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.

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#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)

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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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.

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#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.

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#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.

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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.