Single serving

I’m a big fan of the single serving size. I know it’s the big imperial evil Amerikkkan way, but I love it when I can make a meal without having 3/4 of it left after I’m done, and I’m not really into the whole leftovers thing. If I have spaghetti on Monday, I’m damn sure I won’t want it on Tuesday. So things like Lunchables and snak-paks and tiny jars are my friend, and I hate that the grocery store down the street only sells spaghetti sauce in the making-dinner-for-18 size. One of my favorite meals ever is the Dinty Moore beef and potatoes microwave bowl, which is served in a vacuum-sealed package that doesn’t need to be stored in hot or cold, and can be nuked in two minutes. Ten years ago when I worked at Wrubel’s machine room on Sunday nights, I used to hike across campus with one of these in my pack, plus a shitload of CDs to keep me busy. And now I found that the Rite-Aid drug store carries them, so I always buy all of them they have in stock when I’m there. And I just read about a new kind of coffee in a can that’s coming out that has a chemical heater in the can. You just bust open a seal, shake it up a bit, and in a couple of minutes, there’s hot coffee. It’s only a matter of time before someone puts one of those bitches in a soup can, and I’ll buy them by the case.

It suddenly turned winter last night. When I went to bed, the wind was tearing through the windows, and I got a good night of sleep in the cold. But when I woke, the weather page said it was -3 out with the windchill. (That’s Fahrenheit; I’m not a metric geek.) It took a lot of work to stumble to the train station; even with a thick hooded sweatshirt on under my leather jacket, it felt like the wind was knocking straight through my skin and splitting apart my DNA. There’s some snow on the ground here and there, but it’s mostly just little patches of glare ice here and there that threaten to knock you on your ass when you’re trying to run at top speed toward a heated building. And just yesterday, I was wondering why the hell it was so warm in December. I guessed I cursed it for everyone.

I wanted to get some more writing done, but my head is pounding, and I mostly want to lay in bed and do nothing. This is why I need a tablet PC, although I have a feeling I’d spend three grand on one and it would get about as much use as my laptop, or my Pocket PC, or any other gadget I’ve bought. Maybe I should throw $2998 in the house-building account and buy a good pad of paper at the drug store and write in there.

OK, Tylenol, TV…

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Dead arm

I fell asleep for a couple of hours and woke up to find my left arm all fucked up, slept on and twisted around the wrong way. It feels like if I could contort it in just the right way, it will pop back into place and stop hurting, but nothing has worked yet. So I thought I’d start by bitching about that a bit.

I actually got out of the house today, to drop off laundry, pick up a prescription, and go buy books. Barnes and Noble was pretty nutso today, with lines out the door and lots of people running around with stacks of books. I got this new collection of Kerouac’s journals edited by Douglas Brinkley, which I was actually a bit reluctant to buy. It’s weird, because a few years ago, I would have dropped twenty or thirty bucks on any Kerouac stuff I didn’t already have. But the cottage industry has grown so much, and there are so many players that are seeking to twist things around to fit their own agenda. Kerouac’s family (really his wife’s family) has supressed so much of his writing and tried to mask any work that might suggest that Jack occasionally messed around with men or took drugs or whatever. And then the hippy crowd on the far left wants to comb over the fact that Kerouac was a Catholic, supported the war in Vietnam, and didn’t really care for the whole political thing that Ginsberg was into. So now all of these books are coming out, and you don’t know who to trust. It’s too bad, since Kerouac was such a working-man writer, someone with many sides but who came from a solid background and loved America as a whole, not just the two coasts but the whole country in between.

I got that book, and also some other random book from the sailing section, containing a score of tales about people dealing with extreme emergencies out on the seas. It’s basically Perfect Storm sorts of things, but a wider variety and not as dumb. I like reading it, because there’s this whole new vocabulary of different equipment and parts and pieces and knots and terms. And I like stories that are told on the road, even if the road is a shipping lane cutting across the Pacific. So I hope that turns out to be a good read. And I hope I don’t end up wanting to buy a boat by the end of it.

