Saturday, January 31, 2009

36


36 years old today, in sedate (no beer) but cheerful style. Some of the traditions (long walk and photography on the birthday morning, heavy drinking) go out the window by necessity this year, but it's good to be here.

Recuperation reading:

#7 -- "Stories I Stole" by Wendell Steavenson
#8 -- "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold" by John le Carre
#9 -- "Washington Babylon" by Alexander Cockburn and Ken Silverstein
#10 -- "Away Games" by Laura Sullivan
#11 -- "100 Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

So many books, not a lot to say. "100 Years" is beautiful, of course, but you don't need me to tell you that. "Stories I Stole" is a collection of pieces written while the author was living in Georgia (Shevardnadze's Georgia, not this one) and while it's occasionally wildly overwritten it's also pretty interesting. I didn't enjoy "Spy" as much as the last le Carre that I read -- tightly plotted and well-developed, just really, really depressing. "Washington Babylon" is snide fun for a while but after some time it's just like having someone lecture you long after they've made their point. And "Away Games" is one of my dream road trips -- journeying around Europe to follow hockey during the lockout season. Thanks Tapeleg for that last one.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

One Week On

How time flies: a week ago at this time, I was (I think) in the midst of surgery. I seem to be healing pretty well -- still weak, still easily exhausted, still bruised and relying heavily on pain pills, but a little bit stronger each day.

The earliest post-surgery memories were in the intensive care unit -- very slowly coming back to consciousness, seeing my family and the Ski Bum, learning that everything went well. Being surprised at how lucid I was, especially since other people in the unit seemed to be in early stages of dementia. Then, the first night, as I learned just what it means to have tubes stuck in your neck, arms, ribs and groin -- crying out for pain pills or ice chips (I think I told the poor nurse about 16,000 times that I might not end up addicted to painkillers, but I'd definitely be addicted to ice chips when I got out. I found the sensation of ice chips placed in my mouth so soothing that I seriously imagined that I'd be crushing ice and eating it recreationally once I was out), getting doped up on morphine or Percoset or whatever I was on at the time, then asking the nurse if it was time for my pain pills and finding only 15 minutes had elapsed, not four hours as I'd imagined. At some point in the early hours I heard a wailing noise -- then realized it was me, and I couldn't stop it.

Good times.

Later, once I was moved to a private room and switched to Darvocet, I started having strange dreams/hallucinations where I'd be observing a real-life scene, then zonk out and start imagining something else going on. I was watching my mother knit one day, drifted off, and saw a small gnome helping her out. Another time the word "SEINE" -- either the French river or the German term -- starting flashing in red on the bathroom door. Weird stuff. Thankfully I'm more grounded in reality since getting back home, though I am still pretty far from being off the pain meds.

Monday, January 26, 2009

So Hey, I'm Back.

Alive and everything. Also extremely, extremely tired and weak. But by all accounts, it went really well.

I'll write about it when I have some little bit of creativity, and am not possessed by this need to sleep. As far as I can tell, I didn't come out of this with a debilitating painkiller addiction, though it's early yet.

In the meantime, go read Brushback's awesome interview with Supertouch from a billion years ago. What a great band. And, Tomas Kloucek had a three-point night for Barys Astana the other night, which is pretty great, no? Think of all the NHL teams that could have had him for a song this season.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Last Notes From Home II

I used this post title before, but I've run dry on titles, so here it is again. I feel a bit guilty, yes.

This will probably be the last post for a few weeks -- surgery's Thursday, and the week will be sufficiently busy that I probably won't be home much. So, see you in a bit. (I reserve the right to take time out for a post if breaking news happens, like Tomáš Klouček scoring a goal.)

#6 -- "Embers" by Sandor Marai

This is one of the books off Tibor Fischer's Eastern European reading list, mentioned last year -- I only now realized that the list is from 2003, rather than being something relatively new. My first thought was that this seemed more like a French novel than a Hungarian one, the second that I've read very few French novels and no Hungarian novels, so how would I know?

