Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Quickies

Two quick reviews. Then, perhaps, silence -- this is shaping up to be a heavy-hitting week and I probably will not have much.

#25 -- "Blind Willow Sleeping Woman" by Haruki Murakami

and

#26 -- "Navigations" by Ted Kerasote

Two books, both nice, both curiously unsatisfying. I'm much more of a fan of Murakami's novels than his short fiction -- something that probably holds true for most authors, for that matter -- but I was still surprised at how unenthusiastic I was about this.

The pieces are generally kind of light. They seem more like abandoned ideas for novels than self-contained pieces -- it's like trying to fashion a hearty meal out of a selection of hors d'oeuvres. Some were pretty good, but others I forgot as soon as I started the next piece.

Kerasote: Even if I hadn't known he lived in Colorado, I would have pegged this as a Colorado book -- in both good and bad ways. Good in the appreciation for nature, the desire to go against the grain -- bad in the occasional wide-eyed dippy stuff, the hints of third world poverty fetishization that I always found so eye-rolling.

This is a collection of essays on travels through the Western Hemisphere -- at their best, they made me want to scrap anything immediately ("hi, this is Greg -- I won't be in ever again") and follow Kerasote's path. At their worst, there were the aforementioned eye-rolls. In between, sometimes good, sometimes I got lost in overly-technical descriptions of fly-fishing/boating/etc.

Actually, perhaps the most impressive thing this book accomplished: the chapter on the marathon made me think it'd be nice to run one. The odds of that remain low, but even exciting the desire is something to note.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Getting to Know the Concrete

I think I boiled my insides yesterday -- after the morning smoke cleared, I went to Jazzfest (This is Atlanta, not N.O.) and sat out in the sun, with a belly full of beer and wearing heavy jeans and a black shirt. Take it from me, kids, don't do that. You don't feel so great later on.

Today, to clear my head, I took a stroll along Edgewood Avenue -- one of Atlanta's more interesting streets, one that's undergoing a bit of a renaissance in parts -- and suited to my interests, one that has a bucketload of ghost signs.

When I first moved here, Edgewood was the definition of sketchy -- now, well, some parts still are, but others seem pretty vibrant and healthy. Art studios popping up, multiple places to eat, and parts are pretty peaceful and/or pretty.



This isn't technically a ghost sign -- the Atlanta Belting Company is still in existence, and has been (as signs inform us) since James L. Key was mayor, in the 1920s. Key, after being voted out of office, went on to pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays.



Edgewood (from what I can tell) went through several lean decades, but a few businesses seem to have survived -- mostly welding and auto parts shops. You can tell those that made it through because their signs lack an area code -- dating from the days when Atlanta had only 404, and not three or four codes for the metro area.



The center of the Edgewood neighborhood is the intersection with Boulevard. When I first moved here, it was a wasteland. Now, it's much better. The northwest corner, the former Danneman's grocery, is now host to a hip coffee shop (Javaology -- it's supposed to be really cool, I've never been. If I'd been thinking this morning, I would have waited to get coffee 'til I got down there, but I needed coffee to think). The northeast corner holds a vegan restaurant, and while I can't imagine any circumstances in which I'll be craving vegan food, it does look pretty nice.

The southwest corner is still empty -- the above building, the former Brown Hayes Department Store, has been up for lease forever. I thought I heard that something was going in, but the "for lease" signs are still up.

There's apparently some sort of historical significance to this building. Googling it turns up several references to official historical designation, and a connection to Martin Luther King Jr. -- however, just what that connection was, is never explained. Anyone know?



Another view of Brown Hayes, from across the street. It looks like it was part of a row of similar buildings, now orphaned. You see that a lot downtown.

This was shot from in front of Danneman's/Javaology. The sign at the very top of this post is out front, and hooray for Javaology for keeping it around. It looks really cool, even destroyed. There used to be two -- another around the corner on Boulevard -- but the second one got torn off during renovations, I guess. In any case, I'm glad this one remains.

