Friday, December 31, 2010

Everything Can Change On A New Year's Day


One of the charming things about being human is the ability to keep finding hope, to keep finding ways to think that life will get better. I'm a pretty strict rationalist, but I'm still believing that while there's no discernible difference between today and tomorrow, the advent of 2011 will create a new start, a clean slate, a chance to begin anew.

My 2010 would be familiar to anyone who watches the Denver Broncos regularly: an early touchdown followed by a descent into ineptitude, one solid quarter followed by missed blocks, fumbles, blown coverage. I haven't addressed it on here and won't beyond this paragraph, but the engagement is no longer on (and hasn't been for some months). There's no anger -- just a lot of sorrow, and a lot of willful self-destructive drinking.

So as 2011 dawns, I'm more or less back where I was at the start of 2010 -- just with a little less hope, and a little more wisdom. (and 25 fewer pounds. Let's hear it for one resolution kept.) Rather than continue the pattern of moping-drinking-moping-drinking, I'll choose to look back on the good of 2010. Some cool new friends (yo to MMW and Reeby), reconnections with old friends (word up to Therese), wonderful people who have been there all along, new places to spend all my time and money at (Diesel), and new hope in the form of glorious human Josh Goddamn Freeman (and yeah, Timmy Tebow too, but he wasn't the frequent monster J-Free was).

And I'll choose to look ahead to the exciting of 2011 -- more writing, an exciting trip (details to come, once I sort it all out), and hopefully some long-overdue changes. I've got plenty of resolutions, but for once I won't stick my neck out and make a big deal out of them. A trusted confidante knows them and will presumably give me shit if I blow them.

So happy new year. Best to all.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Heartbreak Alley

The corridor behind my apartment is no stranger to late-night drama, but last night's was pretty classic, even if it woke me up. First, a severely inebriated girl about 2 a.m., hollering into what must have been a bad cell phone connection:

"Horrible! Horrible! Not adorable -- you're goddamn fucking horrible!"

Shortly after, a couple noisily broke up in the same alley. Note to the dude -- you sound like a duck when you get agitated.

* * *

Not that I'm sounding much better, I'm afraid. I'm coping with a head cold of magnificent proportions. It seems like I've been sick for about the last two months of 2010, and it seems like I've been sick for more than half of the last few New Year's Eves. We'll see if I wake up hale and hearty tomorrow, but today was bad enough that I was ordered home from work, and even Bowl Noodle Soup isn't stopping the phlegm parade.

So one last book for 2010 -- with my head the way it is, I can't imagine I'll finish anything tomorrow:

#60 -- "The Code Book" by Simon Singh

I've wanted this for a long while now -- long enough, perhaps, that I suspect the material on modern-day cryptography is far out of date. No real matter to me as getting into all the tech of that made my mucus-filled head spin. The fun stuff with me was all the old-style codebreaking, the see-saw of tougher codes versus tougher cracks. The translations of dead languages were pretty thrilling. I wish I'd read this alongside Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" -- if I didn't have so many other unread books, I might do that next. Ah well.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Karma Stew

(everyone's allowed one Circle Jerks-song post title per year)

I tend to expect the worst. So it's a bit of a surprise that when they started canceling Christmas Day flights out of Atlanta (because of the POSSIBILITY of snow), I shrugged and assumed mine wouldn't be one.

I was mistaken, natch. I logged on Friday just to make sure, saw the dreaded red letters telling me my flight had been affected, and found out that my three-hour Christmas morning jaunt had turned into a nine-hour descent into hell, beginning before dawn and concluding well into the Colorado afternoon.

Thankfully, Delta had a list of alternatives -- and one of them was a direct flight, leaving in just three hours. I took it, called my parents, threw a bunch of crap into a bag and rushed to the airport, and made the flight.

And -- found out that I'd been put in first class gratis. Which was every bit as sumptuous as I recall. Spacious seats! Free drinks! An interesting seatmate!

This sort of thing never happens to me (said in best Penthouse Forum style) -- I associate flying with screaming kids and getting my seat double-booked. I don't usually fall upwards.

So now I'm wondering -- has my karma improved? Or is the world just setting me up for an even bigger kick in the ass?

I have to fly back tomorrow (to be at work Monday), which will probably answer that question.

Anyway: Merry Christmas! The goat still stands!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Coming Up For Air

I'm writing this with spikes of pain shooting up from my jaw, through my brain, out the top of my head, presumably dissipating somewhere in the stratosphere. Thanks in part to a rather hands-off approach to oral maintenance (my last dentist died nearly two years ago, and I only found out this month) an old root canal has gone bad and now I'm facing the prospect of rather more invasive surgery. Hooray. It's the perfect cap to this year, which started with such promise but then went badly awry. I usually like my metaphors less painful than this, though.

I haven't been updating this because really, there's one post that's just repeating over and over in my head: I don't like what I'm doing, I need to do something different, I'm afraid to make the jump. That little circle. I know (more or less) what I need to do -- now I just need to find the strength. Stupid, obvious patterns: as a kid, I was afraid to go off the diving board or do the abseiling exercises in gym class - until, finally, my hand was forced. And then I had fun.

Really plain lessons, you'd think, but apparently they haven't taken.

Anyway: Merry Christmas!

Books:

#57: "Freakonomics" by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt

#58: "Men of Tomorrow" by Gerard Jones

#59: "A Nervous Splendor" by Frederic Norton

"Freakonomics" -- I've been wanting to develop some basic economic knowledge beyond an Econ 101 class nearly two decades ago, and two people I respect told me to check this out. (thanks to my usual abhorrence of bestsellers, of course, I NEEDED to be told to check it out.) It's great fun -- we'll see if I picked anything up from it if/when I continue my ad-libbed economic education.

"Men of Tomorrow" -- Jones is great as a comics historian, and after a slow start, this chronicle of the early days of the comic book industry is fantastic. It's also very, very even-handed -- the treatment of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster is sort of the centerpiece of the book, and Jones is fair and calm in assessing it. Nice work.

"A Nervous Splendor" -- Vienna over the course of the winter of 1888-1889, when modernization was showing signs of leaving Austria-Hungary behind, and the one man who perhaps could have helped it along first was marginalized and then committed suicide. Marvelously written, made me really glad that I didn't live in late 19th century Vienna.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

303 to 404

Under the heading of shouldn't mean something but it does: after 11 years in Atlanta, I've given up the old 303 (Colorado) area code in favor of 404 (Atlanta). It's not voluntary; I got an iPhone and they wouldn't let me keep the old number. This all feels rather harsh, the severance of another link with the homeland. But -- I kept a 303 number through more than a decade out here, so perhaps giving in and going to a 404 number will free unseen bonds, and let me head back to Colorado. That's how it would work in fantasy novels, anyhow.

I have read books in the three weeks of radio silence (illness, work, illness, ennui). Not many, though, because one was longer than hell.

#55 -- "Crash" by J.G. Ballard

#56 -- "Nixonland" by Rick Perlstein


(read this book on an airplane if you don't like talking to other people)

So, "Crash." Long overdue. Notorious. And, god, reading it makes you want a shower, then another. Which isn't to say it isn't captivating -- it is. But I don't know that I honestly enjoyed it. I can't really recommend it, but it is an experience.

One note: I'd gone 20 years or so assuming that Government Issue's "Crash" -- sung by Ballard-fan Jay Robbins -- was about this book. But they don't seem to be connected at all. Another youthful fancy shot down.

Shorter and easier review department: "Nixonland" is probably the best book I've ever read on modern (or, what the hell, non-modern) American history. Why don't you do yourself a favor and read it?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Sucked In


There's a corner in my favorite coffee shop here that seems to have a perpetual smell of patchouli and body odor, even when it's empty. Yesterday I sat in it and worried constantly that it was me; today I sat elsewhere, but walked by and it was still there. I think perhaps it's a little haunting, Amityville or Shining-style -- the miasma is all that remains of the souls of Boulder's old hippies.

The usual bit: I'm in Boulder, I want to move back right now. But there's a feeling, for perhaps the first time, that I'm something of a sucker, that coming back here would thrust me into a young man's game that I'm ill-equipped to play. I'm not ambitious in the traditional sense. Right now, I'm less certain than ever what I want to do with my life. Usually, a trip back to Boulder makes me feel like I can do anything. This time, I'm just finding myself more confused and aimless (albeit in a content way).

Money and the trappings of success aren't really important to me. On the other hand, I don't seem to have it in me to be an ascetic, and even if I get to that point I still have to worry about health insurance and the pragmatic parts of life. I don't want to get caught up in materialism but I also don't want to live under a bridge.

This is an aimless ramble; this is mostly what I'm capable of these days. Confused mental meanderings. At least this week I can do it in Boulder.

