Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye, 2009

I was going to reference Embrace's "End of the Year," but you know -- I think I've done that a few times in the past, and it's time to admit to myself that while that album holds a place in my heart and was a really big deal to me when I was young, I really don't like that song.

Anyway. 2009. I was planning to end my usual crappy posting schedule with a few wrap-ups, but there was a lot of travel and work in the last week, and the Ski Bum got me an iPod Touch for Christmas so I've been playing "Orbital" constantly.

Summing up: weird year, starting with an experience I never expected to go through, ending kinda quietly. I'm never truly happy to see a year end -- I tend to focus on things not accomplished -- but I do welcome the new start.

Book-wise -- after a pretty hectic pace this year, I haven't finished anything in almost a month. Mostly, this is because I started Robert Caro's "The Power Broker," which is one hillion jillion pages. I've since put that aside temporarily (at approximately 135 pounds, it's not a good plane book) in favor of Simon Sebag Montefiore's "Young Stalin," the wacky adventures of Josef and his merry crew.

Best of the year (read this year, not written this year):

Fiction - John le Carre's Smiley trilogy; Matt Ruff's "Sewer Gas and Electric," Denis Johnson's "Tree of Smoke," Anne Enright's "The Gathering"

Non-fiction - Asne Seierstad's "With Their Backs to the World," Jim Sheeler's "Final Salute"

And wrapping up the noughts, I was planning to think really hard about the best book published over the decade. I never got around to it so instead, the results of a quick ten-minute scan of my apartment's bookshelves:

Fiction -- Michael Chabon's "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" and "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas," Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go"

Non-fiction -- Tony Judt's "Postwar"

I'm sure I forgot a bunch, and I'll spend the rest of the day tormented. Oh well. Happy New Year -- see you in 2010!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, Vitali Prokhorov!


And also Merry Christmas to all of you, unless you celebrate an alternate holiday in which case I hope that's going well, unless you don't celebrate any holidays at all, in which case, Happy Friday. (and why not go ahead and celebrate "Little V's" birthday?)

I've spent the morning in the traditional holiday way: recaulking my tub and now having a bloody mary. This evening I fly to Colorado, which will be fun, though just a minute ago I dumped bloody mary all over my shirt, and I was gonna wear this shirt, but now I can't because it looks like I recently had a neck wound. I'm only in Colorado for about 36 hours (back to work Monday) so this is gonna be whirlwindy as all hell, but I wouldn't miss it for the world.

There'll probably be some sort of end of the year spectacular, then lots more erratic occasional blogging in the new year. Forward!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'm Waiting on Friends and My Civic Duty

It's been a while since I mentioned my simmering obsession with the Salton Sea, but it's still there. I'd vaguely heard about a documentary on the place, then forgotten until this post kindly reminded me. I've reverted to bad Netflix habits -- picture a "Syriana" disc, staring balefully at me as it gathers dust -- but I went ahead and got "Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea" and moved it to priority number one on the viewing list.

And the result is, it's pretty good. I could do without the John Waters narration -- it's kitsch and I don't like kitsch, and the tone downplays the sheer weirdness of the place. But that's only a small part of the film and the rest is illuminating. I've read a lot on the Salton Sea and its surrounding communities but never realized that there are more than a handful of people around there. Some are a bit odd, others just had hopes for the place that didn't pan out. Some is funny -- much of it pretty sad. Most interesting to me -- the latter part of the movie, focusing on discussions of ways to save the place, and the obstructions that have kept efforts from moving forward.

I know at least a couple of the people still reading this share my interest in seeing the Salton Sea. 2010 roadtrip!! Who's with me?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Nong Shim


I haven't been sick this winter, which is kind of an achievement. "Big deal, Greg," you might say. "Lots of people don't." But living in a city where the temperature regularly changes 45 degrees in a day, and working in an office that's about the same as an airplane cabin, it's something. Usually I have some shitty horrid cold that lingers for weeks, never quite knocking me out enough to lie in bed for a week, just making me wish for my own death. But not this year.

Part of it's because I'm more boring than I used to be. I'm usually in bed by 10 and I don't spend as much time in smoky bars. But I'm going to go ahead and arbitrarily assign part of the credit to my rediscovery of Nong Shim's Bowl Noodle Soup, which is up there with fire on the list of awesomest things ever created.

The concept is simple: it's a Korean cup-of-soup that acts as a colonic for your sinuses. There's a bunch of flavors -- Kim Chi, spicy shrimp (which is ok, but smells like a seafood restaurant after a two-day power outrage), spicy pollo (because "pollo" is Korean for chicken?), but the one you want is Picante. Boil the water, fill up the bowl, wait three minutes, then eat it. And then tear open a box of kleenex, because your body is ridding itself of toxins.

Or ridding itself of something, at least. Honestly, I'm not sure what the long-term effects of this are -- I'm pretty certain that each bowl has your year's requirement of MSG. If I were a lazy investigative reporter, I'd just go down the ingredients list and churn out a series of scare pieces: "L-Alanine, the Silent Killer." "Methionine, the Silent Killer." And so on. It's also not reassuring that there's a little badge on the label -- "Endorsed by Professional Chefs, 2003-2008." What happened this year to make them rethink it?

Nonetheless, it's great stuff. And I honestly find Picante flavor really good. Maybe it's taking five years off my life, but geez, life spans are getting longish anyhow, and if I'm spared months of sinus trouble at this end of things, I'LL TAKE IT.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Kick the Habit


Things off my fridge department -- the above is either a PSA from Czech soccer club AC Sparta Praha sponsored by Nicorette, or just a Nicorette ad. I'm too lazy to translate. On one level, the message is pretty clear: don't smoke (note red circle). But the other eight circles make it confusing. Just what are they saying -- cigarettes should be playing soccer instead of being lit?

CIGARETTES CAN'T PLAY SOCCER. THEY HAVE NO LEGS.

Anyway. #81 -- "Born Standing Up" by Steve Martin

I'm not a big stand-up comedy fan, so I ignored this when it came out; I generally like Martin's pieces in the New Yorker, and I liked the excerpt of this when it was published in the same magazine, but not enough to push aside a dozen Balkan books for it. Picking it up a bit late, though, it's an interesting read. An in-depth analysis of how he developed and honed his craft, and then (the most interesting part, for me) why he quit doing stand-up. No false glory and no false humility -- it's a pretty honest read.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lost in the Eighties

#80 -- "Bend Sinister" by Vladimir Nabokov

I should probably get myself to read "Lolita" soon, since it's languished on my bookshelf forever and ever while I read a whole bunch of less famous Nabokov novels. We'll see. Maybe soon.

Parts of this one are Nabokov at his best; parts are Nabokov getting way too cute. I was repeatedly reminded of that Updike quote about writing "ecstatically," and not just because it's pasted on the cover of every one of Vladdy's paperbacks; the best parts of "Bend Sinister" drive that line home. It's amazing to watch. Read. Whatever.

But then... other sections just slog. It reminded me a bit of Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Unconsoled" (which I still haven't finished) -- at times gripping and fun to read, and at times just irritating.

Ok. "Lolita" soon! This I vow.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Harbingers of Doom, Part Two

Overheard yesterday morning at the grocery store:

Checkout clerk: you having a good morning?

Woman behind me in line (brightly): I'm having a great day, but some other people aren't!

Possible interpretations:

* She wanted to remind us all that even if we're doing all right, other people in the world are suffering. But she forgot to modulate her voice tone.
* She'd just murdered her entire family.
* She's a cop, and was getting set to bust the neighborhood crack house.
* Something I'm missing.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By

On the side wall of the late lamented (by me at least) Gevito's Pizza, November 2009)

Friday, November 27, 2009

All I Wanted Was Some Lo Mein

There's a food court in the atrium of the building where I work, and despite multiple resolutions to bring my own lunch more often, I eat a good 95 percent of my midday meals there. And out of that, it's probably running about 9 of 10 in the little Chinese place -- it's cheap, it's quick, and there's enough selections that I can switch it up every day and fool myself into thinking that I'm not in a food rut.

I guess the holiday got the workers a bit introspective. There's a guy right outside the place offering free samples. Today, he asked me how my Thanksgiving was -- I said fine. Asked how his was. His was fine as well -- then, he added: "We made it to another Thanksgiving. That's good, man. That doesn't always happen."

On to get the food (today: vegetable lo mein, sweet and sour chicken, pepper steak). The lo mein-disher said "man, you're always working." I laughed politely -- yes, why I do work a lot and wouldn't mind not doing it, very true! Then: "it's good you're always working. Because otherwise you wouldn't be working -- and that's going to happen sometime."