Not much else to report, other than that I’m enjoying having all of my MP3s on shuffle and feeding through the stereo. I found a plugin to take care of the volume normalization problem that works fairly well. There’s another method that puts some kind of gain number in the ID3 tags, but I haven’t fucked with that yet.

OK, on to writing.

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All I’ve done this weekend is consumed movies and consumed food. Well, I’ve done a bit more than that; I actually broke down and did the whole stereo rewiring project I have had on the back burner for years. It involved a lot of dusting and me crawling around to figure out where wires should go. I retired my Kenwood 6+1 CD player that I bought in 1994, since I usually only listen to CDs on my digitally-linked DVD player. And I got my computer hooked up to the stereo now, so I can run xmms on continuous shuffle. The line level is a little weird, and I keep readjusting it at the mixer level, xmms level, receiver level, etc. to try to get it right. Sometimes it’s perfect, and then an MP3 sounds louder and muddy and I have to dick with the volume. I’m not really into that, but it’s cool to have 5000-some songs on shuffle.

Movies… I’m getting a lot of stuff in for xmas, so I’ve been trying to watch stuff and get ideas for writing. The other night was After Hours, which I have only seen once, and that was five or six years ago. It’s funny because it all takes place a few blocks south of where I work, but even though they did film there, the place looks like a closed-off movie set more than it does look like New York. I mean, there are some 80s stereotype things in there, like the bohemian artist’s loft (which honestly looks like my office building before a good cleaning, a corporate paintjob, and a cube farm installation) and the guy working as a word processor. No, he’s not working WITH a word processor, he IS a word processor, typing archaic commands on an old greenscreen mainframe terminal. After Hours is one of those films that formed my only opinions about living and working in Manhattan before I actually came here, and it’s almost nostalgic and strange to revisit that old opinion and see how different it is from the reality of being here.

There are two other things that are captured in After Hours that I took away from this recent viewing. One was the way it captured the chase that crumbles in your hands to but still keeps you on your feet. I used to feel this back in college, the blind date that falls apart but leaves you at a bar where you run into someone else and then follow them to a party, where you end up talking to someone else and going to a different bar and then running into other friends and so on and so forth. It’s the kind of thing that only happens when you’re around other people who look around the usual social convention and chase the same thing just like you. I mean, now, dating and socializing is such an alien thing to me, and it’s such a formal constraint. When I was in college, I’d hit on someone in the student union, I’d ask a couple people working in a store a totally random question and then end up in a long conversation that would turn into a years-long friendship. Paul (in the movie) ends up in the apartment of a waitress after knowing her for ten seconds, and they’re listening to Monkees records and she’s drawing a sketch of him. It seems like in college, weird shit like that was happening all the time, ending up in a dorm room at three in the morning talking to someone about the Civil War or going to Germany to paint or whatever. And I miss that now. Maybe I should write about it – there are bits of it in Summer Rain, but I wish I could write more like that.

And speaking of wishing and writing, I love the way that After Hours flows. It’s the granddaddy of Clerks and the “I wasn’t even supposed to be here today!”, with this guy looking at his watch and knowing that in the morning, he’s gotta be at the desk doing his word processing, and he just wants to put head to pillow, but with someone as beautiful as Rosanna Arquette kissing you, you want to keep going after it. Screw sleep, you can catch up when you die! And of course, she’s insane and giving more mixed signals than a bad traffic light, but… man, she is beautiful! The whole film unwinds like that, mostly in real-time but with the tension of getting the fuck home and the drama of the million related coincidences, that it works so well. I would love to write a book like that.

Last night I saw F/X, a very underrated suspense movie that I used to love back in high school. I rented the hell out of that thing back in the day, but I haven’t seen it in years. I never thought about it, but it’s another New York Eighties movie, with lots of cops in the old cop cars and huge loft apartments and “dirty” streets that are far cleaner than when they actually clean the streets here. What was funny is how new the movie felt to me, although I remembered so many of the little nuances, especially Jerry Orbach’s acting.