* * *

#53 -- "Neuromancer" by William Gibson

#54 -- "A Dangerous Place" by Marc Reisner

So, huh, "Neuromancer." One of those books that I shoulda read a long time ago. And... I'm not crazy about it. Didn't really hold me. I'm sure that aficianados of the genre could tell me why this is way better than "Snow Crash" but I'll still take the latter. Didn't get into "The Man in the High Castle," didn't get into this -- cult literature and I have a rocky relationship.

"A Dangerous Place" is much more my thing -- Reisner's the writer of "Cadillac Desert," which I loved a bunch once upon a time. This was his final book (he died before his completion). It's a last warning about California's future, detailing how the combination of overextended water resources and major cities built on fault lines will eventually lead to utter disaster. He closes with a speculative piece, detailing just how the disaster would play out, and it's very realistic and plausible. It's a pity he wasn't able to write more.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Back in Colorado

Sorely needed, I'll tell you that.

* * *

Books:

#49 -- "Loving Graham Greene" by Gloria Emerson

#50 -- "The Hills of Adonis" by Colin Thubron

#51 -- "The Hot Rock" by Donald Westlake

#52 -- "Why Me?" by Donald Westlake

Emerson's book is an interesting oddity -- I found it frustrating and dull at first, and maybe throughout, but it kept me hooked. It's oddly dreamy and quietly funny, the story of a well-meaning American who channels twin obsessions -- her slain brother and Graham Greene -- into attempts to help the world's less fortunate, whether they want it or not. It isn't like anything else I've read, and while this isn't exactly a wholehearted recommendation, it may be worth your time.

Unfortunately, "The Hills of Adonis" isn't. I'm a big Thubron fan but this -- his first book, I think? -- is tedious. He's strolling through Lebanon on the eve of the Six-Day War, and seems wholly uninterested in the modern land; his concerns are two millennia old. Ok, fine, but he doesn't make it terribly interesting. I'd recommend just about everything else he's written, but not this.

"The Hot Rock" and "Why Me?" are two more on the Dortmunder checklist. These are two of the earliest, and two of the weakest. Still funny, natch.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chapeaux de Formosa

In lieu of any actual writing, a photo from PPA pal MMW:



Posting continues to be sporadic, but that's because most of my energies are going to the book (that rumored book, that damned book). Earlier plans have been scrapped and I'm revising/revisiting a lot, but anyone who wants to read it in semi-serial form, drop me a note (either in the comments or at the rarely-visited PPA e-mail address).

* * *

No real reading lately -- can't focus on anything -- but I did get through one (re-read):

#48 -- "Jimmy the Kid" by Donald Westlake

Yes, another Dortmunder novel. I remembered not liking this one as much as the rest, but either that was erroneous or my tastes have changed -- laughed my ass off.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

That's My Positive Outlook

I recently was gifted (?) with a bunch of my old newspapering notepads that had been moldering in my folks' house for more than a decade. Being an environmental sort, I've been going through them and tearing out the old notes for recycling, while saving the unused paper so that I have more loose sheets of paper floating around the house.

95% of the notes are about horrible hippie bands in Boulder. 4.99% are administrative notes. And then there's this cheery one, apparently from 1998 and headed "Problems":

"Job: Unfulfilling. Soul-sucking.

Interpersonal Relationships: Mess."

I'm sure I was deadly serious when I wrote that, but today it made me laugh out loud.

* * *

Despite evidence to the contrary, I still do read books:

#43 -- "Be Not Afraid, For You Have Sons in America" by Stacy Sullivan

#44 -- "Upside Down" by Eduardo Galeano

#45 -- "My Battle of Algiers" by Ted Morgan

#46 -- "The Secret Pilgrim" by John LeCarre

#47 -- "The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner

Whew. All good here, if you want the one-line wrap-up. Sullivan's book is on the Kosovo war, from a perspective I haven't seen much of: the KLA guerrillas' point of view. A worthy addition to my growing Kosovo library.

"Upside Down" is chicken soup for the lefty soul; energetic and inspiring, kinda preaching to the converted but with some interesting perspectives that I'd never considered. "My Battle" is a blunt, honest memoir of the Algerian war from the French side; riveting and harsh.

Like all of LeCarre's books, I loved "The Secret Pilgrim" -- it feels a bit lighter than some of his others as it's (essentially) a collection of short stories linked by a framing device, but I'll take light LeCarre over lots of other things. And "The Geography of Bliss" is a good time, funny as hell as Weiner travels the globe in search of joy. Made me really want to go to Iceland and Bhutan; made me really not want to go to Moldova. Obviously, I could have used this book in 1998.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Hodgepodge

Line of the weekend:

"I used to take my clothes off to this song!"

-girl at bar, when something by Danzig came on

Worrying sign of the weekend:

After an insomniac night Friday, I went to the gym early Saturday. As I drove home afterwards, I had a moment of panic: "Oh, shit, did I forget to put my pants back on?" Good news: I was wearing pants. Bad news: dementia is obviously setting in.

That book thing:

Soon, promise.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Whoops.

Blew that deadline. Haven't been posting on this either. Something coming soon, though, I hope.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Soundtrack to My Life

I've been working out a lot lately. This is kind of big news, because "get in shape" is usually on the same level as "learn Czech" for me -- something I'd like to do, but I'd also prefer to just wait around until someone invents a way for me to instantly get in shape/learn Czech. But over the past couple months I've been pretty good about it, to the point where I made it onto my gym's "honor roll" for last month, something that I'm kind of ironically and kind of unironically proud of.

In addition to making me less fat, it's radically changed my music-listening habits -- prior to this I've been more jazzy/country than anything else for a while, but now it's all metal/hardcore on the iPod. Two of my all-time favorites, Son Volt and Steve Earle, have been purged from the device for now. Why? Not aggro enough. If it doesn't make me want to start swinging fists, it's not gonna be on there.

It's also reintroduced me to an old pal: Corrosion of Conformity more or less dropped off the map for me when I got a review copy of one of their mid-'90s albums, but goodness me "Animosity" is one astounding album and I should never have let it lay fallow. (I also gave "Wiseblood," the offending review copy, a new chance. Just... no.)

Also getting a new life in my playlist: the Bronx. Loved their first album, hated the vocals on their second. Still am not crazy about that one but it's not bad stuff for working out.

So a quick survey shows the top workout bands are: COC, Entombed, Speak 714, Die Kreuzen, Crucifix, Cult Ritual (thanks Brushback for bringing them to my attention a while back), and Kiss it Goodbye. All pretty tough stuff. It goes well with the steroids.

* * *

In other self-improvement/overdue notes: I've set myself a deadline of September 19 to have a first draft of my book more or less set. This comes with some possibility of sliding, but not much (and hence this public notice, so that I feel like more of an asshole if I fail). The absolute ending bit most likely won't be done, but the rest should be. So feel free to post angry comments on September 20.

I'll also be looking for volunteer readers, so start coming up with excuses now!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

From the Archives

Jotted down in my notepad, overheard a month or two back:

"It's almost that time of year -- the Little League World Series. Man, I love seeing 11-year-olds cry."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Hockey Jersey Mystery

I loved me some Hardy Boys when I was a kid, despite the Boulder Public Library's refusal to stock the books (oddly enough, they did have "The Ghost of the Hardy Boys" -- the memoirs of Leslie Macfarlane, a frequent contributor to the Hardy legend -- but only in a secret back room where you had to ask nice). I think the library's refusal was based on literary quality, but I got my hands on 'em anyway and read them avidly. I even, at one point, tried my hand at writing my own. "The Hardy Boys and the Graveyard Mystery" (because I liked spooky stuff) and "The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of the Emerald Guitar" (because I liked emeralds and I liked guitars. And, for that matter, mysteries). "The Graveyard Mystery" was actually performed as a play at Heatherwood Elementary, providing the high point of my literary career so far.

Now, it might be time for my third, because I've got a puzzler suitable for Frank and Joe (and Chet and Biff): The Mystery of the Milwaukee Admirals Jersey That is Mysterious. Rapt? I thought you would be.


Ahh, the Admirals. One of the venerable minor league teams. I've been pretty proud to have this in my collection -- it's a very nice jersey, and the Ads are one of those staunch midwestern minor league teams (like the Komets and K-Wings) that have been gallantly plugging along for years. They're a proud franchise if you ignore this, and this has looked nice in my closet.

But I've got way too many jerseys in that closet, to the point where it's tough to store clothes I might actually work, so I'm getting set to clean some of them out. And this one was on the chopping block ... to the point where I put it up on eBay this morning.

It was only up there for about two hours, because of ... this.



(pauses for gasps of horror)

It got a lot of rapid interest -- including a note from a Milwaukee jersey expert, who asked a few questions and also pointed out that I had the year wrong (oops) and also that, as far as anyone can determine, Ladislav Tresl never wore #11 for the Admirals. He wore #33 all three seasons he spent in Milwaukee.

