

It's become a bit of a landmark to me -- the other night, looking around the corner at Manuel's, I thought it was gone and became upset -- then relieved when I saw it. I don't know the story of the Manuel's Gremlin, but I dig it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Gaps In My Education

Add one to the notes from yesterday: apparently sustained writing makes me want to read more.

#46 -- "The Yugoslavs" by Dusko Doder

An unexpected find here, a 1970s book on Yugoslavia by the Washington Post's then-Belgrade bureau chief. I found this for $5 in a used bookstore a few weeks back, and even though I really should declare a moratorium on Balkan books, I had to have it.

I've read a gazillion things on the collapse of Yugoslavia, and a fair amount on the country's years from independence to WWII, but precious little on Tito-era Yugoslavia. It's sort of a quiet time, with relative (for Eastern Europe) freedoms, none of the violence that was to come. Reading it now, I feel like I'm searching a killer's house for early warning signs -- anything that indicated the carnage to come.

The most interesting bits, for me, was the profiling of Marshal Tito -- someone I know surprisingly little about. Doder's portrayal of the leader comes from second-hand sources, but it's well-researched and well-rounded, and gave me a bit more insight into how he held Yugoslavia together (and why, perhaps, it fell apart after his death).

* * *

The writing goes on, though I did the math today and realized I'm only slightly above what I should have written on one day alone. Planning to take a day this weekend and hunker down, and write thousands upon thousands of words. (and probably get drunk.)

On the site, one of my "writing buddies" has another buddy who's already at 15,000 words. This after five days. Good lord.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Progress Report

November 4, and I still haven't packed it in -- I've already done better than last year. Hurrah. I'm not where I should be, though -- 1500 words after four days (Saturday, nothing got done) is well off the pace.

A couple things I've learned:

* nothing like writing to turn me suddenly responsible. I sat down Friday morning, stared at the computer -- and then realized, gosh, I needed to clean the kitchen! (Last time kitchen got a good cleaning: 2005) Then later, the bathroom! I didn't make much progress on writing, but the condo sure looks better.

* already knew this, but it's driven home anew -- I far prefer writing longhand to typing. Somehow, the computer just doesn't do it for me. Maybe because there's no sense of accomplishment when you finish a page, perhaps a repressed Luddite streak.

Anyway, moving forward, and so on.

* * *

#45 -- "The Illuminatus! Trilogy" by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson

What a difference 15 years makes. As mentioned, I read this back in college (I think), having heard that it was a wacky tour de force -- not wacky enough and too esoteric for younger me, though, and I was just vaguely put off. Kept it, though, for whatever reason -- one of those hunches one has? because it looked good on my bookshelf?

In the midst of another book purge, I pulled it off the shelf last weekend, opened it up to see what I thought, and a week later, I've just read the fastest 800-page novel ever.

So many characters and so much double-dealing that it really needs annotations. Full of all the little in-jokes and obscure references that I delight in. It flags a bit 3/4 of the way through, but overall the most fun I've had since "Against the Day" (another monolith full of paranoia, conspiracies, and obscure references).

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Is That All There Is?

As promised, I'm giving NaNoWriMo another shot this year, motivated in part by last year's humiliating failure. So I dutifully got up this morning, battled through a mild hangover, bravely lugged my laptop to Borders, sat down and started writing. I emerged, after a battle, with an opening scene that (for the most part) pleased me. Then I did a word count.

The count: 446 words. Putting me 1/112th of the way to the 50,000 word goal. God.

I am going to stick with it this year, I promise (working title: "The Road to Severance"). Last year's surrender still bugs me, and it'll be an interesting and educational exercise. It's going to be quite a struggle, though.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Quick, Tell Me This Is A Bad Idea

The Columbus Blue Jackets have put a whole bunch of new game-worn jerseys on sale -- including, of course, that of Tomas Kloucek (pre-season 2006-07). I don't need a sixth Kloucek jersey, right?

Or do I?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Kihnspiracy

I've been reading the Robert Shea/Robert Anton Wilson "Illuminatus!" trilogy recently (bonus game: count the number of times I've said I'm reading a book, then never finished it. Winner gets absolutely nothing), for the first time since... high school? College? In any case, it's great fun.

For those unfamiliar, it's all (to a ridiculous degree) about conspiracies -- the stated aim, I think, was to treat every conspiracy the authors ever heard about as if it were true.

I'm not really a conspiracy nut. Sure, I accept that some shady dealings are always going on -- but most of the new world order/whatever worrying doesn't make a dent in me. But -- while I don't necessarily believe in them -- I love conspiracies (and some of the stuff that goes hand in hand; lost lands, UFOs, so on). Love reading the theories, if they're well-thought-out enough to sound plausible.

Why is this? Is it just that the world's so fucked up, that I want to believe there's some guiding hand at work, even if it's malevolent? Or is it the same thing that made me desperately want to believe in superheroes as a kid -- the desire for there to be something else out there, unseen, but that I can possibly crack into if I just find the right path?

I guess the shorter way of saying that last bit is "perhaps I enjoy reading about conspiracies because real life is so fucking boring."

* * *

I never did finish off that post I alluded to last time -- basically, in short form, last week marked the eighth anniversary of my move to Atlanta, which prompted contemplation, moodiness, and woolgathering (other things that prompt contemplation, moodiness, and woolgathering: wine, not sleeping enough, sleeping too much, hockey, warm weather, "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle"). To capture the mood of the post, go to your local bar, find a drunk (and erudite and handsome) guy, and ask him to list off all the things he likes and doesn't like about the city in which he lives.