Ominous thoughts. Chinese food wage slaves, or Shakespearean harbingers of doom?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Name's Stewart Ransom Miller

Apropos of nothing, a Thanksgiving selection of nicknames that have been bestowed upon me over the years:

* Greg the Egg
* Eggist
* Fireball (one reference, in the Triggerman "Dead Like Me" thanks list)
* Diablo (I actually planned for years to get an El Paso Diablos baseball cap, but I was lazy and now I don't live in the same state as anyone who ever called me this)
* Jeffy (in "honor" of former Bucs (and everyone else) quarterback Jeff Garcia)
* Jefferson Old Bean (variation on previous)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Empty Bottle Was Half-Empty

#78 -- "A Grand Illusion?" by Tony Judt
#79 -- "Wizard and Glass" by Stephen King

I did a little searching on Judt recently to see if he had anything new coming out, and geez, he's apparently been stricken with a pretty severe case of ALS and is now paralyzed from the neck down. Details here. Horrid news and I wish him all the best. That spurred me to finally take "A Grand Illusion?" off my shelf and give it a full read. It's a collection (or adaptation, not really sure) of three lectures on Europe from the mid-1990s. The first one talks a lot about the European Economic Community and agricultural laws and the like, which is why I never got through it before now. Getting by things that I'm not really into, it's very good, of course, though parts are outdated. No longer much of a question over whether the Baltic nations will get into the EU or whether Schengen will be expanded. But the more timeless issues -- nationalism especially -- get good treatment.

"Wizard and Glass" is part four of King's "Dark Tower" series -- I get to this now after last reading part three in 1993 or so. That's probably not ideal as far as keeping up with the plot, but it's easy enough to get back into it. I won't take 16 years to get to part five, but I'm not going to rush to it either -- even though about 75 percent of this is up there with King's best work. The lengthy flashback to the main character's youth takes up most of the book and is fantastic. When it gets back to the "present" and his journey with three damaged people from the real world, my interest subsequently plummets. It's interesting and a fun ride but I'm not sure how cohesive the whole thing really is -- just in this volume alone (and with a very sketchy memory of the others) it seems more like Dungeons & Dragons than a novel. The characters meander along and get new challenges tossed at 'em. But I also know this series ended up being pretty well-loved so I'll get back to it at some point.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Literacy Korner

Ok, time to catch up on this, too. And then maybe -- maybe -- I'll write about something else.

#74 -- "With Their Backs to the World" by Åsne Seierstad
#75 -- "The Miss Stone Affair" by Teresa Carpenter
#76 -- "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis
#77 -- "The Colorado Kid" by Stephen King

Just when I think that I've read all the books about the Balkans -- all of 'em! -- something comes along and proves me wrong. The Seierstad book is a series of interviews with Serbs that she's known over the years. Making it fascinating, she spoke to the same people at the same crucial milestones over the years. After the Kosovo war, around the fall of Milosevic, after the assassination of Djindjic. Everyone's represented from all along the social and political spectrum. Seierstad is involved with all these stories (she's speaking with the people and spending time with them, after all) but she isn't an intrusive presence. Another excellent Balkans book.

"Miss Stone" is a Balkans book as well -- the story of the little-known (well, perhaps. I didn't know about it) 1901 of an American missionary and a friend in the Bulgaria/Macedonia region. There's not a lot of suspense as to the hostages' fate, but there's some interesting information on the era in here.

"Moneyball" -- years ago, back when this was kind of/technically a hockey blog (and kind of/technically something I updated more than once a week), one of my very very favorite blogs was Fire Joe Morgan. It's dead now but I still go back to the archives for cheer in dark moments. FJM was kind of a backlash to the backlash against "Moneyball," so it's kind of sad that I'm just getting around to reading this now. (I blame a lack of interest in baseball since the mid-'90s, and a general and stupid aversion to bestsellers.) So, speaking as the last person on earth to read this -- it's great. It's not just a book on baseball -- it's more a book on finding alternatives to traditional methods and finding new ways to make decisions. Read it just about straight through and it gets an A+.

"The Colorado Kid" -- I haven't read a new King novel since the 1990s (last I finished were the horrendous "Regulators"/"Desperation" duo -- since then I've tried to get into "Bag of Bones" and "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon," and a couple others sit on my shelf). This was a nice quick diversion, less than 200 pages. It's part of the Hard Case Crime pulp series, but it's neither hard nor pulp. Kind of a relaxed, quiet mystery. Something that's not often noted about King: the guy's got a real gift for writing about the natural beauties of Maine (never been there, so I'm taking his word for it). Again, pleasant and a really zippy read. I kind of wished for a bit more, but who am I to be so greedy?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Checking In


I've gone kinda Derek Bell on this lately, but I'm back now, for the time being. Spent most of the last week in DC, which was as always inspiring and loads of fun. Best line, from homeless dude: "Buy me a fuckin' sandwich!" I had no cash and no time to spare, but kudos to sandwich guy for being direct.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reconnecting


Names I don't expect to see reappearing dept.: during the 2006-07 season, when the Thrashers dumped half their prospects to reach the playoffs and get swept by the Rangers, the only deal I really, really bemoaned was the one that brought Pascal Dupuis south -- the Thrashers gave up first-round pick Alex Bourret, and I started counting the days until he hit it big and made the deal look awful.

I'm still counting -- he never hit the bigs in his stints in the Rangers and Coyotes systems. I'd kind of forgotten about him until this past week, when he popped up in my browser: he's now playing for who else but HC Kometa Brno over in the Czech Rep. He's a rarity -- North Americans are virtually never seen in the Czech Extraliga, but that may be changing. I know ex-Rangers minor leaguer Colby Genoway is now with Pardubice and I think there's a couple others. I saw something recently about a slowly growing number of foreigners playing in the Czech and Slovak leagues, and wouldn't it be nice if I remembered where I saw it, but I don't. If I dig it up again, I'll post it unless I forget again.

Since we last checked in, Kometa and Alex have won a few games to get off the schneid a bit, but they're still deeply in last place in the league, 12 points back of the next-bad team.

* * *

#73 -- "Mystery" by Peter Straub

I got into this a bit reluctantly. When I read it (back when it came out, 1990-ish) I absolutely loved it -- all-time favorite and so on. But I haven't read it in more than a decade and I really disliked a lot of the stuff that Mr. Straub wrote afterwards. And I worried as I got into it, and realized what my younger self didn't -- that around 80 percent of the characters in the book are little more than caricatures, who might as well be depicted carrying signs that read "I'm shallow" or "I'm an asshole." Still engrossing, I thought, but not near what I remembered. Some really good scenes mixed with some really irritating character interaction.

But then ... it just started picking up steam. It's dreamy and hazy, scenes half-seen slowly coming together. And absolutely engrossing. Not a mystery that the reader will be able to solve, but watching it come together is a pleasure. Once I got into it, I loved it again, and picked up on some plot points that I believe I missed when I was younger (not that they were all that subtle -- I guess I just wasn't a very critical reader when I was 17). Even with my overinflated expectations, this was fantastic -- reasonable people should like it even more.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Your Title Here

Think of something clever, win a prize. Quick catch-up since I haven't updated in a week and a busy day lies ahead.

#71 -- "Absurdistan" by Gary Shteyngart

#72 -- "The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt" by John Bellairs

If you sold a book to me by saying "it's about an obese Russian with a mangled dick who talks in hip-hop slang"... well, I was going to say I'd pass, but now that I think about it that does sound pretty intriguing. It took me a few tries to get into "Absurdistan" but once I did it was a pretty fantastic ride. Absolutely hilarious, but not just a joke-a-minute book -- clever and sharp as well. That said, there was always a feeling that it could have been better, that a little less ha-ha and a little more something-or-other would have taken it up another notch. It's the Valeri Kamensky of novels, fantastically entertaining but just short of great.

The Bellairs book was a favorite when I was younger, and I picked it up again seeking inspiration. One of the umpteen unfinished/stalled writing projects I have is a young adult book, and one of the problems with it -- it's really depressing. I mean really really. So I turned to one that I was pretty sure held up to see how it read. Realization #1 -- it's actually got a fair amount of downer in it! Mother is dead, dad's away fighting in Korea, grandmother develops a brain tumor. But Bellairs has a jaunty style that keeps it from getting too dark and without (not sure how he did this) seeming inappropriate. I still enjoyed this, years later, though I'm not creeped out as I was back then. It's kind of Lovecraft for kids, but honestly, given the choice I'd rather read Bellairs than ol' Howard Phillips.