There's still a Danneman's, which I presume is connected, out toward Decatur on College Avenue (I think). And Atlanta Time Machine has this photo of the original Danneman's (and a bunch more pics of Edgewood, on the downtown page).



This is the front to Cafe 458, run by the Samaritan House of Atlanta. I liked the old school diner design -- not sure if that's original to Cafe 458, or what was there before.



Not sure if Edgewood Animal (Clinic -- the third part of the sign apparently disappeared some decades back) is still in existence -- we're moving further west on Edgewood here, into more boarded-up shops. I think it is, though. An AJC article says that sign's been there since the 1920s.



Not sure about this, either -- all the signs are still up, and there's something indicating hours, but so are "For Lease" signs. In any case, with the graffiti, the religious theme, and the child's clothes left in the doorway, it's kind of a spooky effect -- even at 10:30 am.



Never saw this one before! An old shoe factory, located behind the Rolling Bones BBQ place (which is supposed to be great). It was built between 1908 and 1910, and at some point became an assisted living facility for the homeless and mentally disabled. Not sure if that's still the case.



Another view -- the Red Seal Shoe Factory and the J.K. Orr Shoe Company were one and the same. Apparently this building is on the National Register of Historical Places. The sign in the lower right seems to say that the shoe company's show room was on Auburn (one block north).



The Keen-Edge company has a bunch of destroyed metal signs around, that look like they've survived a hurricane. Despite that, though, the company (a knife- and tool-sharpening place -- though peeking through the windows there's all sorts of other stuff for sale) is still around, and has been for something like 70 years now. Pretty impressive.

At this point, I wandered back -- as I got closer to the highway overpass things were getting more and more depressing, plus my feet kinda hurt. "Don't wear sandals for a really long walk" probably goes hand-in-hand with "don't wear a black shirt and jeans and drink a lot of beer when you're sitting in the sun for a few hours," I guess. Live and learn.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Smoked Out

Several times in the last week or so, I've awakened to the smell of smoke -- the first morning, half-awake, I was convinced a nearby bar was burning down (a friend said "you worried that it was a bar before worrying that it might be your house?). Thankfully, no -- it's winds pushing smoke from the south Georgia wildfires up here.

It's not entirely unpleasant at first -- it's not too heavy, and actually just brings a nice barbeque to mind. But the gauzy haze blotting out the sun is a little ominous, and after walking for a bit, you can feel your heart and lungs laboring.

And completely illogically, there's a bit of fear -- though I know better, on some level, there's a sense that the fire is getting closer, and in just a couple days will be tearing through south Atlanta.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Various and Sundry

Just a couple cool things I've been meaning to mention...

* I don't (considering my interest in much of the continent) read enough Europe-based blogs, so it was cool to stumble along A Fistful of Euro's "Satin Pajama" awards (link via Sadly, No!) -- the nominees seem to be chock full of great reading.

* In a similar vein, the Expat-Blog community is pretty great -- listings of blogs by, uh, expats in various countries. Another good way to waste time at work. Ah, to be on that list, from Tirana or Addis Ababa or somewhere...

* Closer to home: Phreakmonkey has a ton of cool pictures of abandoned sites in my neck of the woods, some of which I've seen, some of which I had no inkling about. Five stars!

I Was a Crap-Ass Music Reviewer

Not long ago, I was discussing my previous life as a music/book reviewer, and someone said "Aw, man, you must have loved that! Free CDs, free books, free shows..." While I'll cop to loving the free stuff, I responded -- unexpectedly and weakly -- "well, I wasn't very good at it."

I've never actually acknowledged that, but I'm afraid, yeah, it's true. I have a smorgasbord of embarassing memories related to reviewing music -- asking Unsane how their drummer's death affected the band's chemistry, reviews that showcased a wholesale lack of musical knowledge, pointless and meandering interviews. The reasons, as far as I can tell, are these:

1) Lack of context. I can't stress enough just what a dogmatic weirdo I was throughout high school and college -- between my sophomore year of high school and graduation from college, I pretty much refused to purchase anything on a major label. And to give you an idea of where I was, the last high school major label effort was Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians' debut. Finally, in my last few months of school, I accepted "Exile on Main Street" into my heart, and that pretty much broke the spell.