And he's right. I've checked around, and there are plenty of records of Laddy wearing #33, none of him wearing #11 with the Admirals. Here's a team photo from the season of this jersey; it's a bit hard to tell, but Mr. Tresl is wearing 33.

The plot thickens, though. Tresl -- a Czech player, it's probably unnecessary to point out -- wore #11 throughout his Czechoslovakian career (spent with Zetor Brno, the forerunner to PPA favorite Kometa Brno ... this is where Frank and Joe would get so puzzled that they'd call in their dad, Fenton). And one has to ask -- who would forge a minor league game-worn jersey? (I bought it from an as-far-as-I-know-reputable dealer five years or so ago)

So my best guess -- and I've sent off e-mails to Milwaukee in hopes of sorting this out -- is that it's a preseason/training camp jersey. The letters are screened onto a nameplate, not stitched. There's also a general lack of wear (a little but not much).



This has nothing to do with our investigation, but I just always liked the anchors on the old Admirals jerseys.



A bit about our guy: Tresl (generally known as "Laddy" on this side of the ocean) was born in Brno and starred for the city's team throughout the 1980s. The Nordiques drafted him in the late rounds of the 1987 draft; he immediately came over and bounced around the minors (Fredericton, Halifax, New Haven, Milwaukee, Memphis) for seven years, with some good seasons but without cracking the NHL. He went back to Brno for a few years, then crossed the Atlantic one more time and closed his career in Waco. And, surprisingly, he stayed in Texas. Last I checked, he was coaching high school hockey and living in West, Texas. Comma intentional -- it's the City of West. That webpage actually gives a clue about why a Czech might feel at home there. It doesn't, unfortunately, give us any more clues about the jersey mystery.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Creepy Crawl


I'm just tearing through the old-school paperbacks these days.

#42 -- "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson

Another one dredged up from the teen years. This is a masterpiece of never-quite-seen horrors -- nothing's ever seen head on and there is considerable question as to what the origin really is. I read most of this at home alone last night, and once the lights went out I became acutely aware of every creak and bump in my building -- and when my neighbor bumped something against the connecting wall between our units, I achieved levitation, my friends.

Messages to Myself

I use the iPod Touch's "Notes" feature a bit inconsistently; I leave notes for myself on it and then forget about them for weeks on end. Hey, look at what I wanted to get at the grocery store last month! That sort of thing.

Went through it yesterday -- mostly reminders to myself of books, movies, or music that I wanted to pursue. But there is one that's puzzling me, from July 17:

"The Day I Realized I Would Suck at Evil"

What prompted this? A short story idea? A revelation about my own life? I have no clue.

* * *


#41 -- "The Ministry of Fear" by Graham Greene

First GG novel in a while! And this is a good one. Tense and thrilling, really fast and very unpredictable. All that combined with Greene's trademark cheery outlook on humanity. I've got a few of his novels that have been languishing unread for years and this might get me cracking.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Little Rip


Cal Ripken Jr. (even now, it's hard for me to think of him without the generational title) turned 50 a couple weeks back. Contrary to the way these things usually work, that's actually made me feel young: if I'm 13 years younger than Cal, then perhaps there's still time for me. (to do what, I'm uncertain.)

Calvin Edwin Ripken Junior (I still remember the full name without looking it up; also that he was born in Havre de Grace. I've managed to forget his birthday, at least) was my favorite baseball player throughout the 1980s; this poster hung above my bed for years, only coming down when I moved to Arizona. It may seem hard to credit now, but he seemed relatively unappreciated in the 1980s; despite his successive Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, not to mention the 1983 World Series, he was playing third fiddle among AL shortstops to Robin Yount and Alan Trammell (and perhaps briefly, Tony Fernandez). If I remember right, this particular poster wasn't even listed in Sports Illustrated's vast poster ads.

Of course, after his second MVP award in the 1990s, he was anything but underappreciated. And his status as representative of "all that is good in baseball" probably got/gets a bit tiresome. But I still remain fond of the guy.

The Orioles haven't worn this uniform in more than two decades -- Ripken's hair probably hasn't been dark in at least that long. Nonetheless, when I think of the O's, this is the definitive image.

* * *

#40 -- "Echoes From the Dead" by Johan Theorin

A rare promise kept: I said the next book I read was gonna be another mystery, and lo and behold, it was. Theorin's latest novel beat out the late Stieg Larsson for some sort of Swedish award, so I was intrigued enough to grab this (Theorin's first, from a few years back).

It's interesting and nicely gloomy; it's got that "mystery of the past having reverberations in the present" thing that I'm always a sucker for. The plot kept me intrigued throughout. On the other side, none of the characters really grab me; Julia, the book's center, is pretty colorless. When she shows signs of emerging from her depression and regaining control of her life later in the book, we haven't really seen any signs leading up to this; it's just sorta "now, Julia is happier." Oh, okay.

The ending really threw me and I'm not sure yet how I feel about it. I was just about to write it off as "really weak climax" when it took a really sudden and unexpected turn; completely surprised me, but I don't know if that's just because there was no hint at all it might come. Don't know that I like the way it ended, but don't know that I don't.

All in all: an interesting but imperfect debut, and I look forward to reading the (aforementioned award-winning) second book, which got some really swell reviews.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mystery Train

#37 -- "The Girl Who Played With Fire" by Stieg Larsson

#38 -- "Nobody's Perfect" by Donald Westlake

#39 -- "The Blue Hammer" by Ross MacDonald

Not planned, but three straight books that you'd find in the mystery section at the local bookstore (and the next one probably will be, too). There was a time when this would be my regular reading pattern but it's been a while.

I was ahead of the curve on the first Larsson book, behind it on this one. I had some trouble getting into it, wondered if I would, then one night realized that I'd gone through 200 pages without thinking about it and was way past bedtime. I can't really remember how I felt about Lisbeth Salander in the first book, but in this one she's established as a really great, memorable character.

"Nobody's Perfect" -- ok, I kinda burnt out fast on my Dortmunder re-reads. This one seemed considerably weaker than the other two (still funny, just not as) and I dunno if that's a legitimate quality difference or just me reading three in a row really fast.

"Blue Hammer" -- once upon a time I considered MacDonald to be the third member of the holy trinity, with Chandler and Hammett at the other points. He's less appreciated (and was far more prolific) than the other two, but at his best it was no sin to speak of him in the same breath. This was the final Lew Archer novel, and while it's weak in some areas -- the plot really makes no sense -- it's the characterization, the desperation that makes it worth reading. In Chandler and Hammett, the crime becomes the centerpiece of the world; in "The Blue Hammer," it's just affecting a small group of sad people while the rest of the universe moves happily onwards. It's tragic and powerful.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Modern-Day Ruins



I noticed this a while back, when my friend Nix held a party: a blasted out building, directly below her building's pool deck.



Turns out I'd actually been there. It's the old location for Loca Luna, now forgotten after a move. I'd actually been inside this building a few times back in the day, most notably the night before the 2004 tsunami. Looking at it from above, it didn't ring any bells and looked properly post-apocalyptic to push all my buttons.



Not sure what's in store for the space. It looks like it's been abandoned for decades, not a few years. In the grand scheme of things, in the good-for-Atlanta category, it'd be best if it gets snapped up fast.

For people who like urban decay, though, it's fantastic right now. It even has a 2000s-era ghost sign that looks like it dates to the 1940s.



Almost thoroughly disconnected, though it's still Atlanta: I can find sky porn anywhere.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Rusty, We Need To Talk

I've been a fan of Ruslan Salei through thick and thin -- mostly thin -- since he came to the Avalanche. He's Eastern European (and from one of the very underrepresented Eastern European countries, too), and he's generally portrayed as a genial, level-headed guy. So that makes today's decision to sign with the Red Wings a mystery. Think this over, Ruslan: you've lived in California, Florida, and Colorado. You've been in North America for 15 years or so. How do you think Detroit is going to look by comparison?

Last week, out of boredom, I was assembling some Avalanche trivia (you kill time at work your way, I'll kill it mine) and I actually put together a list of players who have been on both Detroit and Colorado. It isn't pretty.

Jim Cummins. Eight games, two points, 65 penalty minutes with the Wings; 55 games, three points, 147 penalty minutes with the Avalanche.

I debated whether to count Cummins -- he played for the Red Wings before the Avalanche became the Avalanche -- before coming to the conclusion that it was already pretty lame to be assembling this list, and if I got to the point where I was agonizing over who to include, I was entering dangerous territory. His career was nicely arranged for the purposes of this pointless exercise -- he entered the NHL with Detroit in 1991-92, exited it with the Avalanche in 2003-04.

Advantage: Detroit. Cummins did his thing wherever he went, but he averaged 8 PIM per game in Detroit, which was undoubtedly more exciting. His points per game stat was higher in Detroit, too; .25 in Detroit, .055 in Denver. The Red Wings obviously got him at his best.