The oft-stated problem of not completing anything continues (this also provokes contemplation, moodiness, and woolgathering). I don't have any time off work 'til the end of December, so it's quite likely I won't feel caught up until then. In the meantime, I'm thinking about giving Nanowrimo a try again this year, which seems destined to backfire -- after all, last year I got 1/50th of the way into it. Ah well. Try, try again.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Caught In A Crossfire That I Don't Understand

I started writing a lengthy post last night, but got a bit too deeply into the wine and it veered off into incoherence. I'll finish it up later (waking up a bit slowly today, so not quite there yet), but in the meantime, I should get something up -- this place has been a bit dead lately (I've been really sick! Sorry!).

#44 -- "Bad Lands" by Tony Wheeler

A few months back, I found myself idly fantasizing about traveling to so-called pariah states and then writing a book about them -- yeah, I haven't actually BEEN to any, but a plan's gotta start somewhere. I was almost immediately deflated, though, when I saw this at the bookstore. Admittedly, Wheeler (Lonely Planet founder) is probably the better guy to do it.

I put aside my jealousy and got it -- it's got a chapter on Albania, after all. I'm actually surprised at how good the book is. It's level-headed, sympathetic, and lacking in Dangerous Places-style machismo. The coverage of Burma/Myanmar is particularly thoughtful.

Some of the sections made me want to visit the areas covered (Iran, Afghanistan) -- others (Saudi Arabia, North Korea) not so much. Not that any of those trips are imminent, natch.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Our Long International Nightmare Is Over

According to a tip from Vak Fan -- Tomáš Klouček has signed on with HC Hamé RI Okna Zlín of the Czech Extraliga. There's nothing up on the Zlín web site yet, but Vak Fan doesn't seem like the type to joke about something this serious, and I can only presume that the team is planning a really big announcement (fireworks, dancing girls, etc).

This is great news on multiple levels: Klouček has a home, he gets to hang out with Jaroslav Balaštík, and I can rotate the jerseys on the wall.

Viva Klouček!

Update: it's official! And to quote Dnes, "Hokejový útočník Peter Barinka přichází na měsíční test do Zlína, nastoupit by měl už zítra proti Kladnu. Na zkoušku do konce listopadu klub získal i obránce Tomáše Kloučka z týmu AHL Syracuse Crunch."

I couldn't have put it better myself!

The updates don't stop: According to VF and Misha's comment on Hockey Rants, TK is only signed to a one-month tryout contract. I'm not too worried, though, as that should be more than enough time for him to win over the people of Zlín.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Chili, Nachos, and Alfred Hitchcock

I've been stricken with a death cough this weekend -- bad enough to make me wonder at times if I was getting pneumonia again (I'm not), and bad enough to keep me mostly housebound on one of the prettiest weekends of the year. It's meant some important business has been shelved (blogging, nacho hunting), other important business got pushed to the forefront (you have lots of time to make chili when you're sick).

I haven't been honest-to-god sick in a while, so I'm out of the habit of puttering around the house. I've got the "not shaving" down pat, but I couldn't find my bathrobe, and my attention span has been shot (possibly because it's so glorious outside) to the point where I can't concentrate on a book. So I've mostly occupied myself by playing Scrabble on Facebook, listening to music, and checking the status of everyone on my fantasy football and hockey teams once an hour. I did manage to watch Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent" last night, which was pretty great -- a thriller with snappy clever dialogue, and fast-paced enough to maintain the interest of someone operating at half capacity.

With Robitussin not doing the trick (though it did give me really disturbing dreams), I tried the old Czech village remedy (well, I presume), shots of Becherovka. I generally have the stuff about once a year, either with Tapeleg at Sobo 151 or when visiting Prague. It's a herbal liqueur, and since my reaction to it is generally "Whoooooo! Holy shit!" followed by cartoon steam shooting out of my ears, followed by waking up in a bush two days later, I thought it might help. It didn't, but it tasted pretty good (like a less-sweet Goldschlager) and at least distracted me. And made me feel like my drinking was actually for health purposes.

And then, the chili. I've slowly made this recipe over the past two days, with a couple minor modifications (one of which was near-disastrous -- I used a boneless roast of the same size, with the result that the chili almost overflowed the crock pot. Empires have collapsed over less), and just now, in the past hour, tried it out.

The verdict:

Consistency -- F. I should have gone with my instincts and drained off some of the broth early. Even with thickener, it's still very watery.

Taste -- A. Spicy as hell -- rare that I don't need to add hot sauce -- but without overwhelming the taste. It's really, really good. Which is a good thing, because I've got a ton of the stuff. Being so liquidy, it's probably going to be best for topping burritos and such -- down the line, I'll have to work on making the stuff thicker.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Can't Stop the Music

There are nights when atmospheric conditions are just perfect, and music played down the block at the frat-guy bar sounds as clear as if it's being played in my condo, no matter whether the windows are closed, no matter whether there's a pillow over my head. Last night, it apparently coincided with "request night," which is always something of an argument against democracy. Harsh? Not when Van Halen's execrable "Right Here Right Now" is keeping you from sleeping, and when that crime against humanity mercifully ends, someone requests Phil Collins. Even a couple tolerable songs ("Paradise City" and something by Social Distortion) couldn't make up for the damage to my soul.

So, a little grumpy this morning.

To try to counteract the damage music did last night, here's what I've been listening to lately.