But to give you an idea -- I didn't really give the Velvet Underground a good listen until my mid-20s. Joy Division? I was probably close to 30. The Pixies and Sonic Youth weren't til about 22 or so. I didn't even listen to Slayer until my senior year of college.

Making it worse was a few years in an extraordinarily limited straight edge phase -- I think the only non-straight edge bands that I'd allow through the wall were Operation Ivy, Bad Religion and Metallica. When I did branch out, it was into Laughing Hyenas, Unsane, etc. -- better than it was before, but still very limited.

So I was often writing about music without any sort of background, any sort of idea of the influences. This led to some horrid college music reviews -- one article about a Ritual Device/Killdozer single, where it became painfully obvious that I had never heard the Led Zeppelin song RD covered, but I was pretending I did, is one of the first thing that comes up when you Google my full name. Then there was the fawning praise of the Hyenas' "Hard Times" as some sort of modern blues masterpiece.

Even now, going through the archives at Agony Shorthand or Lexicon Devil (two pastimes when I'm bored at work) I'm horrified by how many recognizable name bands I have still not heard.

2) Lack of interest/The Boulder factor. I write better about things when I'm deeply into them (a Space Team Electra article written in a drunken blur after being blown away by a live set, a Jawbreaker appreciation some years back) or deeply not (an evisceration of one of Greg Ginn's crappy '90s projects).

But the vast majority of music falls somewhere in between those extremes, and when I wasn't interested in a band, I lacked the ability to make the article interesting.

This became a pretty big problem when I started working in Boulder. In college, I could pick and choose what I reviewed (thus, the Arizona Daily Wildcat featured more reviews of the Victory Records stable than you might otherwise expect) -- in real life, I couldn't. And I largely was not into the local music scene in Boulder. "Dead-influenced," "Phish-influenced," and "an album-length flute meditation on the plight of the majestic eagle" are not phrases that excite my musical interest.

And it showed. I swear to God, I tried to write interesting stuff about fourth-generation Zappa knockoffs, but it was beyond my meager capabilities. There were a few local bands I liked a lot (the aforementioned Space Team, Munly, 16 Horsepower), and occasionally good alt-country bands came through, but beyond that... when DC's Warmers came through, I responded about like it was '82-era Black Flag. It was a poor marriage of music scene and music writer, and it didn't work out.

Now, years on, I've got a better (though still insufficient) musical knowledge and CD collection -- but absolutely no desire to write about the stuff any more. The world's better for it, I think.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Wait, "Torque"?

Recovering from last night, I went into a panic when I couldn't find my wallet this morning. Not in any of the usual places, not in the jeans on top of the laundry pile. Went back to the bar, they didn't have it -- and needless to say, memories are rather fuzzy of the end to the festivities.

I was all set to cancel all my cards, when I noticed something a bit odd: the shirt I was wearing last night appeared to be missing. While I may have been a bit nutty, I was pretty sure I came home wearing a shirt. I checked again -- lo and behold, I'd been looking in the wrong jeans. For some reason, when I undressed, I hid last night's clothes at the very bottom of the pile.

I need a personal handler or something.

* * *

#24 -- "In Siberia" by Colin Thubron

I've had this for years, but put it off, knowing I was gonna love it. Does that make sense? It's the third of his loosely-connected books about the former Soviet Union -- like this one.

Thubron travels throughout Siberia (surprise!), and the result is as haunting, as beautiful as "Lost Heart" was. It's not happy travel writing -- Siberia seems left behind by post-Soviet Russia, its residents tragic, its history horrific. But it's still amazing.

I've read enough travel literature that it takes a lot to impress me -- at this point, I'm comfortable in saying that Thubron consistently rises above the crowd.

* * *

Seriously, "Torque"?

"Torque"

When drunk, is it perhaps the finest film ever?