It's an intense, tightly-wound little book, two old men meeting up after forty years apart for a final reckoning on the incident that ended their friendship. Frequently beautiful and I read the last 2/3 in one sitting, not something I do a lot any more. There's a few more Marai books translated into English and this was good enough to get me to seek out some more.

Be seeing you!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Thurston Moore Book Club

#5 -- "The Glass Hammer" by K.W. Jeter

Confession: I picked this up solely because it was referenced in the liner notes to Sonic Youth's "Sister," along with a couple other books. Deep down, I'm the same kid who started reading Judge Dredd because Anthrax slapped him on all their t-shirts.

It's a dystopian future type thing, which I may have burned out on long ago. Religion and television are inseparable. The lead character becomes a star for his ability to drive fast enough to outrace missiles.

It got better as it went along and some of the pieces fell into place, though several of the plotlines weren't explored enough and then wrapped up hurriedly in the space of a page or two. And for the most part, the characters (minus the occasionally-seen Cynth) are really undeveloped.

It was ok, in the end. Nothing thrilling, but quick at least. In the copy I had, some previous reader (Kim Gordon?) underlined all the parts where one of the characters says or thinks something really heavy. Man, please don't do that, world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Take Me Down to the Hospital

The little procedure I had last Friday gave me a preview of my hospital stay, and it shattered a few illusions. I've never stayed in the hospital before, and up until now I was imagining it as being like a hotel room, minus a bar downstairs and porn on the television. I convinced myself that I'd be able to take the time to read a lot, do a little writing. Instead I'll probably be largely immobile, watching TV programs I don't care to see and occasionally testing the nurse alarm button.

My only other significant time in a hospital came in the summer of 1995, when I worked for a while at a hospital in Tucson. It was a temp position, eventually expanded to "indefinite until you choose to quit" -- I was able to do the job (which was pretty mindless), and a co-worker confided to me that I was the first person in a long time that hadn't quit after a week. It was graveyard shift work, hence the turnover, but I was young and energetic, and it paid exceptionally well for a temp job, so I could block out the human suffering as long as I was getting paid.

There was quite a bit of human suffering, too. The hospital was sort of on the border between "decent" and "not so decent" sections of Tucson, and there were plenty of gunshot victims and car accident casualties coming in through the night.

I went around each night, switching out charts, adding new ones, taking them away when someone had checked out or passed away. Once I strolled blithely into a room seconds after a person had died, surrounded by grieving family members. In case you ever run into a similar situation, let me assure you that there is no good way to handle it. I strolled back out without a word, considerably less blithely.

The other overnight workers were a bizarre group, and I wish I'd taken notes. The shift boss was a perpetually angry ex-nun -- I quickly learned to avoid her as much as possible, though I was largely beneath her notice. There was a twitchy, bitter little Steve Buscemi-esque fellow who did something in the lab -- one night, seeing me reading Charles Willeford's "Cockfighter," he launched into a rant, telling me he figured the book was all macho shit, about men and their cocks, and there's no good books any more, etc. Another seedy little fellow took me aside on my first night to give me advice: if I scored with any of the nurses, I should take them into the morgue (just down the hall from my computer); I'd be unlikely to be bothered there. Afterwards, I never even tried anything with any of the nurses -- perhaps it had been his passive-aggressive way of turning me off the idea. I do remember walking by the morgue one night when the drain had backed up, looking in and seeing the clichéd splayed bare feet.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Your Title Here

Seriously, I just can't come up with anything.

#4 -- "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" by John Le Carre

Le Carre is probably one of the more surprising authors that I've never (fully) read -- now that I've got this done, John Updike, David Foster Wallace and Umberto Eco are probably leading the list.

I never got much into spy fiction, for the most part. I was a really big Frederick Forsyth fan at one adolescent point, but that's about it. Never really got into Bond films, either, so it crosses entertainment boundaries.

This is considerably more complicated than either Forsyth or Bond, and while I got a bit frustrated at times in the middle, it was very rewarding. Despite exhaustion, I read the last third or so straight through last night. One thing I appreciated -- there's a lot of characters in this, and all of them are very fleshed out.