* * *

Football picks:

13 - Indianapolis over St. Louis
12 - Green Bay at Cleveland
11 - New England at Tampa Bay (after watching the Pats' ritual dismantling of Tennessee last week, only misplaced pride keeps me from making this #1)
10 - New Orleans over Miami (I'm a Saints believer now, so they'll probably blow it)
9 - NY Giants over Arizona
8 - Atlanta over Dallas
7 - NY Jets over Oakland
6 - Buffalo over Carolina
5 - Philadelphia over Washington (Eagles, you hurt me so bad)
4 - Cincinnati over Chicago
3 - Pittsburgh over Minnesota
2 - San Diego over Kansas City
1 - San Francisco over Houston

A busy day of soccer followed by American football awaits. Vacation starts Wednesday. Perhaps I'll have something interesting to say then, but I hope no one's staking anything serious on that possibility.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Winter Already?

I dropped cable television about a year ago, on the premise that I only used it to watch sports, and I generally watch sports in bars anyhow. But I wish I'd had it back last night so that I could have seen this (I was staying inside to better emit fluids from various holes in my head). A few weeks ago I opined to a friend that the greatest thing in life was reading Red Wings blogs after the team loses; I must amend that to "the greatest thing in life is reading Red Wings blogs after they blow two leads and lose to the Avalanche." I'm such a child.

Just went for a stroll and it's south of 40 degrees outside. Apparently Atlanta only gets one week of fall this year and that was spent with a steady pissing rain. Actually, later today it might actually get nice, but as stated above I'll be deep inside a windowless bar hoping that Josh Johnson is at least a temporary answer and that Kyle Orton can continue the magic.

Speaking of said sport, today's picks. I'm at the tail end of this picks pool -- meanwhile the Ski Bum, who's watched only a handful of football games in her life, won the pool last week. I'm about to sign over my fortune to her and send her off to Vegas.

14 - Green Bay over Detroit
13 - Pittsburgh over Cleveland
12 - Philadelphia over Oakland
11 - Jacksonville over St. Louis
10 - Seattle over Arizona
9 - Atlanta over Chicago
8 - Denver over San Diego
7 - New England over Tennessee
6 - NY Giants over New Orleans
5 - Minnesota over Baltimore
4 - NY Jets over Buffalo
3 - Washington over Kansas City
2 - Tampa Bay over Carolina
1 - Cincinnati over Houston

Saturday, October 17, 2009

From Beneath the Streets

Still alive! I've been sick as a dog the past week; it may finally be on its last legs, now that I've unleashed the 18-and-over-to-buy cold medicine. That combined with Korean cup-a-soup, wasabi peas, and Irish whiskey means that I'm feeling semi-human again.

I really should've stayed home a few times this week, but something like 70% of my office was already on vacation, so really the only way I could have justified staying home would have been if I died. Which by Thursday, seemed like a good option. So between illness and work, all else has fallen by the wayside. E-mails unanswered, projects unworked upon, blog posts unwritten. Which is a pity, because I actually had some ideas this week. Most of them are forgotten now -- I was going to do something about the Broncos' throwback uniforms, and something about music, and... some other stuff. Maybe it'll come back to me once I get off the medicine.

I even read a book and failed to post on it:

#70 -- "The Ghost Writer" by John Harwood

I got this from paperbackswap.com and almost immediately came to the conclusion (before I opened it) that I wouldn't like it. Thankfully I was wrong -- spooky atmosphere turned up to ten, lots of nods to Henry James, Dickens, and Poe. It's reminiscent of Peter Straub minus gore. Horror's often most effective when you're just catching a glimpse, not quite sure what's going on, and this had me thoroughly chilled and hooked, and it kept me guessing what was going on. The ending didn't thrill me but up 'til then it was pretty dead on.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Week 5 Picks

Right now I'm rooting for one 4-0 NFL team (the Broncos) and one 0-4 (the Bucs), and I suspect that after this week it's gonna be 4-1 and 0-5. Denver's win last week was stirring enough, though (I ran around a pool table, whooping in celebration), that I'm at least a believer that they really are a pretty good team.

I've been fighting off a cold all week -- it's kind of like the Battle of Verdun, in that I give a little ground, then the cold gives a little ground, then I give a little ground. Right now the French forces (me) are kind of on their heels so I doubt there will be much energy regardless of outcomes, but perhaps the healing powers of bloody marys will perk me up.

No longer awful, now just mediocre picks:

14 - Minnesota over St. Louis
13 - NY Giants over Oakland
12 - Pittsburgh over Detroit
11 - Buffalo over Cleveland
10 - NY Jets over Miami
9 - Dallas over Kansas City
8 - Baltimore over Cincinnati
7 - Indianapolis over Tennessee
6 - Jacksonville over Seattle
5 - Arizona over Houston
4 - Atlanta over San Francisco
3 - Carolina over Washington
2 - Philadelphia over Tampa Bay
1 - New England over Denver

* * *

#69 -- "Inherent Vice" by Thomas Pynchon

I almost feel like I'm cheating: a Pynchon novel that's almost completely linear, where I don't lose the whole thread for chapters at a time? A Pynchon novel that's (gulp) easy to understand?? What's going on?

The more I heard about "Inherent Vice" being far simpler than his other books, the more reluctant I was to read it, but thankfully it's the usual blast. I'm a sucker for the PI theme anyway, and just because the book's more straightforward doesn't mean it's lacking at all in big/crazy ideas, bizarre/hilarious references, and loads of weird shit. It reminded me a lot of "Vineland," probably his least popular novel but one I like a lot, and I think they share a few characters. And I'd also say there's more emotion and loss than in any of his other books (except, again, possibly "Vineland"), which gives it a bit more resonance for us real world folk.

Hell, I should never have doubted -- it's brilliant and fun. Sadly, I'm all caught up on Pynchon now after this and reading "Mason & Dixon" earlier in the year. I guess it's time to read "Infinite Jest," or go back to the TP starting point and read "V." or "Gravity's Rainbow" again.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Mysteries of the NFL


That's Abdul Salaam, perhaps the least-known of the Jets' "New York Sack Exchange" of the early '80s (when I asked it as a trivia question the other day, no one could name him). I had a Sack Exchange poster as a kid, which was pretty cool -- Nike-sponsored, I think, showing Salaam, Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, and Marty Lyons on the floor of the NY Stock Exchange.

A few years back, I read somewhere that post-career, Salaam became a bodyguard... for Madonna. Now, I can't find any verification of that. I've gone to news archives, I've tried lots of Google combinations, and nothin'.

Did I hallucinate the reference? Was someone being funny? If anyone stumbles upon this and knows -- please fill me in.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

NFL Picks, Week 4

I did pretty well last week -- had Carolina won on Monday night, I would have taken the pool -- so we get at least another week before I start asking the ceramic penguin statue to pick games.

The Weekend of Sports Awesomeness continued last night with a Thrashers victory, so I'm feeling pretty good about both the Buccaneers and Broncos winning games as underdogs. The Redskins may be almost as bad as Tampa Bay, and the Bucs may get a temporary bounce from a new quarterback (Josh Johnson, already being compared to Randall Cunningham and Steve Young in some quarters. Good luck); meanwhile the Cowboys seem really flawed and soft, and if nothing else Denver is going to be tough to play against.

Again, this is a straight-up pick-a-winner pool, no spreads:

14 - NY Giants over Kansas City
13 - San Francisco over St. Louis
12 - Indianapolis over Seattle
11 - Houston over Oakland
10 - Cincinnati over Cleveland
9 - Chicago over Detroit
8 - Minnesota over Green Bay
7 - Buffalo over Miami
6 - Jacksonville over Tennessee
5 - Baltimore over New England
4 - Tampa Bay over Washington
3 - Denver over Dallas
2 - New Orleans over NY Jets
1 - San Diego over Pittsburgh

* * *

Finally started reading the new Pynchon, "Inherent Vice," this morning. It's a bit disorienting: it makes sense. I know what's going on. I'd heard it was more accessible than his other novels, but didn't quite believe it. It's true, though.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

82-0

I was actually going to do hockey predictions today, but the Avalanche shutting out the Canucks has completely destroyed whatever rational thought I was capable of. Now, I don't really see any possible outcome beyond the Avalanche going undefeated, capturing the Stanley Cup, Darcy Tucker scoring 50 goals, etc.

Add to this: the Blues beat the Red Wings for the second straight day, and Michigan State (a PPA family favorite) defeated Michigan. Depending on how football plays out tomorrow, we may be seeing the best sports weekend of all time.