Ended up at a bar tonight with 1/2 price tequila and "Torque" (starring Ice Cube and John Doe) on the screen ... for 20 minutes. And now, God help me, I've got to see the whole thing.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Nerrrrrrrrrrrd

I was recently informed that I'm a class-A dork for being a fan of "The Prisoner," and having recently watched a few episodes, I kind of agree -- but the hell with it, it's fun. Add to that the hockey jerseys, plus the fact that I have a blog, and, well...

But I'm a lot less outward about it than I used to be. A post of Noah's brought back some memories of youthful convention-going -- sparsely-attended comic book cons in hotel conference rooms, where the guest of honor would be some guy who inked one issue of "Badger"... sparsely-attended record conventions where long-haired dudes would charge $20 for still-in-print SST vinyl. Both Colorado and Arizona were off the beaten path con-wise, so I never got to go to one of the big productions.

The all-time goofy champ? My friend Andy and I traipsed down to Denver to a Doctor Who con -- yeah, I was a big fan for a couple years -- where the guest of honor was Tom Baker's scarf. Nowhere near the giant production I'd imagined (I was thinking San Diego Comic Con), the gathering was in a warehouse down in one of the sketchier parts of Denver, back before urban renewal days, when the city was really heavy urban wasteland. It was about what you'd expect -- I hate to trade in stereotypes, but it was a bunch of fat graying ponytail people, lining up and walking reverently through a room, viewing the scarf in a box on a table. There was also some guy who had operated a camera for some episodes or something, just adding to the glamour.

Afterwards, we walked through the rubble of war-torn downtown Denver, and some old dude offered to box us before asking for money. We declined both.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I'm Seeing Ghosts



Going hand-in-hand with the fascination with decay, I love old ghost signs, remnants of long-forgotten businesses. It's that feeling that something is creeping through from the past, that not everything was quite quashed when the old companies went under. And they were obviously intended to be permanent. Newer businesses have crappy transitory plastic signs -- when these old signs were created, they were made by someone who intended them to last forever.

I started photographing them some years back, motivated by the awesome Forgotten NY site (which has a recent gallery of old signs up here). I've never put many up on the blog, for whatever reason -- partly, perhaps, because I haven't found that many in Atlanta -- and by the time I started this thing, I'd photographed most that I've seen. But I've got a pretty big collection scattered around, so I'll be putting them up from time to time (and hopefully, finding more in the city).

These today are all from a trip back to Denver (and one from Boulder) several years ago -- I was cannibalizing my old Angelfire site (circa 2001-02) to make sure that I still had all the photos up on it, and grabbed all these. Don't remember many details, so they're mostly presented without comment.











The above shot is the lone Boulder photo in the bunch -- and the only one I know much of anything about. It's on the side of what used to be the La Estrellita restaurant (my favorite Mexican joint back in the day), and has since been a Bermuda Triangle of short-lived restaurants, clubs, and pubs. It looks like two signs -- the older one being the studios of "D.L. Yocom," who was apparently a Boulder-area photographer long, long ago (late 19th century?). Not much material is available on the guy.











Anyone who has any ideas on Atlanta signs -- drop me a note.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bird's Eye View

Brushback has a pretty cool post up, using Mapquest's aerial views to get pictures of stadiums and such.

All my old houses are in areas that don't get the close-in treatment, so instead I looked at a couple of the odd buildings I've photographed around town:



The old bank skeleton



The sawed-off bridge



The Mansion

I also looked up yesterday's vacant lot, and yep, it's a vacant lot from the air too.

Friday, May 18, 2007

What's Left Behind

Along Moreland Avenue, at the tail end of Little Five Points, there's a big vacant lot, with the remnants of a building foundation in the middle. Nothing particularly different than dozens of places around Atlanta, but unusually, the tile floors shown above are still there.

The tile was divided into three sections, and I'm presuming it was a bathroom (there's holes that would seem to match up to fixtures, now overgrown with weeds). The floors are a bit richer aquamarine than you can see up there.

No clue what the building once was -- there hasn't been anything there as long as I can remember (though I probably didn't walk along Moreland much before last year). A gas station would be my best bet, since there's something filled in where pumps may have been -- but it's not as obvious as some other defunct stations around town. If anyone stumbles upon this and has a better idea, it's just south of Sabroso's/Front Page News, and it looks like the lot is used for parking at night.