Uwe Krupp. 30 games, six points, 14 penalty minutes with the Wings; 144 games, 55 points, 90 penalty minutes with the Avalanche.

I remember exactly where I was when I found out Krupp had signed with Detroit -- in Harry Caray's restaurant in Chicago, having a boozy afternoon with my cousin. The news came up on ESPN; I watched drunkenly for it to come around again, certain I'd seen it wrong. I was shattered. Krupp was never a favorite of mine, but he scored the Stanley Cup winner in '96, and no one had crossed the line between the two teams.

The Avalanche had the last laugh; Krupp's stat line up there was over four seasons. Suckers. He was last seen coming to Atlanta to revitalize the defense here; pretty sure he should be off the injured list sometime next spring.

Advantage: Colorado. Most important stat: one Stanley Cup-winning goal.

Anders Myrvold. Eight games, one point, two penalty minutes with the Wings; four games, one point, six penalty minutes with the Avalanche.

Not much to say about Myrvold; the reverse of Cummins, he came in with the Avalanche, went out with the Red Wings. In the meantime, according to Wikipedia, he picked up a cocaine habit in Detroit. That remains the best thing to happen to anyone in that city over the past 20 years.

Advantage: wash.

Brad May. Who cares with Detroit, who cares with Colorado.

I'm still pretty disgusted that the Avalanche signed him. I was ecstatic when he went to Detroit, especially when he continued his rapid decline.

Advantage: wash. No one wins where Brad May is concerned.

Kyle Quincey. 13 games, one point, four penalty minutes with the Wings; 79 games, 29 points, 76 penalty minutes with the Avalanche.

There aren't a lot of things that make me laugh in my joyless life, but this is one of them. I can't remember why the Wings dropped Quincey (salary cap?), and I'm happy to have him with the Avalanche. Good solid defenseman, no complaints.

Advantage: Colorado by a whole lot.

Todd Gill. 104 games, 17 points, 79 penalty minutes with the Red Wings; 36 games, four points, 25 penalty minutes with the Avalanche.

I forgot him on the original draft of this list; he's one of those Rick Tabaracci-type players that I forget ever played in Colorado. I don't remember seeing him play with the Avalanche. Since I do remember seeing him get turned inside-out pretty regularly nearly a decade earlier, I imagine it was a grim spectacle.

Advantage: Detroit. Although you can argue that in terms of late-career Todd Gill, less is more.

So: Salei to the Wings. I can't imagine that this will turn out well for anyone involved. The Avalanche lose a Slav, the Red Wings are probably going to get something comparable to Krupp (low end) or Gill (high end), and a player I liked has to move to Detroit. Some days, no one wins.

* * *

#35 -- "Good Behavior" by Donald Westlake

#36 -- "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" by Douglas Adams

"Good Behavior" is another Dortmunder novel, and I'd say it's funnier than the last one; it matches up with what I remember, that there was a steady increase in greatness up until they peaked with "Don't Ask," then a slow decline.

"DGHDA" -- not sure, but this may be the first time I've read this since it came out. I remember being disappointed in junior high that Adams didn't do another "Hitchhiker's" novel, and then liked the second book more than this one. The latter part of that holds. This is funnier than I remember, but often kind of aimless and occasionally too cute. I should really read the "Hitchhiker's" books again sometime soon.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Rest in Peace

Tony Judt.

The world just got considerably less smart.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Great Leap Forward

I don't think anyone will ever beat Lots of Latin American metal blogs for pure spam awesomeness. Once a generation, you encounter a prodigy that's so far ahead of everyone else that it renders comparisons unfair. But if we ignore the outlier, I'm pretty pleased with the person who contacted me on Facebook not long ago:

"Greg, I am a female!!!
i like your profile!!! i do believe its... cool"

I do believe it is, indeed, cool. Sadly, the account has already been suspended, but they did have the foresight to let me know that I can contact them at "wetandhorny@whatever."

Meanwhile, "StopPaying4Sex" has started following me on Twitter, so I'm not sure what kind of signals I'm sending out to people.

* * *

#34 -- "The Bank Shot" by Donald Westlake

I hadn't read one of the Dortmunder novels in a really long time, so I picked the shortest one off the shelf. Don't have a lot to say, I've loved these for going on 20 years now; if you like a good laugh, you'll like these.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Scratched

Been a long time since I've done one of these. Too long.



Libor Zabransky, 1996-97 Worcester Icecats home jersey. There's a lot of mid-'90s minor league type stuff here that normally bugs me; the "Ice" prefix on a team name, the cartoon mascot, the funky letters and numbers. Nonetheless: I love this jersey.

I don't know if Bush League Factor ever took on the Icecats -- I think defunct teams are removed from the site, right? -- but there's a lot to work with here. The jovially snarling Icecat, apparently decapitated by a hockey stick, with a mountain range (does Massachusetts have mountains?) in the background, all on top of a big "W". I don't know what it all means.



Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the trend toward funky lettering start with the Tampa Bay Lightning? Yes? No? If so, they have a lot to answer for. In the 1990s, if you went to a jersey designer and said "give me something hip! Something extreme! Something the Offspring would like!" you'd get something like this.

Despite all this '90s excess, and all these criticisms, I love this jersey. It's giant (Zabransky was 6'3", 230), it's heavy. I don't mind the teal or turqoise or whatever that shade is. It's a jersey that got heavy use, and it's got a lot of character.



A claw-mark motif shows up throughout -- I think "Scratch" was the Icecats' mascot. I should note that I unironically love the back-number 5 with chunks torn out of it.



Do a Google search on "Marane oil heat," and about half the responses are in reference to Icecats jerseys. I'm gonna guess that means the company isn't around any more, but I could be wrong.

A bit on Zabransky: he was a big Czech defenseman, a late-round pick of the Blues in 1995. He was over here for two seasons, split between the NHL and AHL; I'm not totally positive but I think he was pretty injury-prone. He went back to the Czech Republic afterwards and played a few years for HC Vsetin, HC Sparta Praha and HC Pardubice, but had to retire really young due to a heart condition.

In recent years, he purchased the PPA's official team, HC Kometa Brno, and has done nicely with them -- as previously noted in this space, under his watch they've gone from insolvency back to the first division. There's an article on the team and Libor here.

(as always, jersey post concept originated by Mr. Tap E. Leg)

* * *

#33 -- "The Throat" by Peter Straub

This is the third book in a loosely-connected trilogy that also included the much-loved (by me) "Mystery," and honestly, I remember being pretty disappointed by it when it came out. I understand why, though I'm over it now -- at the time I wanted more adventures of Tom Pasmore, Sarah Spence and Lamont von Heilitz, but the latter two are only mentioned and Pasmore's a supporting character.

Never mind any of that, because this is a very strong book -- stronger than "Mystery," maybe, though occasionally really frustrating. Timothy Underhill (a character in "Koko" -- don't remember if he's in "Mystery" at all) comes back to his hometown to try to solve decades-old serial killings that seem to have started up again. It's very tightly plotted, very compelling, and it caught me off guard (even though it was a re-read) several times. I liked it much more than I remembered.

The frustrations mostly come from the characters (and some of it's by design). Underhill is a bit of a flaky character, and there's never a question of him taking responsibility for the way his (sometimes rash) decisions impact others. That, at least, is part of his character. More irritating is John Ransom, a supporting character and one of the main parts of the book -- his personality changes from curious intellectual to overgrown frat guy depending on what is needed from him at that part of the book. Very inconsistent and it seemed like there were just a bunch of rotating cardboard characters, all bearing his name.

Still, a great read. I'll get back to "Koko" one of these days, to finish it off.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Arizona Hardcore Documented

Apropos of nothing, other than I've been cleaning out:



I remember scattered bits from this show. I didn't go up to Phoenix shows much despite the city's proximity; Phoenix and Tucson had the minor rivalry of the otherwise irrelevant, kind of like the Oilers-Flames of the '90s. This was pre-fame Offspring but we probably went up more for 411 -- Dan O gave a shout-out to the Tucsonans, which undoubtedly thrilled us. After the show Brendan Groundwork and I interviewed the Offspring on some guy's back porch. They were a bit stoned, probably horrifying straight-edge us, but genuinely nice and thoughtful people. As a result, when they later became the symbol of everything that was wrong with the decade, it was kind of sad, like seeing a well-liked second cousin get picked up on a morals charge.

Counterpunch was one of two notable Phoenix SE bands at the time, the other being Stand to Reason, with which they shared something like 75 percent of their membership. They put out a 7" of fairly standard moshcore (which I ordered from "Statue Records" and never received, and that's why I remember all this) then switched singers to some grunge dude, added a spazzy funk element to their sound, and sounded ... about as good as you'd expect a straight-edge band pretending to be the Red Hot Chili Peppers to sound, I guess. Actually, that's probably a bit unfair -- the first time I saw them I really thought they were cool, but it wore off fast.



