Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Benjamin Smoke"

Quite a week here. As Nick noted in the last comments, I got promoted -- hurrah. The weather's been incredibly gorgeous -- to coincide, I'm sick again, with a nasty head cold. The Thrashers made a good trade, the Thrashers made some lousy trades. The Avalanche dumped an albatross. The world kept turning.

And, in a move about six years overdue, I got a new television. Despite fears of learning about things like "LCD" and "HDTV" and so on, I shelled out to replace my vintage-1988 Samsung, and it's fantastic.

I can watch hockey at home again. I can watch movies again! And so last night, I sat down and watched the film I'd had from Netflix for a good four months. They must love people like me -- I dutifully pay each month, and never expect anything like, say, new movies.

But that all changes now! Probably close to a year ago, Coco recommended Jem Cohen's "Benjamin Smoke" to me as a good slice of Atlanta life.

It's a documentary -- not even a documentary so much as an oral history -- about the titular fellow, the singer for various Atlanta bands, in the years before his death in 1999. He was a fixture in Cabbagetown, a funky/cool neighborhood sorta near mine that's home to a few friends.

The music's really good -- the band most seen/heard is Smoke, a sort of dark bluesy poetic group. It's an interesting contrast between the off-stage Benjamin, stoned and wasting away, an on-stage, very focused and intense.

It's also a glimpse into an Atlanta I never really saw (it ends right before I moved out here), a bit more offbeat, a drag queen/punk living among hardened white trash, stories of cops busting up the shows by Smoke's earlier band. Cabbagetown is still a lot more colorful than, say, where I live -- but a lot less so than it was in this movie.

Also kinda cool to see some old Atlanta landmarks, a decade back -- the Majestic, Variety Playhouse, Cabbagetown landmarks. Friends and I laugh at Atlanta's skyline -- a handful of tall buildings -- but I'm struck by how much it's grown just since the scenes in this movie.

I've never seen Cohen's Fugazi film -- I'll have to check that out. This was good and affecting, and if I were a bit more of a film scholar and a bit less whacked out on cold medicine, I'd write about how visually appealing this is. But that'd just lead me into rambling-tangent-land, and we don't want that, do we?

More to come in coming days -- hopefully a bit more together.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Book of Lists

Books Greg has started and cast aside since finishing "Women"

1. "The Heart of the Matter" by Graham Greene
2. "The Iron Gate of Illyria" by Torgny "Best Name Ever" Sommelius
3. "Out of Their League" by Dave Meggyesy
4. "The Unconsoled" by Kazuo Ishiguro
5. "Unburied" by Charles Palliser
6. "The Power Broker" by Robert A. Caro

Music Greg's been listening to lately

1. Public Enemy "It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back"
2. Son Volt "Okemah and the Melody of Riot"
3. The Velvet Underground "White Light/White Heat"
4. The Gossip
5. Dropkick Murphys "Blackout"
6. Carla Bruni
7. the complete Miles Davis/John Coltrane box set

New beers Greg's tried since reading that beer book

1. Rogue American Amber
2. Rogue Brutal Bitter
3. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
4. Terrapin Wake-and-Bake stout

Things Greg does when he doesn't really have a post idea

1. Makes lists

Friday, February 23, 2007

Literary Greatness

There's apparently a debate raging in England -- who's the greatest living British author? It was apparently sparked when someone (Nanuk?) gave Martin Amis that title, leading to, seriously, threats of suicide.

Now, I can't really imagine such a debate entering the U.S. media. I'm not much of an Anglophile, but I'd rather live in a place where they debate the greatest living author, as opposed to "is Britney Spears as fucked up as Anna Nicole Smith was?"

That aside, it got me pondering who I'd consider the greatest living American writer. I guess I'd narrow it down to four -- Philip Roth, Don Delillo, Thomas Pynchon, and E.L. Doctorow. Of those ... geez. Pynchon, much as I love him, is sort of a genre all his own and isn't very representative of American novelists. I've probably enjoyed Doctorow the most consistently, and he touches on a lot of American themes, but ... not quite. Delillo, marvelous as he is, has a few out there that I don't enjoy. So -- Philip Roth it is. (I'm ignoring "Sabbath's Theater") I'm sure this ranks pretty high on his list of accomplishments.