Anyway, not a lost Roman mosaic or anything, but I always thought it was kinda cool.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Put Out More Lists

Don't really have anything today, and the last week has been pretty busy (too busy, even, to really watch hockey), but why blow a semi-streak of posting when I can just sum up life through a few lists?

Places I'm daydreaming about visiting

1. Southeast Asia
2. Ukraine
3. Iceland
4. Ethiopia and/or Eritrea
5. Prague (natch)

Books I swore I'd read this year, and haven't

1. "Mason & Dixon" by Thomas Pynchon
2. "The Balkans" by Misha Glenny
3. "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy
4. "The Book of Kings" by James Thackara
5. "An Instance of the Fingerpost" by Iain Pears
6. "The Satanic Verses" by Salman Rushdie
7. "Pity the Nation" by Robert Fisk

Books I swore I'd read this year, and have actually started

1. "White Teeth" by Zadie Smith
2. "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov

Books that are scattered around my bed or couch, a bookmark or Economist subscription form indicating that progress halted 20 pages in

1. "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov
2. "The Heart of the Matter" by Graham Greene
3. "Kosovo: A Short History" by Noel Malcolm
4. "The Devil We Knew" by H.W. Brands
5. "City Sister Silver" by Jachym Topol
6. "Passage to Juneau" by Jonathan Raban
7. "The Unconsoled" by Kazuo Ishiguro
8. "The Iron Gate of Illyria" by Torgny Sommelius
9. "Deliver Us From Evil" by William Shawcross
10. "A Nervous Splendor" by Frederic Morton
11. "Rasputin: The Saint Who Sinned" by Brian Moynahan
12. "Shakespeare: A Life" by Park Honan
13. "Plowing the Dark" by Richard Powers
14. "Inventing Modern" by John H. Lienhard

What I've been listening to

1. Jesu "Conqueror"
2. The Misfits "Static Age"
3. The Misfits "Walk Among Us"
4. Modest Mouse "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank"
5. Die Kreuzen "Century Days"
6. "Ethiopiques" volume 14 -- Getatchew Mekurya, "The Negus of Ethiopian Sax"
7. Jesuseater "Step Inside My Death Ray"
8. No For An Answer "You Laugh"
9. Bad Religion "Suffer"
10. Swiz "No Punches Pulled"
11. Carla Bruni "Quel Qu'un m'a dit"
12. The Saints "Eternally Yours"

Something of more substance, soon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Turkish Delight

#23 - "A Fez of the Heart" by Jeremy Seal

Between the bad-pun title and the fact that it was effectively purchased due to a ridiculous old in-joke, I wasn't expecting much from this one -- but after aging on my shelves for a long long time, lo and behold, it turned out to be pretty damned readable.

Seal uses a search for the fez's origins as a launching pad for an exploration of modern Turkey -- and as gimmicky as that sounds, he pulls it off, mostly because the guy can really write. This just zipped along.

A decade or so old (I think -- it's in the other room, and I can't really be bothered to walk the 15 feet to check), many of the struggles he finds in Turkey are as relevant as ever, especially in light of recent drama. I came away feeling a bit wiser, a bit more knowledgeable about Turkey, and I managed to knock it off in less than a day and still have time to clean the bathroom and drink beer.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Bored to Death

I've found a new way to kill time -- a New York Times article a few weeks back mentioned kayak.com in passing, and holy cow, what a great tool.

It's quite simple: plug in your dates, plug in your departure and destination, and it trawls hundreds of airlines and ticket sites to find the cheapest deal. Some of the things I look up are for legitimate purposes -- searching a roundtrip to Singapore for next year, for instance, or figuring out that I can go Atlanta-Kiev roundtrip for about $800 if I don't mind going in the dead of winter (and I don't, baby).