411 and Triggerman played together twice in Tucson, which was actually a bit notable -- I think that since they were ex-members-of the same bands, they wouldn't play the same shows in California. But my memory of those years is getting sketchier. Outreach was kind of Groundwork's little brother band -- either they started as Forthright and then changed to Outreach, or vice versa. It wasn't easy, naming a straight-edge band in those years.

My brother probably did this flyer, since it shows some graphic design skills. The background image was the cover of one of Groundwork's 7"s.



And this must be from the other 411-Triggerman show in Tucson. The OC visits were pretty big events; we promoted them relentlessly and got a (DPC) capacity crowd every time these bands came out. Judging by the sloppy design work and the "let's see what Word Perfect has" fonts, I was the one who created this flyer.

* * *

#32 -- "A Cup of Coffee With My Interrogator" by Ludvik Vaculik

Vaculik's always been sort of on my radar as a prominent Czech dissident writer, but I'd never read him until now. I have a taste for this sort of thing, obviously, but even so I'm impressed. I got this thinking it was one of his novels, but nope -- it's a collection of short pieces (here called "feuilletons," and we've all learned something today) on the life of a dissident in 1970s Prague.

By this point, it seems, the real fear was past and all that was left was a malignant bureaucracy, trying to grind down rather than crush. Vaculik responds with dry humor and guts -- he sees the silliness, but he's not always willing to laugh it off.

One of the essays -- and I've already misplaced my copy, goddamn me -- deals with anti-intellectualism in Prague. It rather neatly anticipates the Tea Party, 25 years in advance. And that's one of the great things about this book; they're tied to a specific time and place, but often, they've got a timeless impact.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

L L the L

When Tapeleg enticed me to Time Warp, I didn't come through it free and clear: there's a brand-new Legion of Super-Heroes series, something like the 47th reboot since I first discovered the title, and it's written by Paul Levitz. Levitz -- some background -- wrote ALL the LSH comics of my childhood, just about every issue from 1982 on. He stopped in 1989, about the time 16-year-old me moved to Tucson, and (I think) hadn't been back since.

Reunions are often a disappointment for all involved, but I couldn't really pass this up -- I bought the first two issues of the new series. The verdict? Kind of a fun nostalgia trip. Levitz is still good at a lot of the things he was known for: setting up a ton of little plots and letting them develop slowly, somehow getting 20+ characters to develop personalities without making the comic feel crowded. The art is mostly by Yildiray Cinar, and it's pretty good -- I initially thought the cover to #2 was by Steve Lightle, and believe me you, there's no higher praise.

Will I keep buying it? Eh, I dunno. I get the sense (perhaps unfairly) they want to make sure it ties in to the wider DC Universe, and that seems like a pretty joyless place these days -- looking at the covers of Green Lantern, Green Arrow, JSA, etc. didn't entice me to throw down $3.99 (!) for anything besides the LSH. And I don't get out to comic stores too much any more, so perhaps I'll just wait for the trade-paperbacking of the title. And really, I don't need any more stuff hanging around my place, so, probably not. But hey: it's a fun little ride, and I'm glad that there's still some life in the franchise. I wish it well.

* * *

#31 -- "The Wonga Coup" by Adam Roberts

One of the weirder international stories of the last few years -- a group of mercenaries who tried to overthrow the (itself bizarre) government of Equatorial Guinea, and it would seem to be pretty rich material. So I had high hopes for this, but it was only ... okay. Very compelling in some parts, then it just draaaaaaags in others. I came away without any sympathy for any of the principals, which is quite a feat.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Posterized

I'll admit it: I was feeling really, really smug about not watching the LeBron James extravaganza on television last night. Instead I had a nice meal of takeout Thai, and drank heartily of a La Fin Du Monde beer ... as I followed the whole thing on Twitter instead. That's right: I sat there and read the Twitters of people who were actually watching the thing I refused to watch. I don't even like basketball. Next time you're wondering "What's wrong with America?" just look at the signed, framed photo of me that's up above the mantel, and you will have your answer.

* * *

Another from the vast poster archive found in my parents' basement:



In the late '80s, the throwback industry was nowhere near as big as it is now, and when I saw this on a door in a Tucson Mall shoe store, it was a revelation. I didn't think such things were accessible to commoners like me. This was in my "I don't think about anything except for baseball and horror fiction" period and this poster was as good as porn.

They gave me the poster when I asked, probably not without a little confusion, and also special-ordered one of the 1950s Orioles caps pictured. Kind of pointless, because the Orioles had just gone back to a very similar design, but whatever. (It was also a fitted cap, which taught me that I really hate fitted caps)

The poster was for the American Needle and Novelty Company, which is still around, and still making cool old baseball caps. They also sued the NFL in a high-profile case, something that I remember hearing was going to change the landscape of sports as we know it. I haven't noticed the changes yet, unless it's responsible for the LeBron thing.

* * *

#28 -- "The Intuitionist" by Colson Whitehead

#29 -- "Welcome to the Terrordome" by Dave Zirin

#30 -- "A Season on the Brink: A Portrait of Rafael Benitez's Liverpool" by Guillem Balague

Intuitionist: So I finally got around to reading Whitehead, and boy was it good. A jittery, claustrophobic book, all nervous energy and strange twists. Some heavy stuff but still fast reading. I'll get to him again.

Zirin: I don't always like my sports and politics to collide, but this was good (and made me feel a little guilty about not wanting the two to meet). The pieces on Roberto Clemente and the New Orleans Saints were both great, and the soccer chapters downright fantastic. A little overly strident at times but it got me to think of some things a little differently.

Liverpool: Eh. Really good and insightful in the soccer strategy/building a team pieces. Really kind of insipid in the parts about how Benitez is different than other managers and how Liverpool fans are different than other fans. Of course, this was written right after some major successes for Liverpool; I'm reading it after watching them slog through an uninspiring season, followed by Benitez's exit. Pretty dated, just four years on.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Leaving Colorado



In moments of self-awareness, I realize that people might react to my Colorado sky obsession the same way I react to rabid Radiohead fandom -- "nice that you're into it, but really, what's the big deal?"

I understand that and apologize, but I also can't stop.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Past Is a Foreign Country

Somewhere in the slush pile of my mind, there's the remnants of an abandoned story: as workers gradually demolished an old building, all of the site's previous occupants -- people, businesses, other buildings -- started reappearing.

It hit a dead end -- I lacked characters, any sort of plot beyond "weird shit happens," any sort of path -- but perhaps it's time to revisit it. I met up with Tapeleg for a few beers yesterday, and time seemed to fold in on itself a bit.

First a meeting at Conor O'Neill's, a late '90s hangout of mine as the James. The inside's been completely redone but just enough remains to give me the occasional flashback; I've been to the current version enough times that when I'm not there I can't really remember which features belonged to the old place and which the new. From there we proceeded to Time Warp Comics, the center of my adolescent life and my one-time employer. It's not the same space I once knew, of course -- it's now in its third location. But there's a familiarity to it even if the faces and prices are different. 14-year-old Greg would still gravitate there.

The real trip came at the end: out to north Boulder to an outdoor inline rink at Gateway Park. I don't know if I've been there or not -- I suspect I may have played some drunken mini-golf there once -- but it had a message for me. As we walked up to the rink, I started laughing nervously and helplessly. The boards were covered in ads, most heavily faded. Straight ahead of me, though, one healthy green and black advertisement: Boulder Planet, Local News/Local Views. The same message that's on my old business cards, a ghost ad from a place I once worked, now ten years gone. For just a moment, logic started crumbling, and the only possibility that made sense was that I'd misunderstood and been misinformed. The past decade hadn't really happened, the paper was still going and I'd be back there at work on Monday.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

Attention, earthlings: the egg burrito at the Village Coffee Shop, 1605 Folsom Street in Boulder, is the best breakfast it's possible to get.

As you were. Still in Boulder, it still rules. For the first time in months, I feel like sanity and I are back on a first-name basis, greeting each other jovially in the halls. Nothing like clear mountain air and no work to make things seem a little brighter.

* * *

#27 -- "Kosovo: War and Revenge" by Tim Judah

For some reason, I'd skipped over this book (and Judah's other one on the region, "The Serbs") because of some vague sense that it was really one-sided. Tim Judah, if you ever find yourself Googling your name at 2:30 a.m., I apologize. I was, once again, wrong. This is an incredibly even-handed take on Kosovo's history and the events leading up to 1999. Very balanced, very well-researched. It's got an exhaustive accounting of the many ways that all sides involved botched opportunities to avert the war; most notable for me, it's very good on the divisions within the Kosovar Albanian side. The list isn't long, but I'm going to go ahead and call this the best book I've read on Kosovo.