Firewater - all their albums. I haven't really dug out the old Firewater stuff in a long while, though over the course of their first three albums they were a constant listen. They still sound great today (and apparently there's a new album coming out next year - hurrah), songs about losers and hoodlums that'd make a good soundtrack to Luc Sante's "Low Life." I finally picked up the "Songs We Should Have Written" cover album. I hadn't bothered, figuring it was a gimmick, but it's pretty fantastic -- in the same league as that monumental Entombed covers album. For me, at least. Still think the first two albums are the best, but all great -- never understood why they didn't draw a more widespread audience.

16 Horsepower - first ep and "Sackcloth & Ashes." Maybe the best band to ever come out of Colorado, but these two don't hold up as well as I'd imagined. They sound fine, but... everything really sounds the same after a while. A few years ago, I described them as "if Joy Division were evangelical cowboys," a description that still seems the best way to describe 'em. I can't find "Low Estate," which I remember as being their best (and most varied) release. Perhaps that'd make me feel better about all this. It's not bad by any stretch, just works better as an occasional listen as opposed to frequent rotation in the car stereo.

Royal Trux - "Thank You" and "Accelerator." Geez, didn't realize 'til now, but all of these are a real throwback to my late-1990s listening. RT are (were) a band that can sound either fantastic or awful, depending on the mood -- apparently I've really been in the right mood lately. For a band that really sounds like they belong in a 1970s cartoon, they sound surprisingly good. "Thank You" was always my favorite -- "Accelerator" I kept around because I figured I'd eventually get into it, and apparently I finally have, a decade late. Both sound great, and hell, I think I'll drag out "Cats and Dogs" next. Perhaps the most apt album name, since when I imagine RT as that aforementioned 1970s cartoon, I sorta see Herrema as a raspy-voiced cat, Haggerty and the rest of the band as dopey basset hounds. Does that make sense? Perhaps not. As I said, Van Goddamn Halen kept me from sleeping last night.

Glenn Gould - "The Goldberg Variations." Relaxing after Royal Trux. Still listening to this after being inspired by "The Gold Bug Variations" last year.

The Sex Pistols - "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols." It seems ridiculous to even mention this -- isn't this one of those albums so quote seminal unquote that it shouldn't even require listening any more? I feel like a bit of a cliche driving around with it playing, but hell, there are few songs on this planet or any other that get me going as much as "Pretty Vacant" or "No Feelings."

Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane - self-titled. I love jazz, I don't know much about jazz. I always keep one album featuring Coltrane, Monk, and/or Miles Davis in the living room stereo, ready to go when I want me some jazz. Right now, it's this one.

Jesu - "Conqueror." Still listening to this, months down the road. Still soaring and impressive, makes me wish I had some $10,000 stereo system to really blow my mind. Eventually, I'll have to get around to buying their other albums.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Total Eclipse of the Heart

Maybe the worst post title ever. Sorry.

#43 -- "Eclipse" by Alan Moorehead

As I've said before, not much of a war book fan, which is why this has sat on my shelf for nearly a decade. I'm sorry I waited that long (as is frequently the case when I finally get around to these old newspaper review copies), as this is a lot more interesting than I expected.

I took it to be military history -- something I realize takes a lot of research and brainpower, but is just not my bag. I don't know how many people are in divisions, how many people are in a company, so forth -- pincer movements leave me cold.

There is indeed a fair amount of that in "Eclipse," and my eyes did glaze over in those sections, but it's much much more than that. Moorehead accompanied the Allies, first in the invasion of Italy, then on D-Day, then in the invasion of Germany -- and he was not hanging back in any. So it's a bit of an understatement to say that he saw quite a bit.

For a book written so close to the events it covered, by someone not too detached from those events, it's remarkably restrained and level-headed. "Eclipse" is most noteworthy for its calm analysis of the people encountered along the way, and how they had reacted to being occupied and then liberated, or occupiers and then conquered.

Along the way, there's some memorable scenes. Enjoying the Sicilian sun, drinking wine and awaiting the invasion of mainland Italy, a bit that seems straight out of Patrick Leigh Fermor; celebrating the fall of Paris, only to have collaborationist snipers open fire on the jubilant crowds; watching the bombing of a German city from an abandoned holiday villa on the other side of the Rhine; flying over Denmark on liberation day, looking down at a sea of national flags.

That's two World War II books (along with "The Stalin Front") this year -- probably the last for a while. "Eclipse" was good enough to make me think I've hit one of the best of the lot.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Call for Entries

Or perhaps suggestions -- whichever's more accurate. One Atlanta-based, one open to all.

* Atlantans -- where do you find the finest nachos in our city? Manuel's changed their recipe this past weekend to incorporate fake cheese, to my sorrow and disappointment. I'm looking for grease, here. El Myr probably holds the top rank in my heart, to give you an idea.

* Everyone -- anyone have good recipes for pork green chili? I've got a yearning for it, but I don't, myself, have a good recipe.

Thanks and good night.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Campus Leaves Have Begun To Turn

And then, suddenly, it was autumn in Atlanta. It was 43 degrees when I woke up this morning, a temperature so far removed from anything even a week ago that I assumed it was a mistake. Last Sunday I was uncomfortably warm walking around -- now stepping outside wearing shorts is a shock to the system. It feels pretty fantastic. After the oppressive summer, the air feels alive and brisk.