But others are fuel for the imagination -- when I get bored at work I normally daydream about going elsewhere, and this gives me a price for those flights of fancy. Atlanta-Bishkek? $1250. Atlanta-Asmara in January? More than $4000 (but down to $1800 if I waited a month). Atlanta-Peshawar? $1582, but the outbound trip takes 70 hours thanks to a two-day layover in Doha.

It's a lot of fun to conjure with these names. I've only found a handful of sites that Kayak can't take you -- Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, and (oddly) Greenland. Everything else seems possible. Now I just need a whole lotta money.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I Guess You Think You're at the Movies

I've watched a whole bunch of movies lately. So why don't we discuss?

"Beerfest" -- Ok, I should probably be a bit ashamed of watching this, but it was a funny diversion at least. Not much else to say, really, it's freaking "Beerfest" -- you want actual analysis?

"American Hardcore" -- Good music, cool look back. A bunch of the old hardcore guys are really insufferable dorks, though. After the fifteenth 50-year-old guy telling you what a trailblazer he is, it gets kind of old.

"The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" -- Great performances, subtle humor, way too long. Movies about the mindlessness of bureaucracy shouldn't make you feel like you're in a Kafkaesque world yourself.

"Repo Man" -- One of my favorite movies from my teenage years, I haven't seen it in ages, and it had just been reduced to a bunch of one-liners bouncing around my mind. A friend recently warned that it wouldn't hold up. He was utterly wrong. One of the finest movies ever.

"What about our relationship??"

"Fuck that."

Pure excellence.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Atlanta Man Shows Signs of Strange Obsession

There is a certain amount of humor involved in my Tomáš Klouček fandom. I do realize the guy isn't the greatest player who ever lived. The t-shirt was for fun. I do really understand that he wouldn't have made the Thrashers' defense any better than it is now.

But, it's also somewhat serious. I do really root for the guy wherever he goes. When he came to the Thrashers, I honestly thought they'd found the future cornerstone of the blue line. His tale of bad handling by management and career-derailing injuries is one of tragedy.

And so -- I buy his game-worn jerseys.

Five of them, now, and if I came across others I wouldn't say no. Just to give non-jersey-buying people some perspective, if I still had the cash I've spent on the above jerseys, I could buy a round-trip ticket to Eastern Europe, then take a trip to Colorado and back, and still have enough left over for a nice dinner or two.

The one on the far right -- a Syracuse Crunch jersey -- just popped up on eBay in recent weeks. Even though I'd just spent a healthy amount of money on a trip to London, I had no choice. I was compelled.

A quick trip, then, through the museum of Klouček, left to right:

2000-01 pre-season New York Rangers away jersey

Used ahead of what would become his rookie NHL season. He was assigned #61 -- he'd go on to wear #22 with the Rangers in the regular season. Numbers are stitched on, the name is that weird rubbery applied stuff. Has the always-cool tie-up collar.

2005-06 Chicago Wolves alternate jersey

Worn in the year that he should have been anchoring the Thrashers' defense. Wolves jerseys are apparently very very rare and highly sought-after; I spent more money than I care to admit getting this in a team auction. Autographed on the back number, which is a no-no among collectors, but who really cares?

2003-04 Nashville Predators away jersey

My first Klouček. Purchased from Captain's Jerseys. Little did I know that an addiction was beginning.

2005-06 preseason Atlanta Thrashers home jersey

I spent too much time searching, begging, pleading for a Thrashers Klouček. I don't know who the hell is hoarding them, but stop it. This one finally emerged at MeiGray, on the night when their summer sale briefly crashed the system -- I was terrified, certain that some other fan was buying the jersey while I couldn't log in.

2006-07 Syracuse Crunch home jersey

Just purchased on eBay. I actually really, really dislike the Crunch jerseys over the years, whether they're displaying the stupid superhero mascot or the stupid yeti mascot. Nonetheless, I now own three Crunch jerseys (Vaic, Balastik, Kloucek). The new one is pretty well-worn, at least.

So there you go. Five Tomáš Klouček jerseys, enough that I can't comfortably make a display, and yet I want more. I don't have any of his 2004-05 Czech league (Slavia, Liberec, Trinec) jerseys. I bet there's a Blue Jackets preseason floating around now. I don't have jerseys from his Hartford or Milwaukee AHL stops. I wouldn't mind a regular season Rangers.