* * *

There's some complaining about the Avalanche's lack of activity during free agency so far, but really... this is a year when less is more. It's a seller's market (except for goalies) and when Colby Armstrong is going for $3 million/per or Manny Malhotra for $2.5, it's not worth it. The Avalanche aren't (barring a miracle run) going to win the Cup this year and none of these players are the missing piece, none worth taking at the cost of playing a young guy. There's only been one guy that I really wanted them to get -- defenseman Zbynek Michalek -- and he probably went for too much.

As for the Thrashers, I'm pretty sold on all their moves (Mason an upgrade on Moose, Ladd an improvement on Armstrong) except for letting Pavel Kubina go. And I'll admit it, that last is probably more because of my Czech defenseman jones than anything else.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

If You're Crying In Your Beer You're Gonna Drown

Back in the Gretzky era of the Rangers, I took a kind of sick delight in reading the NY Post following NY losses. The combination of the "we are destined to win" mentality with the team's failures, plus the Post's trademark restraint, made for hilarious reading. The arrogance of Larry Brooks (not a bad writer, but insufferable) and the incoherence of Jay Greenberg (a bad, bad, bad writer) added to the fun.

It's with a similar grim glee that I anticipate the covers of tomorrow's English tabloids. The extremism with which they've greeted every England UK win, loss, or tie (or even group drawing) means great times for anyone who likes a journalistic trainwreck. The disallowed Lampard goal will double the fun, with a bunch of people already suggesting that the screwup turned the match (though anyone who thinks allowing the goal would have spurred England to hold level with the Germans for 90 minutes has been huffing paint). Earlier a Sun article -- now either gone or just moved off the front page -- made great mention of the fact that the ref in question was South American. Because English refs don't miss things.

Really, to anyone watching this tournament with clear eyes, it was obvious that this was about as far as England could go. They were better than the USA team, but not a match for your Brazils, your Portugals, your Spains, your Germanys. Weak in goal, weak on defense, slow. Simon Kuper (who had a good article on the team a few days ago) tackled this in "Soccernomics" -- specifically that England aren't really among the elites, and are kind of punching above their weight in world soccer.

Kuper's writing is far removed from the world of the Mirror and their ilk, though, so I imagine we'll see plenty of Fabio's failure/cheating ref/dirty hun talk in the days ahead.

* * *

I'm back in Colorado for a week now, and anyone who suggests I don't deserve this vacation will get some hard looks. Weather is grand, beer is cold, and got to watch England-Germany at Sobo 151 with the mighty Brian Ed today. This is a good place.

* * *

#26 -- "Bad Monkeys" by Matt Ruff

I got this right after reading "Sewer, Gas, and Electric" last year, but held off because I anticipated surefire disappointment after reading "SGE." Delayed pleasures and all that, but my prediction was extremely wrong: this is better. It's a tightly-wound trip through paranoia and delusion, often shocking. I think I'm too jaded to be caught off guard by twists but this got me several times. It's got some of the humor of the previous book, but it's more a dry black humor rather than the previous laff riot. It's fantastic and if I go back to Atlanta without buying all his other books, it'll be quite an achievement on my part.

Congratulations, Kirill Kabanov

Between this and this, you've just become the PPA's favorite hockey player, non-Avalanche/Thrashers/Kloucek division. Seriously, I hope the kid does great.

(Edited to spell his name correctly. Don't drink, kids.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Rightness Wronged"

I think there are only a few things the PPA formally endorses -- beer, Albania, Tomas Kloucek, penguins -- but add kdur.org's "Rightness Wronged" to the list. It's on 11am-2pm Eastern every Saturday, it's streamed online, it's hosted by longtime friends-of-Greg KWK and Rags, and it's fucking fantastic. The two gents in question have an ear for the most cathartic music out there and listening for just a bit this past weekend felt great. And it made me want to get back to Colorado posthaste.

Which, happily, I am -- about the time the show's airing this Saturday, in fact. Life's been nothing but work and World Cup -- the two often intersecting -- so I look forward to two weeks of putting concerns and responsibilities to the side.

I haven't posted much lately. Like I said, all work and World Cup (and Twitter -- if you're on it and I somehow don't follow you, look me up at twitter.com/gsdgsd). I've read a few books -- #24 "Bogart" by A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax, #25 "The Fall" by Albert Camus. "Bogart" a good diversion, and good to read it after it spent 10+ years on my shelf, but film biographies aren't really my thing, even when it's Bogie. As for "The Fall" -- some things that I really liked when I was 20 just don't work years later. I re-read "The Plague" a few years back and dug it, but geez, this just left me cold.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Great Beards of History


Whenever the Ski Bum travels sans me, I ask her to bring back paper money. Not sure why, as I don't collect it, but I always get a little charge out of seeing the overseas bills. Especially when the people pictured sport facial hair like this fellow. Doing a little Wikipedia searching, he was a leader of 19th century resistance to Dutch colonization of Indonesia. He died in exile at the age of 92, never knowing that his facial hair would later inspire every bouncer in metro Atlanta.

For the record, 5000 rupiah = about 54 cents, but if I can convince someone that the exchange rate is 1:1, I'm set.

* * *

#23 -- "Zamboni Rodeo" by Jason Cohen

Back in college, my friend Jon and I were devotees of the book "Generation Ecch," which mocked just about everything in the very-mockable mid-'90s, and had the bonus of Evan Dorkin art as well. Then a few years back, I heard about this book, which sounded right up my street (though despite that, and repeated recommendations from Tapeleg, it took me a long long time to get it). It wasn't until I finally ordered it a couple months back that I realized that the author of ZR was the co-author of the long-ago "Generation Ecch," a connection that I found both kind of cool and a tad unsettling, perhaps an indicator of some great conspiracy.

That's all neither here nor there. I finally read it and I'm happy to say that it's one of the finest hockey books I've read, one of the very few that boasts real writing skill in addition to hockey knowledge. The opening description of a goal captures the moment perfectly; the main narrative, as Cohen travels along with the lower-minor league Austin Ice Bats, is honest and funny. In the past I've bemoaned the relative lack of great puck writing in comparison to other sports, and I'm glad to be able to add another hockey tome to the "recommended" shelf.

* * *

World Cup time -- I watched both matches Friday at work but could only give them half my attention, missed South Korea-Greece, watched enough of Argentina-Nigeria to know that we're going to be treated to a whole lot of overblown "what's wrong with Lionel Messi?" talk (and enough to know that even when they're on TV, vuvuzelas aren't good for a hangover), but the first match that's getting my full attention is England-USA. It's my occasional opportunity to get my patriot on, and I will, as much as possible (I'll be wearing an Albania jersey, since I lack a U.S. one -- I'm a bad American).

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Eternal Sunshine

I remember hearing an urban legend/true story about a Bay Area guitarist who was asleep inside a house when a bug bomb went off, and afterwards was perhaps ot-nay so art-smay, and then went on to sing for Rancid. I'm reminded of that after taking on a bathroom-prettifying project yesterday and using about half a canister of "Goof-Off" in a small, poorly ventilated area, and then finding myself talking to rocks and mailboxes and seeing lots of pretty colors as I walked around later. My head stopped swimming a bit later on but even this morning, chillingly, I had the song "I Will Try" by Insted (a band I haven't listened to since I discovered the joys of beer) lodged in my head. I finally dislodged it -- by turning my brain to "Survival" by Outspoken, a band I never liked, even in my straightest of straight edge days.

So let's pretend that I was going to write something super brilliant, but instead (insted) I killed off all those poor brain cells and now I'm just gonna show you old Czechoslovak ads, from that same Zetor Brno hockey program that I've mined in the past.



I don't know why this blows my mind so much (Goof-Off?) but this is apparently a film viewer/editor of a type I've never seen. Not that I'm an expert. But the whole thing, the way it's put together, just looks strange. This scan is awful -- my scanner doesn't deal with grays well, apparently -- but that's a viewing screen underneath the little hood. I dunno, maybe this sort of thing was common all over '60s-'70s America, but I never saw anything like it.



If you had asked me in the early 1980s to "draw what Communism looks like," my subconscious would have picked this image up and converted it into poorly-rendered scratchings in a Big Chief tablet. This is, as far as I can tell, an ad for a uranium mine. I don't know if it was a big draw in the area -- "bring your kids to the uranium mine!" -- or if this is just a "be proud of your uranium mine" type of thing. Also curious: it's in Zdar nad Sazavou, which according to Google Maps, is a good hour away from Brno. I think it's still going strong, if this link right here is the same place. I'll add it to the places to visit list.

Trivia: Zdar nad Sazavou is the birthplace of not one but two members of the recently-World Championship-winning Czech hockey team, Tomas Rolinek (who was the captain) and Petr Vampola. So the message is, I guess, if you want your kid to grow up to play hockey, expose them to uranium. Or "Goof-Off."