I walked out of work a few nights ago, and the weather had broken in the intervening hours -- suddenly there was that chill in the air, and all of those remembered smells that I associate with fall. And it struck me: I don't know what those smells are. They're just ... fall. A hint of something burning, a hint of some spice, but what produces them? Decaying leaves? A vast pumpkin patch that I don't know about? A city-wide incense burning?

Perhaps, given the state of the city's teams, it's just the scent of failure.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

J.P. Donleavy

I've been reading J.P. Donleavy's "The Ginger Man" lately, after it spent the requisite decade on my shelf. More on it later. Rather taken by the book so far, I did a little Donleavy-googling the other night, and found a bit that I rather liked:

(from a Paris Review interview)

INTERVIEWER: Do you have an ideal reader?

DONLEAVY: I suppose very isolated, lonely folk. I remember one letter from a girl in a Midwestern town who read one of my books and thought she had discovered it — that no one had ever read it or knew about it. Then one day in her local library she found cards for one or two of my other books. They were full of names — the books were borrowed all the time. She resented this a bit and then walked around the town forever after, looking in everybody's face and wondering if they were the ones who were reading my books. That is someone I write for.

Monday, October 08, 2007

When You Break Both Your Legs, Don't Come Running To Me

One side-effect of working at a place that is in business 365 days a year: when I found my bank closed today, my first thought was that Bank of America must have collapsed, and I just didn't hear about it.

Posts have been rather rare and uninspired lately, haven't they? I'm going to try to change that. There's been a sort of "duty" about posting in recent weeks -- "I read a book, I must write a blurb about it; I haven't posted in three days, I better come up with something." There's gonna be a conscious effort to put a bit more into the writing (today, perhaps, excepted).

The book blurbs are a particular frustration; it's hard to think of any (save "The Sheltering Sky") that I've put much thought into, and that's not what I want to be doing. Occasionally it's appropriate -- I really didn't have much to say about "Our Gang" -- but usually it's just "let's get this done." It's the old blowback from working in TV -- my instincts tell me "say what you have to as quickly as possible." This blog was originally created, in part, to counter the impact television was having on my writing, so that needs to change. Does anyone really read them? (I'm going to keep doing them regardless, so I don't know why I ask, but.) Has anyone ever said "gosh, that sounds like an interesting book," or is it more "oh boy, another pointless paragraph about some book some guy read"?

Also hampering posting: I just haven't done much lately. I mean, I've done things, but not many blogworthy. I haven't been out shooting photos since returning from London. I haven't got notably and foolishly drunk (just peacefully drunk) recently. I have a rule about writing about work. I haven't had many great thoughts lately. And so on.

Again, hopefully all that changes soon. Presumably in coming weeks the weather will get to a point where I'm not perpetually sweating, and then perhaps I'll leave the house a bit more often.

Speaking of drunk, though. Last Thursday I ended up at a party, and ended up talking to a woman who's a co-worker. We don't come into contact much; we work in different parts of the building, we're in separate social circles that only occasionally intersect. We get along well, she's cool, we just don't come into contact that often. And when we do, we talk about ... Angola. Neither of us really knows much about Angola (it's in Africa, Kapuscinski wrote a book about it), but we talk about it.

The reason: years ago, soon after I started working with her, I ran into her at a Halloween party and began ranting about ... Angola. (It should come as no surprise to anyone to learn that I was plastered at the time.) After that, it became a joke any time we ran into each other, but now there's something oddly sincere about it -- we laugh about Angola, and use it as a launching pad to talk about the world, travel, etc.

It's a bit of an odd subject, but I do enjoy our annual Angola talks.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Election Day

#42 -- "Our Gang" by Philip Roth

Here's an example of a novel that I'm reading a couple decades late (and actually, "Portnoy's Complaint" probably falls into the same category). In its time, "Our Gang" was pretty obviously groundbreaking satire, but now, after a couple decades of the Onion, it loses some punch. It's hilarious (a send-up of Richard Nixon) and had a bunch of spots that made me laugh out loud, but seems kind of light. As far as Roth's comic novels go, I'd recommend "The Great American Novel" over this.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Hockey Hockey Hockey

Hey! It's opening night for the Avalanche! And what better way to celebrate than by listening to ME for an inordinate amount of time? Alanah was kind/open-minded/foolish enough to interview me (and Tapeleg, who actually knew what he was talking about) about the Avalanche, on the Crazy Canucks podcast.

Hear me sound like a Muppet (at first - later on, after a few glasses of wine, I sound like a drunk Muppet), insult the Canucks, and talk about hockey. It was actually a blast -- thanks Alanah!

Quick, Cancel Your Syracuse Crunch Jersey Orders

The Crunch have released their regular season roster -- one name is conspicuously missing.

Sometimes I wonder if there's justice in this world.

Update 10/4: Syracuse.com says he's likely to play in Germany.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Thousand Eyes Are Gazing Down

I've gone on so many times about the sky back in Colorado, that I forget if I've ever written about it here. I didn't understand the phrase "big sky" until I went away and came back -- then, finally, I understood just how breathtaking the heavens are out there. When I return now, my first thought upon getting out of the airport is that the world's grown bigger and I've grown smaller.

It's beautiful and stunning, but not entirely friendly. You could get lost in that sky -- it doesn't care a whit about you. It makes feature appearances in my dreams sometimes; it's always impressive, but the dreams are never entirely comfortable.

#41 -- "The Sheltering Sky" by Paul Bowles

This is exhibit A in "I'm occasionally wrong." I tried to read this several times, was always put off by it within the first 30 pages or so, and finally ended up giving it away. Months later, it came up in conversation and I was encouraged to give it another try... so I bought another copy. (you'd be amazed how many times I've gone through similar scenarios.)