* * *

#68 -- "Blood and Champagne" by Alex Kershaw

I've always been an admirer of Robert Capa, and a big fan of his fairly fictional autobiography, "Slightly Out of Focus," but this was my first shot at seeing his life from another point of view (a bit more reliable one). "Slightly Out of Focus" is a lot more fun, but this is a much fuller view. Much sadder -- Capa's a tragic figure here rather than simply the fun-loving rogue that he portrayed himself as. Regardless though, the guy did know how to party.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Ten Years of Abuse

I'm pretty sure that's the first Eyehategod reference on this blog. I've still got the magic.

This month marks ten years in Atlanta, and predictably that's provoked lots of soul-searching, contemplation of my failures, and wistful looks at the heavens. Considering that I didn't expect to stay here for two years, Atlanta hasn't done too badly. I still can't handle the drivers or the summers, but it's got good food and I've got a fantastic girlfriend, so things aren't bad. I could live in Macon, after all.

But I've been in a poignant mood (can you be in a poignant mood? Must check) lately. Autumn does that to me no matter what the year. After months of giggling teenager weather it's turning soulful and brooding. The sunsets get more pregnant with meaning. You start contemplating everything you failed to do in the past year.

I've also been listening to a lot of Slobberbone lately. This is nothing new -- they're a favorite band -- but they evoke more nostalgia. First of all -- they make me nostalgic for about 2004, when I was young and excited (and when I was nostalgic for 2001, when I was young and excited and nostalgic for 1998), when every night was a party, when we had a world to win. Second of all, even their most fun party songs are tinged with a note of regret, so that when they turn the regret up to 10 (I'm thinking especially "Bright Eyes Darkened" here, but "Lazy Guy" does it in a jovial manner, and a few others), well, holy crap, you wish that Slobberbone had stayed together so that they could take all of our regrets and broken dreams onto their shoulders and write songs about it, so that we could all live happy and carefree dreams.

But they broke up and left us to deal with the change of seasons and sad sunsets on our own, so I guess I'm shit out of luck. I'd like to someday appreciate the here and now; that probably involves some sort of spirituality, for which I'm singularly ill equipped. I'd like to enjoy the days and feel them in the same way I'll feel them in three years.

* * *

Last week at football (sorry, Anonymous LP, I mentioned it) a friend reacted to the Pittsburgh Steelers' loss thusly: jumping on to the couch, burying his head in the cushions, then punching it over and over while joyfully shrieking "I hate the fucking Steelers" in a cartoon voice. I thought it was kind of immature until I got home today and saw that St. Louis had beaten the Red Wings (when I left work, the Wings were up) and I wanted to punch the couch and shriek "I hate the fucking Red Wings." I'm such a small, small man.

Also, revisiting the discussion about great hockey blogs out there -- St. Louis Game Time establishes itself as, at the very least, the Petr Cajanek of blogs with this post. So awesome. Just for that, they get added to the links as soon as I stop being lazy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

NFL Picks, Week 3

Many more weeks like last week and I'll stop doing this. Geez. My football knowledge is taking a beating -- last place in this pool, last place in one fantasy league, lower-third of other picks pool (second place in another fantasy league, though).

Once again, this isn't a spread pool -- straight pick-a-winner:

16 - Green Bay over St. Louis
15 - Baltimore over Cleveland
14 - New Orleans over Buffalo
13 - Denver over Oakland
12 - Indianapolis over Arizona
11 - Pittsburgh over Cincinnati
10 - Minnesota over San Francisco
9 - Philadelphia over Kansas City
8 - Jets over Tennessee
7 - Carolina over Dallas
6 - Houston over Jacksonville
5 - Giants over Tampa Bay
4 - San Diego over Miami
3 - Atlanta over New England
2 - Detroit over Washington
1 - Seattle over Chicago

* * *

In the "corrections" category, proving that you should always get a second source when I say anything, the fake restaurant at the filming location by me is called "Fraiche," not "Friache" or "Frioche." I fully expect to notice that it's spelled completely differently when I leave the house again in a bit.

And the movie they're filming is "Life As We Know It."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tinseltown

They're filming a movie 30 feet or so from my place. I forget the name, but it's a Warner Brothers production, and there seems to be significant cash behind it: they've basically bought out a local coffee shop for the month of September, gutted it and put up new fake signs (reading "Frioche," which I'm pretty sure is not anything in any language)(edit: it's "Friache," which actually is something), and taken up the parking lots of two fairly well-trafficked restaurants across the street.

This seemed really cool when it started but it's getting irritating, moreso by the day. First off, coffee shop being closed means that if I haven't bought coffee, I'm fucked. Second off, there was a flatbed trailer blocking my driveway as I tried to leave for work this morning. Third off, when I got home from work, I had to show my driver's license to get onto my street -- they aren't allowing non-residents near the filming.

This all changes if I somehow make it on screen, natch. Watch the movies hitting in early 2010 -- if there's a guy in the background, scowling and wearing a ratty Old 97s t-shirt yet somehow exuding a magnetism akin to Bogart, this all becomes worth it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

NFL Picks, Week 2

Why not? I'm in two NFL pools this year -- unless it gets too embarassing (I'm already in last place after week one), I'm going to go ahead and post my weekly choices in the straight-up pick-a-winner pool.

Here we go. It's weighted so top picks are worth more, etc.

16 - Minnesota over Detroit
15 - Tennessee over Houston
14 - Indianapolis over Miami
13 - Atlanta over Carolina
12 - Pittsburgh over Chicago
11 - Green Bay over Cincinnati
10 - Washington over St. Louis
9 - Denver over Cleveland
8 - New Orleans over Philadelphia
7 - Dallas over NY Giants
6 - Kansas City over Oakland
5 - San Diego over Baltimore
4 - New England over NY Jets
3 - Seattle over San Francisco
2 - Jacksonville over Arizona
1 - Tampa Bay over Buffalo

Looking at it, I'm struck by my lack of confidence in the Patriots. Not sure why, I'm hardly a Jets believer.

Thoughts? Want to point out what an idiot I am? Have at it!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I'm an Addict

#67 -- "Smiley's People" by John Le Carre

Someone step in FAST, before I order sixteen Le Carre novels. Remind me that I thought "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" was just okay. Remind me that just because I enjoyed each of the Smiley novels progressively more, it doesn't mean that pattern will continue. Do this quick.

This is the third and last of the "Karla Trilogy" novels centered around George Smiley and his merry crew, and I leave them absolutely impressed and a bit upset at myself that it took me decades to try JLC's books. It's a masterpiece. It's brilliant. It's remarkably peaceful for a thriller -- there's one scene of on-screen violence and it lasts two pages. Instead there's 400 pages of tension. No gunfights, no savage beatings, just a whole lot of nervousness.

I'm sorry to be done with these. Absolutely fantastic books.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Day My Sense of Humor Died

The last 24 hours have provoked a whole lot of harsh self-examination: I finally watched "Anchorman," a movie I was pretty damn certain I was going to love, and I may have laughed three times total. I laughed more at "Paradise Now." "The Seventh Seal" was a laugh riot by comparison.

I'm really worried that the problem is me. Everyone I know (everyone who's expressed an opinion on "Anchorman," at least) liked it, and I respect those people and their opinions. But I just looked on, wooden.

There were a few great moments, mostly when the film got gleefully anarchic -- the newscasters' brawl, the flute in the restaurant. And I'd have to be dead for "Go fuck yourself, San Diego" to not produce a snort. But the rest -- they seemed to stay on jokes a beat too long, or laboriously explain things that should just emerge naturally.

And this was a movie involving the two kingpins of 21st century film comedy, Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow. If I can't laugh at their work -- what hope is there?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Careful What You Wish For

A couple days ago I complained to the world at large that it kept threatening to rain but not coming through, and the result was a heavy, humid, oppressive feeling at all times. "Just rain," I said. "Just do it."

Now we're in day two of wrath-of-god deluges and the weather report shows nothing but clouds and lightning bolts in the days to come. Sorry, everyone in Atlanta. Don't know my own power.

* * *

#65 -- "Down and Out in Paris and London" by George Orwell

#66 -- "The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football" by Paul Zimmerman

A couple years ago I pledged to read more Orwell; I promptly dove into "Burmese Days," and I still haven't found the strength to sludge through. This, though, is much better. Not really clear if it's fiction or not; it certainly reads like non-fiction. It doesn't romanticize but also doesn't waste time getting weepy. Extremely readable.