Some people will spend their old age alone, surrounded by cats. I'll spend it surrounded by Tomáš Klouček jerseys.

As always, props to Tapeleg for the jersey biography concept.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Oprah's Book Club

#21 -- "Tumbleweed" by Janwillem van de Wetering (re-read)

and

#22 -- "On Snooker" by Mordecai Richler

I was in Amsterdam, once -- a factoid that always draws knowing winks and stupid "420" jokes, until I point out that I was five years old at the time. I remember nothing about it, except for being terrified by a fairly innocuous painting on a hotel wall, and some strange half-remembered (and possibly imagined) miniature city.

Delving back into the Amsterdam Cops novels (yeah, I read another) makes it seem like a pretty cool place, a peaceful and thoughtful city, where cops and criminals sit down together and discuss philosophies of life. "Tumbleweed," the second book in the series, starts getting me to where I thought I remembered these books to be -- quirky and intelligent, with a gift for the unexpected. I'm (really) going to read some new things now, but I'm glad to have rediscovered these.

I've never played snooker. I always thought it to be basically pool under a different name, but apparently it's very different aside from the cue/ball/table combination. I don't have much more understanding of it now, but Richler was such an entertaining writer that it doesn't matter.

I may not understand what's going on in his retelling of the classic matches, but he makes them gripping anyhow. And being Richler, he goes on all sorts of asides -- hockey, England, Canada, Montreal in the 1940s, growing up Jewish, etc. And they're all entertaining. This (a gift -- thanks, A!) is the first Richler that I've read in five or six years... I'll have to dig up some more of his back catalog.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

That Never Happened to Cesar Cedeno

Imagine, if you will, that you're a seven-year-old boy pulling that out of your first-ever pack of baseball cards: this Cedeno fellow is obviously ready for anything, dirty, coming out of a slide, grimacing, hatless, wearing that uniform that looked pretty damn cool to a seven-year-old boy in 1980.

My first real exposures to baseball both involved Cedeno -- finding that card in a pack purchased in Savannah, Georgia, and an early-'70s book of "baseball's new stars" checked out from the Heatherwood Elementary School library. (Sidebar: along with Cedeno, the book had entries on Nate Colbert, Jon Matlack, Amos Otis, Ralph Garr, Carlton Fisk, Vida Blue, and a few others that I can't remember. To my young mind, since these guys were in a book of "baseball's new stars," they must be stars -- and I couldn't figure the hell out why they weren't doing more in the year 1980. Aside from Fisk, I guess it should have more accurately been called "Baseball's Second-Tier Decent Players." However, there's a bonus -- all these guys have a certain level of cool in my subconscious.)

Where was I? Right. Back to Cesar Cedeno. In the manner of young kids who don't have a hometown team, I immediately adopted him as my favorite player, lock, stock and barrel. The back of the baseball card didn't hurt -- the ubiquitous Topps cartoon touted his achievement in hitting for the cycle back in 1974, and the comment at the bottom noted that Cesar was in the top three of every all-time offensive category in Houston history. Not freakin' bad, eh?

Of course, in the way I always did as a kid, I'd adopted a favorite player whose popularity really didn't extend out of his home market. Frustrated in my attempts to find a Cedeno-model baseball glove, I painstakingly copied the above signature onto a "neutral" model. When "The Baseball Bunch" started, I just assumed that Cedeno would be showing up as a guest soon, to the point where I was afraid to go on family weekend camping trips because I was sure that week's episode would feature him.

Cedeno was traded to the Reds fairly early on in my baseball-watching life (about the time "The Baseball Bunch" started, actually), which probably blocked me from becoming a long-term Astros fan. He went on to play a couple seasons with the Cardinals and Dodgers, before retiring.

Last I heard, he was a roving hitting instructor for the Astros, a term that always seems just a little bit shady -- like he's riding the rails throughout the South, bat over his shoulder, appearing suddenly in small towns and teaching players to hit -- then hitting some roadhouse bar, getting in a fracas and hitting the road again.