Thinking about this drove home how many of the authors I read are either a) dead, b) foreign, or both. Who am I missing? I haven't read enough of Paul Auster or Cormac McCarthy to include them... Richard Powers, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem probably don't have bodies of work that are big enough yet. Other suggestions?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hello, Birds! Hello, Sky! Hello, People Walking By!

I was planning on writing something a bit weightier today, but the day dawned sunny and clear, temperatures are flirting with the 70s, so I just went for a lengthy stroll, camera in hand, song in heart.



Atlanta: an unforgiving city.





Another sign of springtime walks: old buildings!



Atlanta has finally acquired sidewalk technology. Look out.



Defunct businesses! That looks like an old gas station sign -- the shape is familiar but I can't put my finger on which company.



Dinner!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Overlooked

#6 -- "Women" by Charles Bukowski

I'd never read Bukowski prior to this, a fact that usually prompted the cartoon-style bug-eyed shock. After my Exley re-read last year, I foisted "A Fan's Notes" on a few friends -- they basically responded "eh," and suggested I give old Chuck a try instead.

So the Ski Bum lent me this (and "Ham on Rye"). I was initially pretty put off by the tone -- thinking "Jesus, this guy's horrible" -- but once I got into it, it was a pretty fun read.

The book is less a novel than a collection of strung-together anecdotes, about the poet "Henry Chinaski" and his stream of women. Somehow, a string of flings and one-night stands never becomes too overwhelming or repetitive. It teeters on the misogynistic a lot -- but doesn't really fall over. Perhaps because it's so cartoonish that it's hard to take it completely seriously, partly because Bukowski/Chinaski doesn't take himself too seriously. There's a sly, resigned humor throughout that took me a while to catch on to, but once I did, I enjoyed it qutie a bit.

I see why at first blush, Bukowski gets lumped together with Exley -- both wrote semi-autobiographically, both drank way too much, both laid themselves pretty bare on the page. But Exley's more sad while Bukowski's more badass/funny, and they really aren't that similar. There's room for both on my bookshelf!

(One similarity, though: both make me ponder giving up drinking)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Stupid Bar Tricks

Not sure how exactly this was revealed to the world at large, but it seems to be well-known now among those who know me: when I get a few drinks in me, and have a pen, I sketch maps of Africa on cocktail napkins. With all borders intact. Not exactly perfectly to scale -- Rand McNally has nothing to worry about -- but the countries are all identifiable.

I can't think of a less useful talent, unfortunately.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Teenager in a Box

A round of post tennis with Brushback got me listening to Government Issue for the first time in years, and got me reminiscing about an influential shopping trip, many moons ago...

When I moved down to Arizona in 1989, I had a burgeoning interest in punk and hardcore, but absolutely no clue what was out there. My record collection, basically, consisted of Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies, and Colorado's own Warlock Pinchers. Late-'80s Boulder wasn't a haven for the stuff, and being both shy and sheltered, I wasn't exactly getting out there and searching new stuff out -- if I had money for an album, I'd prefer to get something by a band I already knew (even "Live '84") rather than try something new. I'd never seen a copy of MRR -- I'd never even heard the Minutemen, never heard Minor Threat.

My last year in Colorado, a classmate named Ben gave me a mix tape -- pretty standard stuff, but it was the first hint of how much more was out there ... Nomeansno, the Spermbirds, JFA, forget what else... and Government Issue. It had a few songs off "The Fun Just Never Ends" -- "Bored to Death," "Mad at Myself," something else.

Anyway. Moved to Arizona, was introduced to Minor Threat, and found out that there was an entire record store (Toxic Ranch) devoted to punk -- something that blew my mind, and cemented Tucson's status as a teeming metropolis where anything was possible. Yeah, it sounds ridiculous now, but remember, sheltered. I couldn't drive at the time -- I was really late in getting around to getting my license, in some sort of weird rebellion against whatever I could rebel against -- and Toxic was a ways away from our suburban place, but finally, I got my Mom to drive me down, so I could blow some hard-earned cash.