* * *

#22 -- "To End a War" by Richard Holbrooke

This came out of a discussion with a friend about the Dayton Accords and the troubled federation that is current Bosnia-Herzegovina. It's probably overdue that I read this; I'm just not crazy for politicians' memoirs. This is certainly self-serving, though not as bad as it could be, and Holbrooke gives some great insight into the negotiating process and the way seemingly minuscule issues tangled things up. I came away (as was the intention, I imagine) thinking that even the flawed Dayton deal was quite an achievement.

It needed a better editor; it's a bit repetitive and occasionally disjointed. And there's some score-settling involved -- the French, the Bosnian Serbs, the Bosnian Muslims, and Boutros-Boutros Ghali all come off looking pretty bad. Eventually I'll hunt around to see if there are any memoirs from any of those sides, or anyone who thinks Dayton was the wrong way to go in the first place. Despite its flaws, this gave me some new insights into something I'm pretty passionate about, so score for that.

Also: it includes Slobodan Milosevic hanging out in an Ohio sports bar, and where else will you get that?

Friday, June 04, 2010

NHL Problems, Solved

Having read this, and taking into account the recent pattern of severe misbehavior, I've decided that Arizona doesn't deserve nice things and I am officially withdrawing my long-running support for keeping the Coyotes there. Go ahead, Winnipeg, they're all yours. Just don't start pulling racist shit.

However, we need a little balance to keep the "Make it Seven, Eh" dorks from getting cocky, so phase two of my plan is to move the Calgary Flames to Portland. The Flames are the NHL's blandest team and no one outside of Alberta is aware that they exist, so the impact should be minimal. They could even remain in their current division. This will also serve me well if I should move to the Pacific Northwest at some point.

Easy-peasy. I'm available for consulting on all of your problems, and I charge reasonable rates.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Unsane for Tennis!

Sometime in the early 1990s, I woke up on New Year's Day with a nasty case of the flu (I was still straight edge, so this was flu, not "flu"). I lay around for a while feeling bad, then finally tentatively got up -- at which point I saw, on top of a stack of albums, Unsane's self-titled LP. If you're familiar with the band, you likely know what the cover is; if you aren't, believe me, you're better off not seeing this image. It was sufficient to push my already-delicate system over the edge, and throwing up ensued.

I've been listening to the first few Unsane albums repeatedly lately; basically all the stuff on Matador. There's a real break after "Total Destruction" -- I love everything they ever did, but from "Scattered, Smothered and Covered" on, they're much more... accessible isn't the right word to describe Unsane, but more polished. Listening to them at the time it all seemed like a natural progression, but now I just about think of Unsane as two different bands -- the scum rock version and the more metal version that showed up on Am Rep and Relapse. Both great, but if I had to choose, it's the early years.

Those first couple albums (and I'll count "Singles '89-'92" as an album, since I first heard all those songs on that collection) are just nasty. Vicious, evil stuff. Something like "Urge to Kill" might seem goofy on paper but hearing the delivery, man, that was kind of believable. Combined with the gruesome cover art, Unsane was the soundtrack to a complete breakdown of society, signifying a bad, fearsome world out there. The only other bands I can think of that were similarly off-putting in a real-world sense are Godflesh and Missing Foundation, but Godflesh was half great and half dull and I'd rather listen to cats mating than Missing Foundation. Unsane consistently delivered the goods.

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#20 -- "The Big Over Easy" by Jasper Fforde

#21 -- "Ashes and Diamonds" by Jerzy Andrzejewski

After reading "The Well of Lost Plots" lately, I was in the mood for more Fforde, and this was a natural choice -- it grows out of a throwaway line at the end of "Well" and starts off the Jack Spratt series, which continued with "The Fourth Bear," which again I read a few years ago. Funny as hell, sorry that there aren't any more Spratt novels out yet.

I've been reading "Ashes and Diamonds" off and on for a while and finally just knocked it off, and gosh, I need a hug. Who knew that Poland at the end of World War II was such an unfun place? People try to find some hope, but just end up in a world of shit. I've been reading a Bogart biography lately and it strikes me that this is kind of the anti-Bogart movie; everything branches off in ways that are the absolute opposite of how they would in, say, "Casablanca." Alternately, if I want to tie things together, Unsane would do a pretty good soundtrack for this book. A very good read, but make sure you're on an emotional high before you start it. There's an acclaimed movie version of this, which I'll check out sometime when I feel like I've been too happy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Blackout



Well this has been fun: sporadic internet for about a week and a half now, and no real time to get it looked at. Finally did the other night and it's not the result of bad karma or crappy phone lines, but rather a modem that's about three years past warranty. So that's being taken care of. Finally.

A couple weeks back I did something I hadn't done in a long while -- went on a long walk, camera in hand. The target is below; an odd old house on Atlanta's 5th Street, one that's fallen on some hard times. I don't know what it was, though it must be something of note to have survived this long despite the disrepair. The back shows signs of either a fire at some point or renovations in progress, or perhaps both. Pictures below, book reviews follow.









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#18 -- "M. Butterfly" by David Henry Hwang

#19 -- "Behind the Curtain" by Jonathan Wilson

"M. Butterfly" is part of a large stash of books the Ski Bum lent me a few years ago, in an effort to help me to the then-elusive 50-book mark. It's just helping me along in 2010 instead of 2006. I remember the play in question being something of a big deal in the 1980s, for reasons I didn't grasp at the time. I don't read (or watch) a ton of theater, but this moved along quite nicely, with sensitivity and humor.

Jonathan Wilson is the Guardian's specialist in Eastern European soccer, and hey, guess what this is about. Wilson tours the former Soviet bloc to see how the fall of Communism has affected the sport, and by and large, free markets haven't helped things at all. It's quite well-written and interesting whether or not you're into soccer. And if you're me, it makes you want to head back to the area now. Of course, if you're me, just about anything has that effect.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Trying Something New

This is being written on an iPod Touch while I wait for my car to be fixed, so any bizarreness should probably be chalked up to the tempermental autocorrect. This could conceivably get me to post more. But a lot of things conceivably could, yet don't.

Went to the doctor's yesterday -- this is a wildly fun weekend, yes -- and as I emerged from the climate-controlled calm into the humid hell, for just a moment I felt invigorated. And I thought: "oh my god, I'm turning Southern." Thankfully the feeling passed and I was back to whining sweaty discomfort in no time.

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#16 -- "The Way of the World" by Nicholas Bouvier

#17 -- "The Well of Lost Plots" by Jasper Fforde

Bouvier's book was touted as a sort of Middle Eastern Fermor, and that's fairly accurate. Not as lively and inspiring but interesting nonetheless. Drags a bit in the early going but picks up as he and his companions move east from Turkey through Iran and Pakistan to Afghanistan. It's a world none of us will see again.

Fforde's book is a blast -- a different series than the one I've read previously but still funny as hell. I went a few years after my first experience with him but I'll seek out some more.

Auto place's tv is now talking about Sarah Palin, so time to wrap this up and play music very loud.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cinco de Mayo

One of the side-effects of a job that frequently involves weird shifts and weird days is that you're caught off guard when you end up out drinking at a time when many other humans are out drinking. So it wasn't until some friends and I were unable to actually get to a bar tonight that we realized that today was Cinco de Mayo.

It has a little added impact this year because one of my several former states, Arizona, has instituted its crazy-ass immigration rule, which I imagine is dampening celebrations. It's a weird time. Some of my previously-normal-seeming high school friends are revealing themselves as being kind of nuts. The Phoenix Suns are mounting the most effective challenge to the law. I'm not sure what to think.

Speaking of not sure what to think, in "lines I never thought I'd type," the major reason I've not been blogging lately is not the usual laziness, but rather a semi-regular gym schedule. I actually worked out so hard that I vomited last week. If any of you have done that, I'd prefer not to know about it so that I can continue to feel really hardcore.

When not vomiting, I read a book:

#15 -- "Call For the Dead" by John LeCarre

This is tense, this is taut, this is all the words used to describe thrillers. And I continue to be impressed by anything where a character comes on stage and is fleshed out within a page. Why don't I let you know when I read one of JLC's books and I don't like it?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Oddities and Blockbusters

#13 -- "Darkmans" by Nicola Barker

#14 -- "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown

Two rather polarizing books, with radically different audiences. Barker's book drew my attention by virtue of being really thick and getting a nomination for a Man Booker prize; reviews online indicated that it was a love it or hate it novel. I secretly suspected I'd hate it, but just couldn't ignore it. I'm happy to report that I was really, really wrong. "Darkmans" -- which, as people used to hate to hear me say, transcends any genre (but if it didn't transcend a genre, the genre it didn't transcend would be "black humor horror," which doesn't exist) -- has a slew of memorable characters, a kinetic and original writing style, and I probably would have plowed through all 800 plus pages in one sitting if it weren't for things like "work" and "sleeping" and "bathing." Barker keeps a lot of balls in the air at one time and none really drop. The end's really ambiguous, to the point where Haruki Murakami can only look on enviously, and I know that drives some people nuts. Me, I'm okay with it. "Darkmans" isn't like anything else I've read and I absolutely loved it.

