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.