I went ahead and ordered the next George Smiley book from Paperback Swap today, which is my version of a high recommendation. That's one of the pleasures of reading -- getting into someone that has a couple dozen books out there already.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Quick End to 2009's Productivity

Well, for a few days there, I kept up a decent posting schedule. Alas it collapsed this past week as preparations for surgery got ramped up, work was nuts, and when I had free time I was exhausted. And had nothing to say.

I had a procedure done in advance of the surgery this past Friday, which gave me a little preview of the joys of having someone mess about with your arteries, followed by me lying in a hospital bed for a while. It gave me an excuse to spend the weekend watching football, at least.

Books:

#2 -- "Tooth Imprints on a Corn Dog" by Mark Leyner

Had never heard of Leyner before snatching this off the Ski Bum's shelf. My first impression was that he was trying too hard to be wacky and random; that collapsed pretty quickly, though, and his absurdist short pieces had me laughing out loud consistently. It'll be a while before I can handle him again, I think, but this was pretty good.

#3 -- "Sick Puppy" by Carl Hiaasen

One of my fondest memories of college journalism days is a lengthy interview with Hiaasen, soon after "Strip Tease" came out. He was a great interview and it got front page treatment in the Arizona Daily Wildcat's legendary "Mutato" section, though it was a bit of a shock to see it in print and realize that I'd misspelled his surname "Hiassen" throughout.

Somewhere along the way, I overdosed on Hiaasen; I believe this was the first one I hadn't read, though I bought it in an airport back in 2001. This was a fun little return to old reading habits. It's marred a bit since the main character, Twilly, is the least interesting in the book. But hell, it was a lot of fun and I'm glad to revisit Hiaasen.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Books 2009

#1 -- "A Very Private Life" by Michael Frayn

Someone or something recommended Frayn's "Tin Men" to me some years back. I haven't picked that up yet, but I came across a used copy of this and gave it a shot.

And, uh... I guess it hasn't aged terribly well. Maybe in the 1960s it was groundbreaking but now the "all humans are distant from each other" thing has been done over and over. None of the characters are particularly compelling, and I really wasn't interested in the protagonist's fate. The social commentary is pretty dated and overall I just didn't get too into it.

It is, however, about 150 pages, making for a nice quick read on an insomniac night.

Friday, January 02, 2009

In Formation


from 1974-75 ZKL Brno hockey yearbook. Since we last checked in, their spiritual successors, HC Kometa Brno, have slumped to fourth place in the Czech 1. liga -- nine full points behind Usti nad Labem. They're still in the hunt, though.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2009

And Happy New Year to all of you. I sorta half-woke up before dawn today, causing a weird run of the imagination leading me to believe the sun had gone out overnight. A rather inauspicious omen and I'd just as soon put it behind me.

So, a new year, a new start. I'm going easy on the resolutions this year, though I am resolving (for the tenth year in a row or so) to become fluent in Czech. It's kind of a tradition.

* * *

I meant to do a couple best-of lists yesterday, but obviously, I did not. Some are kind of useless: I think I bought one 2008 album (Firewater, "The Golden Hour") and saw one 2008 movie ("Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist"). Both were good, so, best of!

Books-wise -- five best I read this year, in no real order (and obviously, there's no "published in 2008" rule:

"In Europe" by Geert Mak

"Sahara Unveiled" by William Langewiesche
"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon

"Chain of Command" by Seymour Hersh
"Reappraisals" by Tony Judt

Not much fiction this year. The only novel to make it onto the top five list is Chabon -- and all the runners-up were non-fiction. A disproportionate amount of the fiction I read this year was re-reading -- the Lawrence Block orgy, Van de Wetering, a few others.

Maybe that's another resolution: more fiction. Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon" is set to be my hospital-recuperation read post-surgery. Big laughs: at the start of 2008, I put it at the top of my "books to read in 2008" list. Looking at that list, you'll note that I didn't read ANY. 2008, man.