I decided to read Dr. Z's book again after last weekend's note, and boy is it good. He's got an ear for a great anecdote and explains the game so well and so passionately. After reading this again I feel like I could become a defensive coordinator with just a little planning. I probably shouldn't pursue this line of thinking, though.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I Really am Ready for Some Football

We gathered the other night to watch the Titans-Steelers on NFL opening night, and right after kickoff, a friend said (more or less) "just think -- right now we have the maximum amount of football ahead of us." At the time, tipsy on the joys of football and Heineken, it seemed like earth-shattering wisdom.

I'm overjoyed about the season's arrival, though I don't have much reason for optimism -- if either the Broncos or Buccaneers hit 8-8, I'll be even more overjoyed. In just a few hours, I'll be in the windowless back room of a bar, snarfing down wings and cheap beer, clad in a jersey and acting foolish. Sunday football is just so comforting. It's like the missing element has snapped back into my life. The weather's starting to get bearable and football's back. Months of Sunday beer and wings and shouting await. It's church for us secular types -- and for us secular types, church is FUN. (Plus, honestly, if God exists, you think He isn't choosing to spend his Sundays watching football?)

I'm also extraordinarily pleased that hockey is on its way, with perhaps even less reason -- the Avalanche are one of two teams in the West with absolutely no shot at the playoffs, the Thrashers might have a shot at an eighth slot (thanks, Brian Burke, for your European-hating ways and ridiculous trades). But who cares? I wish that season would follow suit and hurry up and get here.

If football is AC/DC (always satisfying, invigorating, fantastic showmanship) in my life, hockey is Die Kreuzen or Infest (less polished, more intense, makes me want to punch things). I may be in the mood for AC/DC more often but my passion for the other bands is a bit more heartfelt. Like football and hockey, I think! If hockey is hardcore punk, the people writing about it, then, are... the equivalent of Maximum Rock 'N' Roll. That fits too. When I first discovered hockey blogs, they seemed exciting and amazing -- much like MRR did. Now we're in the stage where the whole scene seems to be a bunch of humorless goofballs arguing about internal politics and who's the purest/most correct fan, much as MRR was in the mid-'90s. (This means someone in hockey blogging is the equivalent of Spitboy -- I nominate Red Wings bloggers) The Bug-Eyed Billionaire vs the Jerks is the hockey equivalent of the once-raging major label debate, and about as much fun to read about.

But for the stuff on the ice, I can't wait. I'm heading up to Thrashers camp at some point this week, just to check it out. I'm planning to see a lot more minor league hockey this season, something I've been bad about. I'm even stoked to see how the Avalanche kids do.

(Overseas update: in one game for Barys Astana, eternal hero Tomas Kloucek has four penalty minutes and no points. Meanwhile in the top Czech league, HC Kometa Brno is winless after two games and entrenched in the relegation zone. Pick it up, Kometa!)

* * *

Something I've meant to note for months, but haven't. This marks the first football season in, well, ever that is kicking off without the writing of Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman. He suffered a stroke last year and a few more later on, and while I don't know his current status (apparently the most frequent updates are in Peter King's columns, which I have a deep-set belief against reading) he's obviously not in any shape to write these days.

Dr. Z is, simply put, my all-time favorite sportswriter. Even after two and a half decades of watching football, I kept learning new things and new ways of watching from his weekly column. He was clever, he was insightful, he injected his personality without being overbearing. Z did something that lesser writers can't: he'd go off on digressions, tales of wine or travel, and keep them interesting to people who were just there for the football.

I always looked forward to his writing and while I doubt we'll see more of it, I'm keeping hope alive. I wish him well.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I Danced Up and Down the Street

September's crept up on me, and we're already in the middle of the month -- the middle of a month three-fourths of the way through the year. Can I take a mulligan and go back a few? Accomplishments are few and I don't see that changing any time soon.

I've got a week off now, though, and for once I haven't burdened it with expectations -- I plan to watch loads of sports, watch some movies, eat food. I haven't set the usual goal of "finish novel" -- if it happens, it happens.

Look for many chapters on eating wings and watching football.

* * *

#64 -- "After the Wake" by Brendan Behan

Another in the list of books I bought because of band references, and the Pogues trump Sonic Youth here. I'd never read Behan, knowing him more through others' (Shane MacGowan, Garth Ennis) references to him, and kind of expected maudlin wistful gazing upon old Ireland. But no, these stories were tough and blunt, funny in ways that I didn't expect. I'm probably about 15 years behind on reading old Brendan, but as he's long dead, I doubt he cares much.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Best Text of Last Night

Stripped of all context -- "wiffleball. who are you people?"

* * *

#63 -- "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman

I'm still a bit caught off-guard by Gaiman's celebrity -- as if the past two decades hadn't passed, I still think of him as the new writer on the "Sandman" and "Black Orchid" comics. I've actually never read any of his prose fiction before this. "Neverwhere" has been sitting on my shelf for a decade now, I think, but I've never been too excited about it.

It's fantasy of the type I eat up -- I don't give a crap about elves and orcs and barbarians, but I dig the "there's another world, running parallel to ours, just out of sight" idea. In this case, it's centered around the London subway system.

Reading this, I enjoyed it but wasn't nuts about it -- but -- at the end, I noticed that I was really sorry to say goodbye to the characters. And I was sorrier to come online and find out that there's no sequel. So I guess it kind of crept up on me.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Technophobic


I've got the new computer and I'm back online, and not a moment too soon. I now have one dead laptop and one that's on life support so it's a pleasure to have something that works. And works really nicely, in most cases -- it's light years faster than anything I've ever had and it looks nice and sharp, at least until I start slapping Kometa Brno stickers on it.

On the other hand, it took a full day to get it to stop randomly opening Photoshop, and I still have all sorts of printer issues. Bah. Please, no one tell me how great Macs are.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Dropping Like Flies

Not too long after yesterday's post, the backup laptop died. I got it running again after way too much effort -- but I was a little relieved, I feared I was becoming the Pol Pot of computers. Not sure, though, why I rushed about so much to get it working. To check the hockey transactions, I suppose. In comments to the last post Brushback mentions a dead computer introducing him to a slower pace, and perhaps I should follow that -- the effort invested in healing the sick computer was far greater than the importance of anything I achieved online yesterday.

In any case, a new computer arrives Wednesday, so I can begin killing that one.

It also rained all day yesterday, great torrents of the stuff, so I just read and read some more:

#60 -- "The Human Factor" by Graham Greene

#61 -- "An Artist of the Floating World" by Kazuo Ishiguro

#62 -- "The Tin Men" by Michael Frayn

"The Human Factor" is one of the Greenes-on-a-pedestal, but I hadn't gotten around to it before. Nothing turned out the way I expected and I quite enjoyed it -- nothing wraps up quite right and it's very real in that sense.

"Floating World," sadly, was kind of a disappointment. I know it's unfair to want every Ishiguro novel to match "Never Let Me Go" but this just left me pretty cold. None of the characters are very interesting or sympathetic, and it's just a lot of really nice description tied together by a narrative that's of limited interest to me.

"The Tin Men" is the book I actually wanted to read when I picked up the blah "A Very Private Life" earlier this year and this is considerably better. Funny as hell, a technological satire that somehow manages to hold up 45 years after publication.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

American Heavy Metal Weekend

Four days off and this was supposed to be the weekend of awesomeness: hiking, photography, blogging, whatever else goes into a weekend of awesomeness. Instead, Friday saw a catastrophic hard drive crash and torrential rain, so everything went out the window and I just sat around listening to Entombed and watching movies. I've got my vintage-2004 laptop up and running until the new computer arrives, but it's not real great for photo-uploading (particularly after I killed off half the programs so that it would run at a sorta-decent speed) so I've just packed it in on that front.

So: I watched movies. (and read, a bit.)

Woman in the Dunes -- lent to me nearly two years ago by a co-worker. Don't lend me movies -- I still have a few that Noah lent me in 2002 or so. I read the book this was based on years ago and was underwhelmed; the movie came up when I was discussing my need for good desert-related art. This is more gripping than the book was -- I also think it's changed significantly toward the end, though again, I can't really remember. Beautiful at times. True to form, I'm more impressed by the shots of the desert than anything else.

Watchmen -- Ok, I actually enjoyed this, even if it wasn't great art. I reminded myself repeatedly going in that it can't be just like the comic, it's not going to affect me the same way, so don't get your expectations too high, and it kinda worked. It's impressive that they managed to take one of the most subtle comics out there and make it this bombastic. I suppose that a lot of the dialogue that seemed quietly effective on the page is going to seem melodramatic on the screen. They were in a no-win situation, and all things considered didn't do too badly. A good time even if I won't rush to watch it again.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly -- Years since I've seen this, I just needed some Clint Eastwood and some guns while I went through some white wine last night.

