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.