Today, as I waited for my shipment from FreshDirect, I watched Goodfellas for the New York trifecta. I saw most of it recently on TV, but of course, Joe Pesci was talking about “Mother melons” or whatever else they dubbed over his cursing. I liked the movie, although I’m somewhat reluctant over it, because every jerkoff in my neighborhood worships it like it’s the new fucking testament, and they all think they are fucking gangsters and can double-park everywhere and act like they own the damn neighborhood. Even though the moral of the story is that if you’re in the mafia, you’re basically fucked, the people here don’t really see that. But it’s entertaining to see Pesci go off, and Ray Liotta’s a great actor in this kind of role.

The thing I got out of Goodfellas was the “last day of the wiseguy”, the last sequence where Liotta is driving all over, getting coke, trying to sell guns, making the meat sauce, looking for helicopters, and so on. I love how that sequence is cut together, how it makes you feel like you are him, paranoid on coke and rushing through a futile set of obstacles. I would love to try that in a book somehow, although I really need to think about it.

And then I saw Real Genius tonight, which was good, but it made me absolutely wish I could date that girl Jordan in the movie. I went out on a date once with a girl who looked almost exactly like her, but she was really shy and the whole thing didn’t work out. I don’t know, I had this strange idea that maybe she did like me from how she acted, and I cooked her dinner once, but she was a vegetarian and I had to scramble to do everything right, and I don’t know what happened. This was all the semester before Summer Rain starts and I guess I forgot about her in the wake of everything else going on, but then years later she suddenly popped in my head again, but by then I was 2500 miles away and couldn’t even remember her name let alone how to get in touch with her.

Speaking of which, I was reading old paper journals last night. Man, that’s always fucked up. That’s like starting a story with “Okay, I smoked a bunch of PCP first” – there’s really no way it can get better. I don’t know, I guess I at least feel better about money, reading myself bitch about cash back in 1996. Sometimes now I’m a little tight in the wallet, but I guess I’m more above water than under.

Okay, I’m debating Mean Streets or trying to get some writing done, so I should go flip a coin or something.

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I’m listening to MP3s on random shuffle on my PC, which is new to me. I know, this is something I was supposed to start doing five years ago, which is also when I was supposed to chuck my CD player and receiver and start stealing all of my music. I used to listen to a lot more music in Seattle, when everything was in one room and my bed also served as my couch, my kitchen table, and the place where I read, wrote, watched videos, and played music. Now I never seem to want to find a CD I like, and except for the times when I’m writing and I listen to the same handful of discs, I usually turn on the tube when I need background noise. I need to stop doing that.

I have been interested in some kind of master convergence solution that would somehow solve all of my media woes and not cost a fortune. I was just having this discussion with Ray last night, although his idea is more like a credit card-sized drive that holds fifty gazillion terabytes and can wirelessly communicate with every type of electronics in his house or anywhere else. He’ll never find this, and with about 20,000 CDs in his house, he’s never going to find any kind of mobile drive to hold all of that. I have less of a problem, as I don’t need a car unit, and my iPod takes care of most of the mobile issues. Also, if my stereo is up loud enough, you can hear it in any room, so that solves the multiple-speaker/multiple-zone problem.

I saw a writeup on a new system by Sonos which is promising. You hook up your computer to their box, and then you have a ~$500 unit per zone. Each unit talks to the PC wirelessly, and has a built-in amp and inputs for other audio components (turntable, CD, iPod). Each one operates on its own; you can be listening to something downstairs while someone upstairs has another song going. The whole thing is controlled with a very slick handheld remote that has a color screen driving a good navigation system, and touch controls that look easy to use. I like the controller a lot, but I already have a good receiver and don’t like the idea of paying for another one and then somehow wiring it in tandem with my DVD sound setup. I also like its general looks, but I don’t like that it probably requires me to run in Windows all the time.