And then, a book:

#59 -- "The Honourable Schoolboy" by John Le Carre

This may push me into one of those periods where I read too much by one author (previous cases: Graham Greene, Lawrence Block). This is the sequel to previously-read "Tinker Tailor" and it's fantastic -- just blows the other two books I've read of his out of the water. Livelier writing, some of the most tightly-wound plotting I've seen, and one of the tensest scenes I've read in a long while (when Westerby was in Cambodia, it wasn't too good for a heart patient). There's one more sequel after this one and I think I've gotta read it SOON, and then I'll start working my way through his other books.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fighting For A Haircut

I'm a fairly recent convert to pho -- I only tried Vietnamese food for the first time last year. I dig it. Getting takeout today made my car smell nice, much-needed after I spilled coffee over every square inch earlier in the week.

There's 114,000 Vietnamese joints on Buford Highway, but so far I've only been to Pho #1. Partly because it's #1, and everyone likes a winner. And partly because Pho #1 makes me think of Fugazi's Song #1, and so anyone in the car with me (today, no one) gets treated to me singing that song with the word "Pho" replacing the word "song" throughout.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Empty Quarter

#57 -- "Miles From Nowhere" by Dayton Duncan

#58 -- "After Yugoslavia" by Zoë Bran

Let us now praise used bookstores: more specifically, that feeling that comes with finding a book that you've never previously heard about, but that turns out to be just what you wanted. Like both of these.

In "Miles From Nowhere," Duncan travels around to the "modern frontier" -- those counties (all in the American West) with a population density below two people per square mile. This had one major impact on me: it put to rest any idea that I could live in such an area for any extended period of time. It's the kind of thing that I say sounds great when I'm stressed out, but after reading this ... no. No more romantic flights of fancy. I'd like to visit, would go nuts staying.

Which isn't to say that he paints a negative -- or even mostly negative -- picture of the people. There's a lot to admire here. He just doesn't sugarcoat it. It's often a tough, lonely life. Good anecdotes and a nice descriptive pen, plus some interesting history, and a few tips on places I should visit next time I'm back home.

"After Yugoslavia" -- yes, there's Yugoslavia books I haven't heard about. Bran's book is a post-war travel narrative, and as many books as I've read about the area, this is one of the first travelogues not directly tied into the conflict. (She visits Slovenia, which I don't think has been mentioned much in my library.) She's a friendly, likable writer, sympathetic and humorous. Not sure if she has any other books out but if so I'll probably give them a whirl.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Research and Destroy

There's a good line in a Richard Powers interview somewhere-or-other in which he talks about how he threw everything he knew into his first novel, because he didn't know if he'd have a chance to write a second. I like that. A bit too much, perhaps.

I'm really susceptible to going off on wild tangents of reading up on a subject that interests me, on the sometimes-dubious grounds that I need to know more about it for the novel. Just as an example, some subjects that I've researched in writing the current book:

* mining in Colorado
* late 19th-century labor activism and violence
* irrigation
* weather patterns
* what happens if you blow up a dam (hello, Homeland Security!)
* Salton City and its decline
* states' rights
* utopian societies in the United States
* U.S. troops being sent into Russia toward the end of World War I
* UFOs
* other conspiracy theories, including one that there are secret tunnels under Denver International Airport
* the effects of cocaine and peyote (a lifetime without drug use has left me sadly deficient in some areas)
* the layout of San Diego

...and a bunch of other things that I'm just not thinking of right now.

The point being, when the writing isn't going well at all I look for ANY distractions, and researching something ostensibly for the book is one where I can keep the illusion up that I'm WORKING. And that's probably counterproductive. I gotta quit that.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Renewal of Purpose

Ok, perhaps I've stumbled upon something that will help the PPA regain a little of the focus that it's lost. I've been working on a novel now for a few years -- I know I've mentioned it in the past a few times -- and it's foundered upon the rocks of indifference lately. This year (which has been a weird one from the start) has seen me have a few breakthroughs in terms of the plot and direction, while the writing itself has dwindled toward absolute zero. So maybe writing about the various struggles I'm having will help me overcome them.

(or maybe not.)

This weekend I got past a pretty significant roadblock -- and it was one I didn't want to get past. Allow me to explain. There was a scene, fairly early on in the book, that I really wanted to work. It was (very loosely) based on a true-life tale my friend Kynan once told me, a story that I find one of the top ten funny things ever to have happened on this planet, one that to this day can make me chuckle if I just think of it briefly. I wanted to capture that story in my novel. And I knew how.

Problem: I knew how, but it didn't work. It had to be significantly altered to last more than a page. It had to be significantly altered to make it advance the plot at all (and I needed it to advance the plot). And while the scene made me laugh, because I knew the real-life story that provided the basis... I don't know how well it worked for other people. One of my readers said that by the end of that scene, she found one of my protagonists really unsympathetic. I intended for him to be mischievous -- he came out malicious.

So over the past few days, I went through a bit of a process. I acknowledged -- finally -- that it wasn't working, that I wasn't going to make it work (I've reworked it a few times already) as well as I wanted to, and that it was time to bid it farewell. So I've dropped it, sketched out the beginnings of the scene that will replace it (similarly based on a real-life experience) and am moving forward.

Of course, this means that at a time when I should be writing the latter third of the book, I'm back to chapter two. But that's a problem for another day.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Weekend Warrior

This blog seems to have become a Saturday-Sunday only thing. I'd like that to change sometime soon -- I'd also like to have something to write about besides "what books I read," which I suppose would be a start toward achieving goal #1. I've been in a hell of a rut since coming back from Colorado. A trip that made life seem filled with purpose and possibilities has been followed by weeks of moodiness and burnout. Hmm.

Worth noting: there are two game-worn Tomas Kloucek jerseys on eBay right now, and I'm not bothering to bid on either. That's either a worrying sign of depression or an encouraging sign of progress.

Take your pick.

* * *

#56 -- "Sewer, Gas, and Electric" by Matt Ruff

Holy cow, why has no one told me about Matt Ruff before? Well, that's honestly not true -- a web page I used to read had good things to say about this and another of his books, seven or so years ago. So I guess I have no one to blame but myself for not reading this before now.

Basically: the plot doesn't really make sense and I got the feeling he forgot what it was a few times, there's a bazillion characters and a lot of them aren't really distinguishable at all, and it didn't matter. I laughed my ass off for 550 pages or so. Just an absolute blast to read. Fun, smart, and creative.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Penguin Alert

I realize this is all over the web, and anyone who's on Facebook with me has seen it, but nonetheless:



* * *

#54 -- "Overthrow" by Stephen Kinzer

#55 -- "Brighton Rock" by Graham Greene

I need to read Stephen Ambrose or something now -- two Kinzer books in quick succession have me feeling not-so-great about American actions. He's the specialist in uncovering the grimy truth about American invasions and (sponsored) coups over the past century plus, and here he takes on all of them in quick succession. It's the best-written of any of his books that I've read and really informative -- it provides a lot of context and filling-in-the-blanks to many half-known stories. Highly recommended.

Greene is ostensibly one of my favorite novelists but it's been years now since I've read anything of his, I think. I'd put this off because I was under the impression that while it's one of his better-known books, it was also one of his weaker efforts -- not so. Sad and brutal in a depressing vacation community, there's lots of anguished Catholicism, sexual hysteria, and psychosis -- everything a Greene fan could want.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Profiles in Geekery


This was one of a handful of comic books that I kept when I liquidated my collection a few years ago. "Green Lantern/Green Arrow" #107 is nothing particularly spectacular -- a fairly forgettable story -- but it (or rather, another copy of the same issue) was the first superhero comic that I ever read. So without this, I might have saved a lot of money over the years and developed moderate social skills before my twenties.

The cover date is August 1978; I'm not sure what the lag time was between real dates and comic cover dates at that point, but I must have got this shortly after the family moved back from Europe. I have a vague memory that I got it in Savannah, Georgia, but I'm notoriously unreliable on stuff like that.


The plot... well, you may need a little primer in Green Lanternism for this particular issue. GL originally got his ring from another Green Lantern, who died here on Earth. And it doesn't work on yellow, which meant that writers had to work in a yellow threat and force their guy to get creative.

In this issue, he's gallivanting around the heavens, and he sees a deadly (yellow) comet about to plow into a planet. He realizes that the planet is the one his predecessor is from, and since he can't stop the (yellow) comet, he heads on down to tell everyone to get out.