I still remember everything I picked up that day -- the day that really cemented that there was music beyond the DKs and Flag (and down the line, led me to the financial ruin of record collecting, but that's another story):

* Minor Threat "Salad Days" 7" - by then, they were my new Black Flag, and that was the only thing I didn't own. The consensus seems to be that it's their weakest release, but it's always got a place in my heart.

* Fugazi "3 Songs" 7" - I expected it to sound just like Minor Threat, so as you can imagine, it took me a while to get into Fugazi.

* Operation Ivy "Energy" LP - later ruined for me by a ska-obsessed roommate, which makes me feel kinda bad -- I think I've unfairly dismissed them since, but back then, I loved this

* Youth of Today "Can't Close My Eyes" 12" (the Caroline pressing) - I was a bit nervous about this, because (seriously!) due to the shaved heads and everything, I wasn't sure that they weren't Nazi skinheads, which I'd heard about on 20/20 or something

* Government Issue "Strange Wine" 12" - I had to get something by GI, remembering that old mix tape. I still remember being befuddled by the selection -- they had just about everything -- but something about the cover, with the set list scrawled on Tom Lyle's t-shirt, looked really cool. It was more "mature" than "Bored to Death," which confused me a bit for a while, but down the line I really like this one. Features backing vocals by...

18 years or so later, I think the only one of these records I still physically own is the "Salad Days" 7" -- I sold "3 Songs" when I got "Repeater" on CD, sold Op IV because I got so goddamn sick of ska, Government Issue got ruined when I moved out here, probably eBayed YOT. But all these albums have a special spot in my heart -- as a nascent fan, I managed to pick up a selection and not get a stinker in the bunch. It could just have easily been Outspoken or Face Value leaping into my hot little hands that day, and then what would have become of me?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Powerful Thirst

#5 -- "Three Sheets to the Wind: One Man's Quest for the Meaning of Beer" by Pete Brown

Now, that was just the palate-cleanser I needed after Pynchon. It's a birthday gift, from a friend who had the clever idea of grouping together books on beer and books on straight edge in one present, and man, this one is proof positive that I made the right choice.

British author Brown travels the world here, taking part in pub and beer culture everywhere he goes -- Belgium, the Czech Republic (!), Japan, Australia, China, Denmark, the U.S., the UK ... probably forgot a few others (oh yeah, Germany and Spain. That may be it). And never has the act of drinking seemed so joyous.

Really -- I expected this to be a clever little forgettable book, but it's so much better than you'd expect. Brown never hits an ill note, looking at his subjects with humor and warmth (the only targets that really draw his ire are Anheuser-Busch and his home country). The book also reaffirms my belief that the Czechs rule, though Denmark and Portland also sound like great places to live.

I love beer, but know nothing about it. I can tell you I like something, or that I don't, or "Jesus Christ, this goes down really well for something that is 9.5%," but not much else. "Three Sheets to the Wind" makes me want to learn all about it, because it just seems so damn fun. Doesn't hurt that you get to drink all those great beers along the way.

If there's a problem with this book, it's that reading it at a time when you can't have a pint (say, before work) is pure torture. If you love beer, check this out.

Dutiful beer links:

Pete Brown's web page
Hedonist Beer Jive - someone who knows a lot about beer and has access to some good stuff
New Belgium Brewery - my old hometown brewery
Rogue - the current favorite

Friday, February 16, 2007

Food That Pleases

For my birthday, I received the super-cool Atlanta Vintage Travel poster of the Majestic Grill. It's probably one of the most familiar buildings to anyone who's lived in Atlanta -- neon and art deco, a city institution. It's one of the few places along Ponce de Leon that remains from the time of George Mitchell's book -- and much earlier, I guess, as the sign says it's been going since 1929.

I live a block away, so I've found myself there many a time. The weekend partiers migrate there as the bars close -- used to be a big punk and junkie late-night hangout, but it's been ages since I was there at 4 a.m. and dunno if it still is, with a smoking ban now in effect.