This time around? I read it in a week, no problems. What had previously seemed dreary now seemed honest. Characters that previously seemed horrendous now seemed more real. Perhaps I've grown grimmer in the past year, or perhaps I just went in with a more open mind. Or perhaps it's just that I finally wasn't trying to read this, the anti-travel book, on a plane.

Very basically, it's about an aimless American couple, traveling through North Africa in an attempt to save their marriage (accompanied by their equally aimless pal) and disintegrating along the way. The plot's secondary to the larger themes, though -- of alienation, nature as a force, and the collision of cultures.

It's tremendously atmospheric, and grim. There's a sense of doom throughout the book. It's not happy reading, but it is compelling.

In earlier readings, I had trouble with the characters, finding them relentlessly unsympathetic -- this time around, I was ok. Port and Kit are flawed but human. Tunner is a bit of a problem -- he was obviously created to serve a certain purpose, and Bowles wasn't too concerned beyond that purpose. Until a late chapter, when he gets some depth, he seems more like a misplaced "Friends" cast member.

But it's made up by the surroundings. Nature -- including that desert sky -- is as much of a character in that book. And it isn't a benevolent presence.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Takes A Crane to Pick Me Up

I have vague ideas of getting myself back on a semi-normal schedule sometime soon, and writing on a more frequent basis (and on subjects more diverse than "boy, I'm busy" and "I read a book" and "Tomas Kloucek - how about that guy?"). But I'm not quite there yet. In the meantime, I've seen several movies semi-recently. Perhaps you'd be interested in what I thought about them?

* "The Asphalt Jungle" -- watched this during my first period of noir fascination, back in college, but it didn't make much of an impact on me. This time around, it did. Sympathetic characters and broodingly shot; I'd always questioned "Asphalt Jungle's" inclusion in the noir pantheon, but don't any more.

* "Out of the Past" -- This one, though, I'm skeptical about. Maybe I just watched it too close to AJ. Good performances, but the plot's kind of nonsensical, and as cool as Robert Mitchum is, his character just seems way too apathetic to actually be motivated as he is.

* "Hero" -- Asian sword flicks aren't really my thing, but this was fun. Silly, but gorgeous -- fun to watch. Speaking of this -- I thought this was the movie I've occasionally seen in bars, where two guys continue fighting as the seasons change around them, some dead girl comes back to life, etc. Anyone know what that is?

* "Where the Buffalo Roam" -- I'd always wanted to see this, because of a youthful fascination with Hunter S. Thompson, and hell, Bill Murray's in it -- despite a gazillion bad reviews, how could it go wrong?

The answer: it's the worst goddamn movie of all time. "1941" was leagues above this. Maybe the second half turns amazing; I sent that sucker back to Netflix as soon as I could.

* "The Conformist" -- Oh, now, this was a treat. For some reason I didn't expect much from this, but it's one of the most visually compelling movies I've seen. The use of color ... shadows and light ... Paris and Rome cityscapes ... all are just stunning and inventive. Everything down to the way the characters move seems extremely well-thought out, and it's almost hypnotic. I don't know much about film as an art (and I'm not about to start learning -- I have enough things that I've half-assedly taught myself a little about), but I can pretty securely proclaim this as a stunner. A couple scenes, one minor (Giulia and Anna window-shopping as Clerici trails along behind) and one major (Anna at the car window) were sufficiently affecting to stay with me since I saw them.

Ok, that's all I've seen lately (oh, and several "Arrested Development" DVDs -- apparently I'm the last person on earth to discover that show is great). Join us next time for "Greg at the movies"!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Sign of Hope

Well geez, somehow I missed this: Tomáš Klouček in the Syracuse Crunch camp on a tryout deal. It might be a tough battle, since (at current count) there's 14 defensemen on the Crunch roster, and more undoubtedly coming from Columbus -- but at least we have a Klouček sighting.

And, if he does stick with Syracuse this year, I don't have to buy a new jersey. I've got enough Crunch jerseys.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rosie the Riveter

It's been a while since my friends have stared at me in horror -- it's been a while since I've given Nanuk something to laugh about. And it's almost hockey season.

Time for another jersey!

Vladimír Růžička (and you won't see all those diacritics again) is one of the all-time greats of Czech hockey. Over in the NHL, "Rosie" was largely considered a disappointment (despite a 75-point season with the Bruins), but over in Europe, he was pretty great. He continued to be a pretty productive player late into his 30s with Slavia Praha.

I've got two of his jerseys. They're both from exhibition/charity games. And they're both pretty ugly.

HC Litvínov is known for Jiri Bubla and Jiri Slegr, and for really nice jerseys -- check this one -- so naturally the only one in my collection is this ... eye-catcher. If I were to go night-biking, I'd wear this.

This was worn for some sort of charity all-star game (note the stars!). I really, really dig the diacritic marks on the name. Maybe stripping the marks from his NHL jerseys robbed Růžička of his power?

I feared that this was some stupid attempt to capitalize on Wayne Gretzky, but the guy who sold it to me was pretty sure this dates to a 1999 exhibition.

Something very European and endearing about that logo.

Now, Ruzicka jersey #2:

Yow. This rivals Pletka for sheer over-the-top advertising. It's a jersey from the "Jagr Team" series of charity exhibitions, though you wouldn't know that offhand, since there's no freakin' team name to be found.

I'm normally not too bothered by advertising on European jerseys, but when the most prominent thing on the front of the jersey is a cell phone ad, there may be a problem.