My predicament now is that I dual-boot into Windows to use my iPod software, so all of my MP3s have been stranded on a different hard drive. I just got NTFS mounting to work in linux though, so now I can just fire up xmms and point it at that directory and it works. But I am playing through the tiny speakers built into my LCD, which are about as big as the one in the back of my watch. I need to figure out a way to string some cables across the room and get the signal to my receiver. Then I need to figure out how to get XMMS to run so it isn’t microscopic. Also, it would be cool to do some kind of web-based control for it so I could fire up a browser on my laptop in the next room and change songs. Or maybe I should do something useful, like clean my bathtub.

I’m now listening to an Asia song from the Over the Top soundtrack that rhymes fire with desire. I think all of the songs on this soundtrack do, though. Anyway, I think I’m going to either write or play videogames.



When I lived in Seattle, my studio was on the top floor of the building. Okay, there were only five floors, but with the couple of levels of parking lots underneath there, it gave me a bit of altitude over Pill Hill. Seattle winters aren’t too brutal, and I probably could have survived the whole season without a winter coat, especially given that I drove everywhere. My apartment had a single baseboard heater next to my bed, about four feet of inductive coil inside a metal case, maybe something you could buy for $30 at your local hardware store. I seldom ran the heater, though, because everyone below me ran theirs. I’d often get home from work and find my apartment about the temperature of a bread oven, because the jerkoff below me left his heat on full and then went to work all day or all week. That meant, I opened the window or the patio door, and let the cold and usually rainy Seattle winter battle the apartment until it got comfortable.

I don’t have control of my heat system here either – most apartments in New York have steam radiators that are centrally controlled by who knows what kind of mechanical or manual algorithm. This usually means in mild weather like today – mid-40s or so – my apartment also approaches the temperature resembling a kiln. Unfortunately, the opening the window approach isn’t as pleasant. For one, my crap windows are very difficult to open, and are more binary than linear; you apply way too much pressure to a non-ergonomic handle like you’re trying to open a can of pickles, and after too much time – CREEAK – the window opens about as far as you’ll be able to correct it. Compare this to my Seattle digs, which were only a few years old and had all-new, tight-sealing, perfectly-balanced Andersen windows. And in Seattle, the distant rain and hum of traffic (with no horns or car alarms – I think most people in Western Washington aren’t even aware their cars HAVE horns) sounded so much better than the too-present sound of jocko-homo-italiano guys beating their wives or whatever else I hear outside my window on a regular basis.

I had another round with the dentist today, the last for the year. He finished up a root canal, put in another titanium post, and sealed it all up in temporary crud to await a real crown next year. I’ve burned up all of my insurance for 2004, so I will come back right before my Vegas trip for the porcelain replacement. And I’m doing the flex-spend thing so I will save a little bit of cash and not pay as much in taxes. I am all for any way to pay less tax, although I wouldn’t want to go through all the hoops of considering my writing a “business” so I could write off my computer and stamps and pencils and whatnot. It’s too much work, and I haven’t even bought a new computer in a while. Maybe I should, and deduct the whole deal. Those Tablet PCs look nice…

I finished reading the stock market book I was talking about, and I guess it is good, in the sense that the guy lost like a million dollars and was a total dumbass and admitted it at the end. The whole thing makes me NOT want to invest, to just shovel cash into some kind of blind trust and not look at it, and not buy anything and just read and write and let the money quietly accumulate. I guess that’s what the 401K is for. I have like a dozen choices in the thing, in contrast to old jobs that used Fidelity and offered a bazillion options. All I know is that I max out the thing every year, and I actually made a decent amount of money from my picks last quarter. So that will be there, and if Social Security survives, maybe I can use that money for books each month.

I came to the realization that my biggest fear about retirement now is not getting the money to stop working, but actually living long enough to spend the money. I know that sounds nuts, but 67 is a long way off. I mean, all of my grandparents died at just a few years older than that. Okay, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I don’t sit around eating giant blocks of organ meat doused in lard like my grandfather. But when I get out of bed in the morning, my 33-year-old ass doesn’t exactly feel *young*. What will it be like when it’s twice as old. Maybe I need to get my ass off the couch and run around the block a few times. I mean, having five million in the bank doesn’t do much if my arteries are 99% clogged and my bad cholesterol is a four-digit number. Of course, maybe in 30 years, I will take a roto-rooter nanotech pill and have my circa 1985 heart back again.