He never quite lived up to the Hall of Fame predictions, but had a solid career. And one hell of a baseball card.

* * *

#20 -- "Outsider in Amsterdam" by Janwillem van de Wetering (re-read)

I read all the "Amsterdam Cops" novels right after finishing college, and have been kind of itching to pick 'em up again. This, the first one, isn't quite as illuminating/thoughtful as I've convinced myself over the years, though it is really good fun. More quirky and endearing than action-packed. I think the later novels got a bit more intellectually heavy, and even though I really shouldn't be reading stuff I already have, you know I probably will.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Texas is an Outrage

#19 -- "Libra" by Don DeLillo

"Libra" was the first DeLillo I ever read, back either in high school or early in college -- it was prompted by a James Ellroy interview in which the latter said the book "scorched [his] sexuality," a phrase I've struggled with for many years.

Don't really remember much about reading it then, but since I've gone on to read most of his novels in the intervening years, I obviously wasn't put off or anything. Reading it now, though, I'm really impressed -- I always held it to be a notch under "Underworld" or "White Noise," but perhaps I've been wrong all along.

It's the story of the Kennedy assassination, from two parallel points of view -- that of Lee Harvey Oswald and that of a group of plotters. (Not to ruin anything, but Kennedy dies) DeLillo's use of the language is amazing -- I'd forgotten just how good he can be. Whichever musician was being described when someone-or-other discussed "the notes that aren't there" -- that's DeLillo, right there. His spare, unordained conversations leave blanks that somehow don't need to be filled in. "Libra" is jittery and jumpy, paranoid but calm, and I enjoyed the hell out of reading it again. Now I've just got to resist the temptation to give "Underworld" and "End Zone" another shot until after I read a few newer things.

* * *

I spent a good portion of my teenage years obsessed with the Kent State massacre -- prompted, I think, by this famous shot. I read and re-read Michener's "Kent State," wrote several papers on the shootings in school, all in search (I guess) of some deeper meaning, some hidden truths that would be revealed by the whole sorry mess, something that would give it some reason.

Today's the 37th anniversary of the shootings -- May 4th is stuck in my head along with similar dates of infamy (September 11, August 6, April 20, December 7, November 22, and so on). Still no closer to finding any deeper meaning.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Seven Years of Life, Summed Up in Business Cards

Attended the second anniversary party of my regular hangout last night, and was kind of perturbed to find it a parade of girls that I've hit on once or twice. As I told a friend late in the evening, it was a Greatest Hits of my bad decisions -- I winced a lot as memories came back.

I'm a pretty quiet guy, aside from the occasional impromptu and unrequested lecture on the dissolution of Yugoslavia, aside from the occasional attempt to do the "Electric Slide" in a crowded restaurant, aside from occasionally singing Pogues songs to an unappreciative audience. So it's disconcerting to be at a place where I've drunkenly chased most of the girls at one point or another.

The result, I guess, of hanging out at the same place four times a week. And perhaps an indication I need to branch out a bit.

* * *

I only have one drawer in the whole condo -- the kitchen cabinets are in a layout that makes them impossible -- and beyond some batteries and instruction manuals, it's really all people's cards. Most of those, girls I've met in some capacity over the years.

Flipping through them, some have a patina of disappointment and regret, some make me cringe, many I don't remember at all. Some I dated a few times, some blew me off, some I blew off. Some of them, I woke up the next morning excited to call the girl -- others fell victim to the cold light of sobriety. There's real estate agents, doctors, hairdressers, consultants, importers, waitresses, lawyers, non-profit workers.

I don't know why I keep them. I'm not planning on calling them ("Hey, remember me? We met at Noche in 2004"), I'm not hoping they call me. I have no trouble tossing out a number scrawled on a napkin. But somehow, tossing out someone's business card seems... rude, I guess. A bit of bad luck.

* * *

The Pogues. The good thing about singing along drunk to them is that no matter how drunk you are, Shane was drunker.