More ads, more diacritics. I don't really have anything to say about these ads, though I hope EuroTel got their money's worth, so instead I'll note that this is one of the grimier jerseys I own -- lots of sweat stains and dirt marks. You know, when you start writing approvingly about sweat stains, you start questioning your hobby.

In the end, it's Tapeleg who inspired all this, and is thus to blame. Brushback also put a few of his jerseys on display a while back, as well.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Sleep Beside the Railroad Tracks - No More Rent or Income Tax

Apparently I don't complain enough about having to work/not being elsewhere, because LP passed on a link to this blog, which includes a pretty entertaining account of a jaunt to Prague. It had me -- less than a month after returning from vacation, less than a year after being in the city itself -- ready to chuck it all and head back. In a matter of minutes, I'd (out of curiosity only!) found a $624 Atlanta-Prague round-trip fare over New Year's, which (reluctantly) I'll have to pass on.

But yeah, now, despite the nicest weather we've had in months, I'm thinking about where to go next. Singapore? (uncle lives there) Ukraine? Ethiopia? Or just give in to my nature and go to the Czech Rep again?

While we're on the subject, and with hockey season getting under way, I've been horrendously remiss in not mentioning frequent commenter Vak Fan's blog -- Southern Bohemian Ho(c)ke(y)j. It's all about Czech hockey, about which I normally have a hell of a time finding English-language info, and just as important, it's really entertaining.

Monday, September 17, 2007

In Your Old El Camino, Singing in the Rain

Had a hard time getting to sleep last night, so polished off another book:

#40 -- "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" by John Berendt

Exhibit B in "Greg comes very late to the best-sellers." I'll get to "The Da Vinci Code" one of these days. I actually wanted to read this back when it came out, made the mistake of seeing the rather lackluster movie first, and was put off until the Ski Bum lent it to me, years later.

I'd figured the book was primarily about the murder that forms the centerpiece of the film, but in the first half, it's much more just a portrait of the Old South, an Old Savannah that was disappearing in the '70s and '80s. The descriptions of the town, and society, are fantastic. It's been years since I've been to Savannah -- after reading the book, I want to head back just to see Bonaventure Cemetery.

The people, though... I realize that Berendt changed some identities and (I presume) some of the dialogue to better suit his narrative, but every single character in the book is a larger-than-life type, talking in an expository style that can get kind of hard to take at times. Stephen King once wrote (discussing Anne Rivers Siddons' "The House Next Door," which I loved once upon a time) something to the effect of "do people really talk like this, even in the South?" One person talking like that would be a bit much to take -- a book full of 'em and I was ready to move back to Colorado.

Overall -- fun potboiler, and it did reawaken my desire to go to Savannah. One of these weekends...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I'll See You Back in Reno, Outside the Grand Casino

Every year, about this time, we'll get a torrential rainstorm, beautiful in its fury, and then the next day find that the summer heat's broken and we're into one of those periods where Atlanta is really beautiful. Giving it all a bit of a dark side, the storms are the remnants of hurricanes -- one this past Friday was, I guess, the tail end of Hurricane Humberto, which was a lot less pleasant for some states to the west.

So like I said, since getting back from London, I've been in the throes of one of my periodic soccer fascinations. These are generally fleeting, partly because I get confused about when I should be paying attention and what's the top prize to get (I know they have lots of cups), partly because I will never understand the offside rule. I get hockey's offside rule just fine, but not soccer. Why? I don't know.

One of the ways this current fascination is manifesting itself is through the Football Manager computer game, the older brother to the Eastside Hockey Manager game I've mentioned before. EHM is addictive, but it's just a lightweight gateway drug compared to the heroin that is Football Manager. My players get pissed off when I pull them out of a match, I get to insult other coaches -- there's so much you can do. I'm enraptured. Whenever I've had spare time (not often, these past couple weeks) I've been playing that.

On a more serious note, I've also read:

#39 -- "Ajax, the Dutch, the War" by Simon Kuper

Fantastic book here -- wide-ranging and far exceeding my expectations. I knew, vaguely, that it was about Dutch football during the war, the Holocaust, and the Ajax club. It turned out to be about so much more: Dutch society and the country's legend of tolerance, wartime behavior, anti-Semitism, the development of club supporter bases... and much more that I'm not thinking of right now. Despite taking on so many subjects, the book never seems to lose focus, and is a tight, quick read. I learned far more from this than you'd expect from a relatively thin book. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Don't Know Where I Am But I Know My Destination

Is there anything less interesting than a(n occasional) blogger's whining about how busy he is? Probably not. Sorry. Life is, as it frequently becomes, a series of half-finished projects, looming responsibilities, insanity at work, and so on -- eventually throwing me into inertia (can you be thrown into inertia? Probably not) that leaves me doing nothing and feeling guilty about everything. Seriously -- it's at the point where my unwatched Netflix movies are causing me as much guilt as a neglected child.

I ultimately decided against a wholesale posting of my UK photos -- since I didn't do a ton of hardcore sightseeing, most of them are pictures of friends (and my friends are savvy enough to launch a preemptive strike against me posting them on the blog), architectural oddities, or old/odd signs (which will probably show up as headers at some point).

One brief mention that must be made -- it's a remarkably civilized city where you can find Budvar/Czechvar in nearly every bar.