Sadly, upon getting down there, he realizes: no one told the people that his predecessor was dead. GL had been published for 15+ years at this point so you'd think he might have stopped by with flowers, but no. The people of the planet freak out seeing him in the costume, freak out further when he says "yeah, I'm wearing it because the other guy kicked off," don't believe him about the comet for reasons too ridiculous to go into, then beat the crap out of him even though he has this super-powerful ring. They don't even use yellow baseball bats, they just clock him on the head.

Then they see the comet and really quickly decide that maybe this guy's not so bad, if he might save them from the threat. This leads to this classic sequence:

I'm pretty sure this is a bad idea

He ... bounces the moon around until it knocks the comet away. I'm no astrophysicist, but that strikes me as something that might have some unintended consequences down the line. If someone more science-minded would care to tell me what happens when you knock a moon out of its orbit -- I'm betting something bad -- I'm all ears. And that doesn't even get into whether you can actually knock a comet around like this. Seriously, Green Lantern, you've probably just screwed up all over the place.

(When I was five years old, I probably thought this was great.)


He seems to have forgotten about that super-powerful ring again, hasn't he?

By story's end, all's well, except the inhabitants of Ungara are probably all dead because of whatever that moon business did to their planet. Green Lantern (who, at this point, was a long-haul trucker in his Hal Jordan identity) is only concerned about vegetables that he could presumably transport in a matter of minutes using the ring thing.

Thanks in part to getting my start with this issue, Green Lantern became my favorite character early on -- I remember subsequent issues featuring him facing off against a Spanish ghost and then a guy with a giant eyeball-laser on his mask. Green Arrow was booted from the title within about two years after this issue, which made the stories more cosmic in orientation and made me lose a bit of interest. I liked it more when Hal had a few people to hang around, people to tell about his moon-relocating adventures.

In later decades, GL was turned into a recovered alcoholic, turned evil, then killed and turned into a ghost. Now since I quit reading comics, he's been resurrected and reformed. Quite a career for anyone.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

We've Got A Bigger Problem Now

Overheard last night: a woman talking about a friend of hers, who apparently didn't understand that to get maximum efficiency out of birth control pills, you need to be taking them regularly before you get pregnant. America's in trouble.

* * *

#52 -- "The Solitaire Mystery" by Jostein Gaardner

#53 -- "The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick" by Peter Handke

I picked up "The Solitaire Mystery" to see if I wanted to keep it around -- I read it in 1998 or so -- and intending to just skim a few pages, I ended up halfway through the book before I looked up. It's not so much engrossing as just easy and rather pleasant. It's more aimed at young adults, but what the hell, I like the mix of fantasy, reality, and beat-you-over-the-head metaphors. It's a fun read.

One quibble: way back when I read horror novels, I couldn't stand Dean R. Koontz books in part because of his insistence on including an overly precocious/wise-beyond-his-years child in every one (except for one that had an overly precocious/wise-beyond-his-years dog). The kid in this book would fit in to a Koontz novel pretty easily.

"Goalie" was recommended to me by the much-missed Vak Fan, and geez it's grim. If Camus wrote a soccer goalie into "The Stranger," you'd more or less have this. It's an impressive achievement in its unflinching look at everything that's crappy about humans, but I can't say I exactly enjoyed the experience. I kinda needed a hug after this one.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dream, 7/17/2009

Back of sushi restaurant, Boulder

Today's the last day of vacation. I've been back in Atlanta for a few days, with not much notable to report, other than a few really weird, vivid dreams. A couple are very specifically work-related and thus not worth mentioning here, but one was kinda interesting.

I had moved to Durango, Colorado (home of a few real-life friends), with my sights set on trying out for the high school football team. (I remained 36 years old in the dream.) I made the team, but on the day we were all supposed to turn out, I ditched the team and remained at the cabin where I was living. I was sitting on the front porch, with a rather steep drop-off to my right -- I was looking down at a vast abyss, with clouds and sky beneath me. (It was more or less the same sight you get looking out the right-side passenger window of an airplane -- the very seat I had on Wednesday.) From somewhere beneath my cabin, planes were emerging into the sky below me.

Far off, I could hear cheers and explosions as the football team was introduced to the public. The football coach got in touch with me and chewed me out for ditching the team -- I remained silent. Then, someone asked me if I'd be willing to smuggle marijuana back to Atlanta.

Go figure.

* * *

I never did review the last two books I read, and I've read a few more since then, and I'm running short on review-energy -- so just a brief wrap-up.

#48 -- "Final Salute" by Jim Sheeler

#49 -- "Death in Venice" by Thomas Mann

#50 -- "Heart of a Dog" by Mikhail Bulgakov

#51 -- "Bitter Fruit" by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer

Quickly: "Final Salute" won Jim the Pulitzer, and it's fantastic, of course. Absolutely heart-wrenching. "Death in Venice" hasn't held up well over the years -- it's turgid and plotting and I couldn't get into it at all. 66 pages and it felt like four times that. "Heart of a Dog," much better. It's been years since I read "Master and Margarita," which I liked a lot, and this one goes on the approved list too. And "Bitter Fruit," the tale of the American-sponsored coup in 1950s Guatemala, is well-researched and gripping but could have stood a bit more expansion on how the coup played out in the decades to come -- it was interesting stuff but gone over really quickly.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Watch the Skies

It wouldn't be a trip back to Colorado without sky shots.




What a great state. Seeya next time, Colorado.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Few Of My Favorite Things (Boulder Style)

Depart tomorrow, to my chagrin. It's been a fantastic trip.

Just a few of my favorite things about Boulder:

La Estrellita Chili



As I've mentioned before, I love green chili, but suck at making it. As I apparently haven't mentioned before, finding good green chili in Atlanta is more-or-less impossible. I've yet to find any, store-bought or restaurant. So I cast my net homeward.

La Estrellita used to be my favorite Boulder restaurant, before closing its location out here, which dimmed my enthusiasm. The old location's been cursed since -- it was a nightclub, then a library-themed pub, and now it's this:



(A ghost sign on the side is visible back here, sixth pic down.) Thankfully, while it's not running in Boulder, La Estrellita still has locations elsewhere and its chili is still available in King Soopers grocery stores. A couple jars of this and cooking at home improves a lot.

On the chili front, I also must praise the Village Coffee Shop, which has been around Boulder forever but I've been to about twice. Dad and I went this morning for their breakfast burrito and I hereby pronounce it legendary. Sadly, their green chili isn't for sale in jars, so that's one more reason to move back.

The Walnut Brewery


Previously wrote about it here; I've been in a rut for a few years now where I only drink the St. James Red, but the others are (as I recall) fantastic. Pretty good food too.

The Boulder Book Store



My all-time favorite bookstore, I'm always relieved to come back and see it still going strong. It fended off a Borders that went in a bit down Pearl (the Borders later moved), and no matter how many times I tell myself "no more books" I end up dropping $40 at the BBS each time I visit. Added bonus: a cool coffee shop attached to it. If you ever are at the Boulder Book Store and there isn't an old hippie playing acoustic guitar right outside, you get an elusive square in Boulder Bingo. As seen above, I didn't get it.

Juanita's Bumper Stickers



The Book Worm


The Boulder Book Store is my favorite new bookstore, the Book Worm my favorite used place. It's in an unassuming little building off 28th and has one of the best contemporary fiction sections I've seen in a used bookstore. I guess Boulder readers have better taste. Or perhaps worse, since they're getting rid of the stuff I like.

Boulder Public Library


As is probably easy to imagine, I hung out at the library a lot as a kid. Back then, the main library was a large atrium, with the second story above packed with every book known to man. Well, not quite, but I was impressed. Now, it's radically reorganized from my childhood, but I still love it. It's a peaceful place. I realized on this trip that when I read about libraries -- in "Gold Bug Variations," say -- I picture Boulder's. It's appeared in dreams, too.


Not certain, but perhaps I'm not the only person who feels that way. I seem to recall that Stephen King based the description of a library in "It" on the Boulder Public Library building. But I can't find any backing for that on the internet, and I haven't read "It" in 20 years, so perhaps I imagined it.

A couple library memories: spending 12 hours gorging myself on peanuts and apples at a fifth grade sleepover, then going straight to the library with my mother after she picked me up. With my stomach not feeling too great, I made a beeline for the library bathroom, but the lone stall was occupied -- so I threw up copiously in a urinal. As I went at it, a homeless guy strolled out of that stall, and confronted with the image of me with face in urinal, started laughing uproariously.

Also, I checked out a Thomas Boswell baseball book in 1989, and then had it slip into my stuff as we moved to Arizona. When I moved back in 1996, I sheepishly dropped it into the book return. I still feel kinda guilty about that.