It's a great little haven. We used to end up there after the all-night poker games. The food is basic and, uh, hearty -- the hash browns with cheese and onions are a personal favorite. It's the only place I've ever had corned beef hash (a big mistake). People complain about the food, but if you're going to the Majestic for fine dining, you're an idiot anyway -- it's comfort food, coffee and grease.

As such a long-standing site, it's also a touchstone for "I was there in '82"-style snobbiness -- I know Creative Loafing's had columnists writing about how much better the Majestic used to be, how it was a real neighborhood joint, etc etc. It still seems to have that vibe -- the guys at the bar this morning obviously are regulars -- and I don't know how much of those complaints are just the usual desire to tell people how much better it was before all these new jacks came along. (Or maybe it's just a normal reaction to seeing a place and neighborhood gradually change. The first time I noticed the Majestic accepting credit cards, I was surprised and a bit disappointed. And I note with a pompous sniff that when I started going to the Majestic, all the cooks were Bosnians -- now, they're all 22-year-olds with trucker caps and bad facial hair.)

I don't go to the Majestic a lot -- it's reserved for cold mornings, insomniac episodes, what have you. But when I leave Atlanta, it'll be one of the places that I will miss.

(And it's a great place to fight a hangover.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

State of the Nation

Rather than the celeb-fest the above image hints at, my Valentine's Day night is actually consisting of beef lo mein, beer, and Aleve -- the latter in response to a seriously fucked-up back. Apparently I can't even sleep safely. (above image provided by longtime reader Coco, not actually Nicole and Paris)

I also returned to work yesterday, right about the time my subconscious had started really thinking that life was all lying on the couch, drinking beer, reading Pynchon, playing pool, going to hockey games. Needless to say, it was pretty shattering to realize that wasn't the case.

Also whine-worthy: the goddamn weather down here. I realize that virtually every other one of you is buried under seventeen and a half feet of snow -- I get the Syracuse Crunch e-mail alerts in hopes of hearing something about Tomas Kloucek, and over the last couple days, they've sort of taken on a pleading tone. Down here, it's just a yo-yo. It's 28 degrees here right now and feels far colder. Last night, we had hours of torrential, wrath of God rain. Sunday and Monday? 60 degrees or so. I'd just like a little consistency. A full week of sitting outside drinking beer, for instance.

Regular blogging to resume soon, probably tomorrow or so.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Whew.

#4 -- "Against the Day" by Thomas Pynchon

Well, that was a haul. And a good one -- it's a great book, maybe the most purely enjoyable Pynchon other than "V." After the pre-read reviews, I was expecting something much less cohesive, but this was considerably more linear than most of his books, I'd say.

It helps that he draws on several Greg interests here: Colorado mining, the Tunguska incident, Balkan intrigue. All it needed was hockey.

It's not perfect, by any means. As previously noted, the higher math stuff lost me. Then the pace really seems to drop off in the penultimate hundred pages. But in the end, man, what a blast. Amazing ideas at work here -- and I wonder if I'm alone finding it, once I got through it, to be Pynchon's most hopeful novel.

Anyway: a few Hardy Boys books after this, probably. My brain needs a rest. Glad I finished it on the last day of vacation, at least.

A Challenge, Atlanta

Go to Noche (Virginia and Highland) on a Sunday night ($2 Dos Equis night) and see which of the following seems most appealing by comparison:

* Islamic theocracy

* neutron bomb

* never leaving the house again

It's like being in a production of "Blue Velvet" cast entirely with the retarded. I'm generally pretty laid-back, if a bit grumpy, so it's a rare experience to go to a place and start fantasizing about punching everyone else in the head.

Geez.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The House on the Hill

Yeah -- more Atlanta buildings. I'll do something else soon, but this one has been bubbling on the backburner for a while.

Most of the year, Atlanta is pretty verdant -- a thick cover of foliage lies over the city, and it hides a lot. During the few months that the greenery's gone, you see new things.

For years, I only knew "The Mansion" by the sign above, at Peachtree and North. I vaguely knew there was something there, up the hill behind the sign, but whatever was there was hidden away.

Early in January, I drove by, and for the first time ever, got some glimpse of what was there.