* * *

I always held swimming to be one of those things, like riding a bike, that you don't forget how to do. Perhaps a bad example, since I haven't been on a bicycle in more than 20 years at this point, and have no confidence that I could ride one now. In any case, the trip to London motivated me to start swimming again (one of the places I stayed had a mirrored shower, which was rather humbling) for the first time since, geez, high school.

I went in pretty certain that I would be just fine, as I loved swimming when younger -- but anyone watching probably worried that they were seeing someone with severe nerve damage. When I first learned to swim, I had trouble remembering when to take a breath and when not to; and, guess what, I'm having that problem again, decades later. I forget to breathe when my head's out of the water, leaving open the possibility that I'll become the first person to asphyxiate in fresh air, but occasionally do remember to take a breath just as I submerge again.

I went again yesterday, and it went considerably better. Presumably I'll have rock-hard abs within a week.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Don't forget:::You are Baby Africa.

If you haven't yet, go to the comments a few back (here) and scroll down a bit. Then read the musings of some insane genius that dropped by (he also visited Sidearm Delivery). Allow a few hours, he (I'm assuming it's a he -- safely, I think) is verbose.

When I worked back at the newspaper in Boulder, we had a lot of crazy people drop by -- the combination of, well, it being Boulder, and us having a storefront office right downtown. One repeat customer was the Reverend Friendly, an old dude with long hair and long white beard who came in smelling very minty once -- without prodding, he said "I just drank a bottle of fuckin' mouthwash!" There were also the people who would drop off their missives tying the city government in to the Illuminati, the Kennedys, Satanists, or whoever.

One day, I was sitting at my desk, hard at work, when one of the crazies came in. He was wearing camouflage pants, black t-shirt, and a Mao cap -- a bit off-kilter, but in Boulder, hardly alarming. His wild-eyed glare and messy beard, though, branded him either as a nut or a holdover from "Loose Nut"-era Black Flag.

He went to our office manager, a friend of mine, McClown -- as I recall, Sauer and Kynan were also in attendance. The guy said "Who do I see about getting my manifesto printed?" (I believe he actually said "manifesto") Without missing a beat, McClown pointed over to me, and said "Him. He's in charge of getting manifestos printed."

As the guy stalked over to poor terrified me, I could see my three so-called friends, trying and failing to hold in laughter before fleeing the room.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Something Must Break

I've been listening to Joy Division's "Still" a lot in the car lately (it's not a cry for help!), featuring the song "Something Must Break" -- a song that, given my long reluctance to accept JD, I still associate more with Jawbox. Which may cost me some points in the long run.

Anyway, I know misheard lyrics are about the lowest form of humor, but until I bothered to look it up, I thought the line "If we were immortal" was "If we were in law school."

Which I found kind of a curious thing to put in a song.

* * *

While in London, I (as I have before) found myself pretty captivated by the soccer coverage. I don't follow the sport, and aside from a few names (Rooney, Beckham ... um, Pele?) I don't really know any of the players, but it just all seems so dramatic and fascinating. Backstabbing, feuding players, attempts to lure guys from rival teams, and so on.

It struck me while I was there that as the world's most popular sport (I think), there's probably all sorts of great soccer literature out there that I haven't read. But looking at the shelves in one shop, it was all "The George Best Story" or "Manchester United: A Team, A Dream" or whatever. I didn't spot a potential "Ball Four" among them. So I ask you, readers who are soccer fans (and I know there's a couple, Sauer) -- are there any great soccer books out there, that will appeal to the casual fan who likes good readin'? Here's what I've read:

"Fever Pitch" by Nick Hornby -- pretty fun

"How Soccer Explains the World" by Franklin Foer -- kind of interesting, but he overreaches in trying to make his thesis fit

"Among the Thugs" by Bill Buford -- ok, didn't live up to the hype

"The Miracle of Castel di Sangro" by Joe McGinniss -- one of the crappiest books I've ever read, though kind of unintentionally funny when the author gets offended because the team's coach doesn't take his advice

...and, uh, that's it. I think. I just ordered "Ajax: the Dutch, the War" by Simon Kuper (which has prompted amazon.com to recommend every crappy soccer biography out there), but any other ideas?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Not So Quiet

More on London soon, with a few more photos, but first:

#38 -- "The Stalin Front" by Gert Ledig

Short and pretty intense war novel, written in 1950s Germany and rescued from obscurity by the NY Review. War fiction isn't really my thing, but this isn't chest-beating stuff, rather grimy, unromantic and futile fighting on the German-Soviet front. It's narrowly focused, picking up small pieces of the battle at different times, so it's (intentionally) hard to get the big picture of the fighting. Interesting and well-done, with subtle and effective black humor. Not a lot of fun, though.

Friday, August 31, 2007

We Ain't Got No Swing

Just a few snippets from the trip to London...

* After the first few days of rain, the weather became incredible -- 75 and sunny, with air that felt fresh and clean (particularly in comparison to Atlanta). One minor moment on the trip, but one that will be treasured like the Patrick Leigh Fermor read of a previous visit -- waking up, getting coffee and a copy of the Guardian, and sitting under a tree in Kensington Gardens to read and relax. For someone who doesn't let himself relax much, that was a nice interlude.

* Between visits, I forget just how much I love the London pub culture. I don't see anything comparable in the States -- sitting outside some little place, drinking beer and talking, as a variety of interesting and/or weird people drop by and join in, later replaced by someone else interesting/odd. As much as I like some of the bars near my place, they're home to decrepit drunks during the day and frat guys at night -- there's precious few witty intelligent types like, uh, me.