After that, I needed something a little easier and when "DVC" was 50 cents at a work book sale, I snapped it up. I'd resisted for a long time; some people who knew me well told me that it was the kind of plot I'd enjoy, others who knew me well told me the writing would make me crazy. Both were right. The codebreaking and the sleuthing were entertaining; the characters were interchangeable and the style was not my thing. Moved quickly at least, and now, finally, I can stop wondering if I'm missing out.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jesus Wept

I followed the NFL draft last night with one purpose: just to make sure the Broncos wouldn't take Tim Tebow.

Understand, I don't care about his personal beliefs, however much we may have to hear about them. If a player can help the Broncos, I don't care if his name's Hitler Stalin and he worships his own feet.

I do care about the fact that at best, he projects to be an average quarterback, and the Broncos already have Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn filling that role. And I have a natural aversion to players that may suffer from a surplus of publicity.

So, followed the draft, and when the Broncos picked someone not named "Tebow" at #22, I let out a sigh of relief, turned everything off and went to read.

Then I woke up to this.

Crap.

Now, I'm a magnanimous guy, and I look at this as a chance for god to make up for one of his big screw-ups (see footnote on linked post). So I'm going to make a deal: if Tim Tebow leads the Broncos to a Super Bowl championship -- I will go to church.

And -- what the hell, I'm feeling generous -- if he leads them to a SECOND Super Bowl championship, I will go to church A SECOND TIME.

For disclaimer purposes: definition of church is rather loose, and may include mosques, airport chapels, or if it's still open, the notorious fetish nightclub on Cheshire Bridge dubbed "The Church."

Friday, April 16, 2010

I'm A Slut for Sports

That's guaranteed to draw search hits!

The recently-read "Soccernomics" had an interesting -- and home-hitting -- chapter on the "polygamous fan," someone who's maybe not so pure with their loyalties, someone who -- in a weak moment -- is susceptible to the leer of another team.

That's so me. Some years back, my friend Kynan -- who is an Oakland Raiders fan, but still a decent smart person -- called me after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (one of my football teams) beat the Raiders (Kynan's only team, and boy should you feel sorry for him these days) in the Super Bowl. His message, which has stuck with me, was something along the lines of: "I support this team constantly, while you throw your football affections around like a fat French hooker."

Guilty. (And "fat French hooker" is another line guaranteed to bring in site hits.) I've added or changed loyalties many times over the years, and while in my old age I've more-or-less settled down to two teams per sport (I'm like a sports Mormon), my history isn't too honorable. I'll admit that -- and I'm glad Kuper and the other fellow are giving me a little support.

Let's take a look. Football: the New York Jets were my first team; I picked up the Broncos when we moved to Colorado and the Buccaneers who knows why. I've stayed pretty standard, but sort of abandoned the post-Joe Klecko Jets. Anyone who's ever met a Jets fan will understand why. Atlanta factor: I don't really care about the Falcons.

Baseball: the Houston Astros were my first favorite team, but I sort of forgot them after they dropped the tequila sunrise jerseys. I spent most of my formative years rooting for first the Orioles and Blue Jays and then the Orioles and Cardinals. If I ever start paying attention to baseball again it'd probably be the O's and the C's, but if I move back to Colorado I could probably manage some Rockies love. Atlanta factor: I actively hate the Braves and their ridiculous tomahawk chop and Chipper Goddamn Jones, and every time I've seen them live I've rooted against them.

Hockey: First team I ever supported was the old hockey Rockies, but they left before I really knew what was going on. Grew up a Blues and Penguins (natch) fan; as soon as the Avalanche moved to Colorado, I threw the other teams over like you wouldn't believe. Don't care about the Penguins now, remain fond of the Blues in the same manner (as I once memorably and unfortunately said) as an ex-girlfriend. Have occasionally allowed the Thrashers into my heart and currently own as many Thrashers jerseys as Avalanche jerseys. Atlanta factor: the Thrashers spend the night sometimes.

Basketball: I don't give two shits about basketball -- the last team I seriously supported was the Jack Sikma-era Seattle Supersonics. I suppose I cheer for the Nuggets in the very passive "I hope they do well, but don't expect me to try" way. Atlanta factor: basketball?

Soccer: I've become a Liverpool fan, but it's still kind of a lark and I find it hard to root against any of their traditional rivals (other than Manchester United, who I root against in the same way I root against the Yankees or Dick Cheney). It's a bit weird in a case where there's not really one overwhelmingly dominant leading league; rooting for Liverpool and AC Sparta Praha and the Colorado Rapids isn't really any sort of conflict.

Golf: I hate golf so much.

This all came up recently when good ol' ICJ told me that he was giving up a longtime Flyers fandom for the Buffalo Sabres. I fully supported him. The world needs fewer Flyers fans. And now, I hope he'll be reassured to realize: it's totally normal, being a fat French hooker and all that.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Frontiers in Candy

I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but I've got a real bad jones for European black licorice, the really bitter stuff that doesn't seem to fly with palates over here. No clue why or where I picked it up, but I love the stuff. My Danish friend Susanne used to hook me up, but when she moved to London I was left lacking.

Until recently. The desire got pretty bad so I e-mailed her and asked her for some help; she promptly got in touch with a local importer and had them ship me a box.

And it was a box full of wonders. The licorice, of course, in a variety of forms. "Skole-Kridt," which is gummy chalk -- odd but good. And then the real eye-opener:



Labre Larver. One site says it translates directly to "Luscious Larvae," which I can't find any other sources to confirm. But "Larver" does certainly mean "larvae," at least according to Google translate, and one can't deny that the characters on the front are definitely larvae... and they're definitely flirtatious larvae. This really trumps gummy worms. I need to lie down just thinking about it.

The candy (all gone now, but yeah, it's more or less larvae-looking) is an odd sort of caramel licorice -- like nothing I've ever tasted, and really kind of pleasant though not something I'd seek out a lot. It seems to be accepted in polite society -- there are two Facebook fan groups. But I still really want to meet the person who came up with this idea.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stumbling But Still In It


Unheard of behavior for a Saturday morning: I got up and went to something called "Fitness Battalion," the name of which kind of reminds me of the "Environmental Police" back in Boulder. I've needed to shed some pounds for a while -- I've started to resemble a fullback minus the muscle -- and I'm not what you call a self-motivator when it comes to doing much of anything physical, so I went along as a friend-of-member. 45 minutes -- what harm could it do?

Well. I'm still alive, but to my dignity, at least, plenty. First off, I'm glad I was with this program and not another similar crack-of-dawn (ok, crack-of-8:30 a.m.) outfit nearby -- mine was filled with normal people while the other looked like it was preparing for a coup. And mine was plenty tough enough.

First off, a revelation: when I (rarely) do sit-ups on my own, I do them Greg-style: do a sit-up, congratulate yourself, go sit on the couch for a while, read, perhaps have a beer, do a second sit-up. In this group, one sit-up is expected to be followed immediately by the second, and then (!) a third, fourth, fifth and so on. And if (hypothetically) you don't get through all 15 in the time alloted, no one says anything, but oh. Deep down, you know you've failed.

Then we did something called Burpees (I think), which are like regular push-ups except that this is how they do them in Guantanamo. Then a race involving Burpees and running, which left me incapable of saying anything other than "(wheeze wheeze) fuck (wheeze wheeze) shit (wheeze wheeze) goddammit."

Finally something called "Hatemakers," which weren't wrongly named. Next time someone asks me to do a "Hatemaker," I'm going to saucily respond "I'm more of a Lovemaker," and see if that gets me disinvited from any further exercise activities ever.

Several hours later, though, I feel relatively good other than complete lack of function in my limbs (I'm typing this with my tongue), helped along by the decision to reward myself with beer later in the day.

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#12 -- "Ill Fares the Land" by Tony Judt

Another one from my guy Tony, made more poignant since this is likely his last completely new work. It's both inspiring and a bit frustrating. The premise is simple -- unrestrained capitalism has led us astray, and a new way is needed. Fine, I'm on board with that, and he makes the case very well. Where it falls down is in terms of solutions -- how do we accomplish the changes he suggests? Well, uh. Not that simple. More courageous politicians, sure, but if the change is ultimately going to come from the people... well, right now, political discourse in this country at least is somewhere south of a Crosby vs Ovechkin thread in terms of intellect and civility. "Ill Fares the Land" sets the right tone, but (largely) I think it's going to be preaching to the converted. The people who need this book the most are likely least inclined to give it a chance.