The Mansion's "official" name is the Edward C. Peters House, a/k/a Ivy Hall. It dates back to 1883 -- Peters was an Atlanta city councilman. Between that and its Mansion era, I'm not sure what was there, and I'm not sure when the Mansion restaurant opened (though a friend says that it was the place to go for bridal showers and proms in the '70s and '80s). It closed in 2000, not long after I arrived in the city, and has been vacant since.



Even in a state of decline, it's an impressive building. Same friend as above describes the restaurant thusly: "tourist trap, mediocre food, amazing building." It's across the street from the former Abbey restaurant (and apparently had the same owner), about which the same could be said (that, I can vouch for firsthand).



I couldn't get too close to the building due to fences -- but for once, the barricades aren't just a matter of liability. They're actually renovating the building, and it's expected to reopen as an arts center in 2008.

In Atlanta, where a lot of great buildings sit unused, that's a nice change. The Abbey, likewise, as already been reborn as a church (after, I guess, a brief period when its future was in doubt). Two classic old buildings, not being torn down, being rejuvenated. And neither of them are becoming lofts!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Shocker in Blandtown



Caution: photo-heavy post

Atlanta's got a lot of little neighborhoods that don't appear on maps, and rarely referred to in current times. Blandtown is one of those -- I'd never heard about it before coming across a reference in something from decades past.

It's now a neglected and forgotten area, despite proximity to some heavily-trafficked streets. References are scant -- I'm still wondering what prompted the rather odd name, but here's a bit of history, as well as some insight into its current problems.

I took a drive over there today, and was pretty amazed at the level of abandonment in the small parts I viewed -- I didn't see any signs of habitation in any of the houses. Some of them looked like Katrina-aftermath scenes. I've seen some run-down parts of Atlanta, but few that looked so completely abandoned.





Not far away, on Huff, right off of Howell Mill, there's an abandoned school, John P. Whittaker Elementary. A little research turns up the details that it closed in 1974, but the building continued to be used by private organizations for the next 30 years. Now, it reminded me most of the school in one of the Tony Hawk games. Anyway, I stopped in and shot a few photos, wandering the grounds.















Wednesday, February 07, 2007

One Full Year of Uncorking the Bottle of Regret

It's a week of birthdays 'round here -- first mine, now the blog's. That's right: one year ago I unleashed this on the world. And the world yawned.

Not quite sure how exactly we'll celebrate at PPAHQ today, but it'll involve multiple bottles of Cristal, no doubt. But wherever you are, have a drink today. It's on me!¹

¹ Offer void in most states and Canada.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Hotel Row

Pynchon's getting really mathematical on me, to the point where I'm having to read some paragraphs three times to get even the most basic understanding of what's going on, so despite 30-degree temperatures I put the book down and headed out this morning, to take some shots of a desolate little remnant of Atlanta's history.

The one-block stretch of Mitchell between Spring Street and Forsyth is known as "Hotel Row" -- though you wouldn't be able to (or most likely, want to) find any lodging there now. It's actually got the "Historic District" designation -- the buildings are all pretty much as they were originally.

The Scoville -- shown above -- is the highlight now, at least for people like me, with that great old sign, and apparently, a kind of cool interior (it's padlocked, and I can't imagine that even if I could get a hold of whoever runs it now, they'd let me in to snap a few photos). It's got a real seedy flophouse look (again, more aesthetically than practically pleasing), and a bit of odd fame -- it's the setting for this Rolling Stones video. The sign's visible in the opening scene. Turn the volume down, the song sucks.





The building on the corner is pretty cool (both those shots are taken from Forsyth Avenue) -- I guess, judging by the sign, it was the Star Hotel ... though neither Google nor Lexis/Nexis turns up anything about the place. I love the detail, and the blocked-off doors and windows.




Now, Mitchell Street isn't much of a tourist destination. There's a bunch of hotels a bit to the north for the conventioneers, and there's no real nightlife in the area (though I was offered something of uncertain provenance while wandering around today). There's a few businesses getting by now, most with cheerful signs up telling people "SMILE FOR THE CAMERA! You're being filmed."