* During the trip, my friend Susanne arrived to begin her new life in London. I realize that I'm rapidly reaching a sort of sad tipping point, where more of my friends live in London than here.

* Encounter with weirdos dept.: I'm watching a little Nike promo/soccer demonstration in Leicester Square, when rheumy-eyed old English guy stumbles up next to me. "They never work," he mumbles to me. "Wha?" I respond, uncomprehending. "Them," he spits, gesturing at the players -- who, I note with a sinking feeling, are all black. "They just play. They should be on a building site. They all make the women do the real work."

I don't say anything, hoping he'll go away -- "do you speak English?" he asks. "Where are you from?" Looking for ways to extricate myself, I say "America."

"I went to New York once. Left my hotel, bunch of blacks started following me. But then some undercover cops jumped on them and beat the shit outta them!" It was the only time I saw him express anything approaching joy during this whole exchange.

I left, him shouting/mumbling "they oughta be doing REAL WORK!" as I wished myself far, far away.

* Fidel's birthday was part of the festivities during the trip. After a posh dinner, marathon drinking session, and me deciding to walk from Soho to St. John's Wood at 3 a.m. (a plan that was aborted), I woke up the next morning with a splitting headache and the following message scrawled on my notebook:



Forever a puzzle, most likely.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Back in the Sauna

Got back to Atlanta yesterday, and I was pouring sweat at 6 a.m. today. Fantastic.

Obviously, the social whirl was busy in London, so the updates were scarce. I'll write more and post more photos today or tomorrow.

In the meantime, a quick roundup of the books I read on the trip:

#35 -- "The Fourth Bear" by Jasper Fforde

#36 -- "Words of Mercury" by Patrick Leigh Fermor

#37 -- "Chronicle of Stone" by Ismail Kadare

The Fforde book isn't normally my style, but I was looking for something quick for the plane ride over, and it caught my eye. Glad it did. It's a mystery set in a part of England where nursery rhyme characters collide with real life, and it's funny as hell. Lots of sly humor and clever references -- I laughed out loud quite a bit. I'll pick up some of his other books, which similarly seemed aimed at constant readers.

Everyone's probably sick of hearing about Fermor ... sorry! I don't think this anthology is available in the U.S., so of course I had to get it. It's selections from his work over the years, and I've read a lot of it before (especially in "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water"), but it's no great pain to read that again. Lively stuff from a guy who apparently knows everything and enjoys the hell out of life.

Likewise, I'm pretty sure the Kadare book isn't in print over here (edit -- will be soon). It's an early book, and much more linear than most of his later work. It's the (semi-autobiographical?) story of his hometown of Gjirokaster, which went back and forth between the Axis and Allies during World War II, and then became the scene of bitter internecene warfare between various Albanian factions. It's very good, and quickly became one of my favorites by Kadare. Highly recommended as a starting point.

More later. Now, I have to work on getting my body clock in order.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Rainy Night in Soho

This is what you get when you bitch too much about the heat in Atlanta: three straight days of rain and 60-degree temperatures in London. I can't remember the last time (if ever) that I've had to wear a jacket in August.

At least, though, it's something different to complain about, and today the rain has stopped and the temperatures are warmer; I even saw the sun briefly this morning.

I've spent a lot of time on Charing Cross Road, home to a whole bunch of great bookstores (and legendary for the now-long gone store at 84 CC). One of them, Henry Pordes Books, is the scene of a pleasant book memory -- in the basement, two years ago, I found Patrick Leigh Fermor's "A Time of Gifts," at the time unavailable (and impossible to find used) in the U.S.

Having heard of it, I got it, and then went and sat in a park near the British Museum (a sunny day, then) and immediately became enraptured. Sitting under a tree, alternately reading and daydreaming, suddenly anything seemed possible.

I also got Colin Thubron's "Journey Into Cyprus" that day, introducing me to that worthy author. I don't expect such a harvest of fine quality again, but I picked up a few books at Henry Pordes yesterday, just out of appreciation.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bon Voyage

I leave for London tonight. It's still disgustingly hot in Atlanta, we broke the "Target: Force" video game at Manuel's last night, Sidearm Delivery has shut down, Tomas Kloucek is still unemployed -- with all these negative signs and portents, it's time to leave Atlanta for a bit.

Not sure what blogging will be like while I'm over there -- it could be really light as social pursuits distract me, could be really heavy as I wait for friends to get out of work. We'll see.

In the meantime, I drove up to Cartersville, Georgia the other day. I'd been through Cartersville a few times previously, but always wrote it off as a collection of strip malls and mega-grocery stores. Tipped off that it's actually kind of an interesting place if you get off the main highways, this time I explored a bit, and whaddaya know -- lots of cool old buildings and a nice, pleasant downtown area. There's a lesson here.

This is the first-ever outdoor Coca-Cola sign. I think it's safe to say it's been repainted a few times over the years.

One of several old railroad buildings (that seemed to still be in use, despite the abandoned feel).

Cool old theater, circa 1940 if I remember the plaque correctly. Still in use, by a theater troupe.

Nice old building (from 1881, I think - can't really read the detail now). Kind of reminds me of downtown Boulder; you don't see many like this in Atlanta. It apparently housed a brewery until recently. The fact that a brewery went out of business makes me so very sad.

Dunno why this caught my eye. Maybe that very firm, forceful, big sign combined with the lack of a roof.

Ghost sign! No clue what it says, though.

Another really cool theater. I would have gone up and scouted about for interesting details, but by this point I was coated in sweat. Unpleasant.