* * *


Went to my first Colorado Rapids game while I was out here, and really enjoyed the experience. Perhaps it was the perfect weather, but Dick's Sporting Goods Park, aside from the nightmare of a name, is a good setting. Low-slung stadium with no other large buildings around, so the sky (that sky again) is all you see beyond the stadium. It was a pretty great game, and Rapids defender Kosuke Kimura established himself as a favorite for both me and my sister with insane hustle and the lone goal. The fan base is both laid-back and knowledgeable and the tickets are cheap. If/when I come back, I'll be a regular.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Post-Pessimist Association and the Mystery of Lost Lake


"Lost Lake" -- sounds like there should have been a Hardy Boys mystery set there. There's no real mystery to it, though, and it's not exactly lost. I mean, I made it there and I'm not Magellan.

Very nice hike, though, particularly after I packed in yesterday's hike up Mount Sanitas on account of pounding heart. This one was a little less straight up and a bit more shaded.

Photos? Why, yes:


The hike's in the Indian Peaks area, near the ghost town of Hessie (really ghostly: I think there's nothing left, other than a sign sayingsomething to the effect of "Hessie was around here once"). The above is the road into (and out of) Hessie. You can see why it didn't really make it as a town.


Ended up wrestling three of 'em.


I thought these trees looked really cool, until I found out that they've been destroyed by pine beetles and are now just husks waiting for a timely lightning strike to send the whole area up in flames. Great.


And flowers! My budding career as a nature photographer is now in effect.


Sure is a pretty state. At this point, attempts at witty commentary end and it's pics only.



Friday, July 10, 2009

Joe It Goes

So vacation, and for once I have stuff to write about, but also a lack of inclination/desire/time. Oh well. A couple hockey things:



I'm glad I was back in Colorado to watch Joe Sakic's retirement ceremony yesterday. The realistic part of me knows it's for the best. The fan in me wanted him to go on forever.

I'm not much for hagiography but it was a pleasure to watch the guy play over the years. At my job (bear with me) there's a couple guys that I've known over the years that simply improve things by their presence; they're calming influences even when they aren't involved. The Elk calls them "visual valium." Sakic was like that -- seeing him on the ice, everything seemed okay.

* * *

Other hockey notes: I was concerned about the lack of news on Tomáš Klouček, but apparently he's signed with Barys Astana for another year, so that's all right. And not sure how this slipped by me, but while HC Kometa Brno failed to earn promotion to the Extraliga this past season, I guess they've been promoted anyhow. They're going in through the back door -- apparently HC Znojmo ran into financial trouble or didn't pay their dues or something like that, so they get bounced down and Kometa moves up, and gets a lot of the good Znojmo players in the process (among them Jiri Dopita, a bust in the NHL but a badass over in the Czech Rep). So perhaps not the preferred method, but hey, Kometa's in the top league! The PPA gets results!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Emotional Archaeology

Two storefronts that had a great impact on me once upon a time, now being used for other purposes:



Back in the '80s, this was Time Warp Comics, site of my first "job" (I was paid in comics -- at age 13 that was all I needed) and most of my adolescent energies. My friend Andy and I were allowed to come in and make sure everything was kept stocked. It may have just been that we were already around all the time on weekends, so why not?

The store held legendary auctions, which were the highlights for me: twelve-hour days, a packed store, really hard-to-find items (pre-internet) up for sale. I got the old Keith Giffen Legion of Super-Heroes poster at one of those. Probably one of the best moments of my early teenage years.

Time Warp moved shortly after I did; after a few subsequent moves, it's apparently still around in north Boulder (and here it is). The Beat Book Shop is now in the space at 1717 Pearl. I'm pretty sure it's been there since Time Warp vacated. I'm not a Kerouac fan but the Beat is one of those places that I'm happy to see living on in Boulder, particularly on Pearl's East End, which is unrecognizable from the late '90s, much less my childhood.



This is the former office of the Boulder Planet, a space that has gone through several changes since the Planet departed this planet: a drum store, a medieval clothing store, and a general store. Since bongos and Renaissance Faires are two of my least favorite things, I'm glad to see it's now something considerably more appropriate: a bar. It wasn't open yet when I walked by yesterday, so I just peeked through the windows. It's all still recognizable -- hey, that's where I sat. That's where so-and-so was. I remember the desk there. Etc. It might be a bit weird to go in and drink in there. Lots of memories and emotions still tied to the place. But I'm glad to see it's being put to more noble purposes. If you're in town, it's George's, so go by and tell them that you read some thing by a guy who worked in the office there once. I'm sure they'll be ecstatic.

* * *

I do read on vacation...

#46 -- "Garden, Ashes" by Danilo Kis

#47 -- "The Year of Living Biblically" by A.J. Jacobs

...and I'll write more about them later.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Green Hills of Boulder

That's the scene from my parents' back porch, and it's not a normal one in Colorado in July. Over the last decade plus, it's generally been pretty dry here, but this year it's rain, rain, rain and as a result the place is lousy with hues of emerald more frequently associated with Dublin than with Denver.

I've done absolutely nothing other than hang out with the family, read, and drink beer over the past couple days and that's how I like it. Weather's great, wish you were here, and I've got more than a week to go in town. The stress has just melted away.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Summer Doldrums

There was a time, not that long ago, when NHL free agency day was in the top ten days on my yearly calendar. I remember 2001, when I went to bed wondering if Sakic, Forsberg, and Blake would be elsewhere in the morning -- I woke up to find them all re-signed, and figured the Colorado Avalanche had locked up the next four Stanley Cups. Har de har. Even in recent years, I've been rapt. There was 2007, when Smyth and Hannan meant happy times ahead -- again, didn't quite work out as I planned. 2008, the wheels started to come off with the Tucker/Raycroft haul, two players I didn't want to see in a Colorado uniform.

After last year's hockey disaster, I didn't pay too much attention today. I've got a job, y'know. But at least so far, I'm pretty happy -- Craig Anderson is a safe, decent pick that at least won't screw them long-term, and David Koci may be an enforcer, but he's a Czech enforcer so that's plus-one in Gregland. Add in the Thrashers getting Kubina (plus two) and I'm ok with this. Neither team's set to really rock the world next year but at least they aren't making dumb moves.

No word yet on any deal for Tomáš Klouček.

* * *

Head back to Colorado at the end of the week, and thank goodness. It's been six or seven months since I've been, first time off work since returning from surgery, and since it's pretty consistently flirting with 100 degrees here, any chance to get out of Georgia should be seized upon.

#44 -- "Tree of Smoke" by Denis Johnson

#45 -- "Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue" by Paul Bowles

Noah lent me a copy of Johnson's "Angels" 15 or so years ago, and I don't remember much about it other than an overwhelming spareness and feeling of desperation and sadness. This is certainly desperate and sad, but very full and rich as well -- "The Quiet American" stretched over the whole of the Vietnam War. A big cast of characters, each one coming to life, and I was engrossed. It rockets up to one of the best reads so far this year.

The Bowles book is a collection of essays about the "non-Christian world" (from the subtitle), primarily North Africa. A bit more light-hearted than "The Sheltering Sky" and there's some very good pieces here, and it made me nostalgic for a world that is largely changed or gone since Bowles traveled it decades back.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gotta Love North Korea

From here:

Images on APTN television in North Korea showed thousands shouting “Let’s smash,” as a sign showed hands crushing a missile on which “U.S.” was written, the Associated Press reported.


If I got government-sponsored opportunities to shout "Let's smash," I'd be so much more patriotic.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

All Tied Up

Nothing personal to anyone here, but if I'm called upon to attend any of your weddings in the near or far future, don't be offended if I show up sans necktie. I went to Nixy's wedding last night and nearly missed it because it took me somewhere around 40 minutes to get the necktie proper. Sounds severe, but consider: I think the last time I wore a necktie was 2004 or 2005. I don't do it often, and last night ensured that it'll be a long time before I do it again. I ended up going to the web and searching for "how to tie a necktie" (with another browser page open, searching for "is it acceptable to not wear a necktie to a wedding"), and after multiple aborted attempts, I finally hit it right with this page. Relache in Seattle, whoever you are, you have my gratitude. The rest of you, if I die and they want me to wear a necktie in the coffin, try to convince them to dress me in something I could conceivably have put on myself while living -- a hockey jersey, or pajamas, or something.

In other news: it's been in the neighborhood of 100 degrees all week here, combining the broiler-pan feel of Arizona with insane, unrelenting humidity. There's no jokes to be made about this. Quite simply, Atlanta's not made for human habitation.