All the hotels are on the north side of the street. The entire south side is taken up by this monolith -- no clue what it is or what it was or how long it's been there. Those blocked-off arches down at the bottom might indicate one-time storefronts, but really, the whole thing's just too ugly for me to worry about.

Monday, February 05, 2007

It Begins Now

Ok: the Super Bowl is out of the way, and a good fun game it was. I stuck with Colts fandom, though it was a dispassionate fandom. I wanted Manning and Dungy to win, but then I know many fine people who are Bears fans, and I want people to be happy, y'know? But then some dipshit who sat two seats down from me at the bar proved to be a Bears fan of the most annoying stripe -- "Da Bears" is funny once, but not 25 times BEFORE KICKOFF. You can imagine the rapture he went into when Devin Hester led off with the touchdown. I was praying for the guy to get gonorrhea by the time he and his whiny girlfriend finally departed.

I took a few notes in the lead-up to the game, but the practice got put aside as friends arrived and I had more beer. The notes are mostly incoherent or shameful now ("I like Ford Edge commercial -- self-loathing"), and without looking around I can guess that there's 100 million posts today on the televised Super Bowl experience, but I would bet I'm the only one out there who kept seeing the "XLI" on banners and reading it as "YDI."

Anyway. Football now firmly in the rear-view mirror, I can concentrate on productivity and the week ahead. I've been touting this week off (to myself) as the real beginning of 2007; January was a strange, cursed month, upsetting start to finish, and with all the hopes I set myself for this year (hopes, granted, similar to those I have at the start of every year), it's probably best to just reboot now. Start Today, if you will.

Cut to: scene of Greg in bar at noon

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Grumpy Old Man

Bad sign: I get off work, officially on vacation for the next week and a half, and I can't persuade myself to go out for a beer because it's too cold outside.

Ah, but I'm in do-nothing mode now, and there'll be plenty of time to frolic. And unfortunately I'll make good use of that time, I fear. The Super Bowl tomorrow, more foolishness to follow.

I'm dealing with the possibility that I may have a new favorite all-purpose beer (maybe even supplanting Fat Tire, unavailable in Georgia). Have I mentioned Rogue's Dead Guy Ale? I really don't remember. But I've been drinking virtually nothing else for weeks. Rogue is the reason that a lunchtime beer with a friend turned into seven hours at the pub last Monday. Between Dead Guy ... and yes, now I'm remembering that I have mentioned it before ... and Archer Farms' Chili Lime Tortilla Chips, i'm reassured that there are good things in this world.

Anyway -- being an old man -- me, the Dead Guy, the tortilla chips, and "Against the Day" are about to retreat. But before I do, one last discovery from today: "AtD" has been converted into a 53 1/2-hour audiobook. Crazy shit.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Rough Waters

Uh oh. Operation: Pynchon is running into some roadblocks -- I'm a little over 500 pages in, and I'm wishing my half-joke-vow to take notes and keep an outline of the characters was, in fact, reality. I've already got two characters completely mixed up for a bit, and though another character was two different people at different times (though, this being Pynchon, perhaps that last bit is actually correct). I'm also losing my grip on some of the umpteen parallel plot threads.

And I'm not even halfway through the book yet.

Still, I soldier on. And with a week off work beginning tomorrow, I'll probably get it done. I just may emerge... changed.

My reading buddy has, I think, dropped out. The last I heard of it was a sort of distress call -- an "I can't do it!" before she was swallowed by the waves.

Ohio Nudity Watch

Submitted by Anonymous L.P.:

Man Caught Driving Naked for 3rd Time

Friday, February 02, 2007

You May Survive

All plans were to hit the ground running February 1st, and launch a new month and new age with all sorts of vim and vigor. Unfortunately, such plans take a detour when you wake up to weather that's 33 degrees and rainy, especially when there's no pressing reason to leave the house. So my sum accomplishments for the first post-birthday day are... reading "Against the Day" and going to the hockey game. Which the Thrashers lost. Gave me a chance to rock the Vaclav Pletka jersey, at least.

A full week off starts Sunday. Then I'm gonna get things done! After the Super Bowl of course.