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.