After spending the whole day veering in and out of sleep and hoping the dull pain of the new metal in my mouth would go away, I’m now far too awake, and I don’t feel like writing on this new book. I need to dig through my pile of unread books and find something new…

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Far Beyond Sick Day

I stayed home sick today. I suddenly got this thing Wednesday morning that made me instantly tired and unable to focus, the kind of thing that only sleep could cure. I thought maybe going to bed when I got home yesterday and sleeping ten or eleven hours would do it, but it didn’t. So I slept most of today and had a lot of weird dreams. I had a dream that I was given three wishes, like in a movie or something, and I asked the angel or faerie or whatever it was if I could chain together a lot of multiple similar statements using semicolons or something, and she said fine. I carefully worded the first wish to include every major and minor medical malady currently afflicting me. It was weird because I was pissed about spending all of this money recently on the dentist and then throwing away all of it to get a set of magically perfect teeth. I also debated on whether or not to include whatever chemical issues are in my brain which are medical, wondering if I would have a Twilight Zone moment and cure any mood issues but also become so well-adjusted that I’d never be able to write anymore. I don’t remember getting to the other wishes.

I started reading the nearest book to my bed this afternoon between naps, and it’s one I got for free from Marie about some writer from the New Yorker who becomes somewhat addicted to the stock market and chronicles his rise and fall during the period a few years ago when the tech market was insanely high. The book is interesting in a sense, although the guy is a total dickhead and exactly the kind of person that personifies New York in the way that I hate. I mean, he lives in a 1.6 or 1.3 million dollar apartment, and when him and his wife decide to separate, instead of one moving or both selling the place, they get two separate apartments, and keep the kids (who are in their late teens – we’re not talking about traumatizing developing toddlers or whatever) in the big upper west side place, and take turns living in the big house or their two respective apartments. So that is THREE apartments, and I’m certain that either of the two bachelor/ette shacks are probably twice as nice as my shithole and cost twice as much. So why am I supposed to trust the investment advice of this schmuck? Here’s some investment advice for him: dump the bitch and sell the house. When the kids go to college, they won’t be alienated because they are the only ones with parents still married to each other.

Speaking of apartments, I’m fighting the too-hot/too-cold war here. This place seals up like a thermos, so it gets way too warm in here when the heat kicks in, but it’s not the right weather to start opening up windows, either. I can manage to balance the place to a comfortable level for a half hour or hour, but then it goes the wrong way. I was reading an article a few weeks ago about how traditional Japanese houses work, in that they have almost no insulation, and the family basically huddles together around a small charcoal stove that’s hidden in a pit in the floor. So it really changes the social dyanmic of the family, because everyone is sitting nose to nose around a damn Weber grill or whatever, but people are used to that, and most old-school Japanese people would think Ray Miller’s house is a damn sauna. (For those who don’t know, Ray keeps his house at a constant 68 degrees. Kelvin.)

Speaking of Ray, it appears that “Dimebag” Darrell from the band Pantera got shot and killed on-stage at a Ohio show last night, along with a handful of other people. The gunman was taken out by a quick-thinking cop, before a hostage was also plugged. What’s weird is that this happened on the anniversary of when John Lennon was killed, not that I would consider Pantera and the Beatles to be in the same ball park or even the same sport. Anyway, back in the day, Ray HATED Pantera. I somehow missed the whole thing, but Ray worked in a record store and had to deal with their fans regularly. The deal is that Pantera was a glam-metal band like Poison or Cinderella back in the day, except instead of being guys that looked like chicks because of the makeup, they were really ugly guys that didn’t quite look like chicks, unless you spent a lot of time trying to get laid in the bathrooms on the Jersey turnpike. So they never were that popular, and played the bar circuit in Texas and sold albums out of their car for a while.

One day, they dropped the glam look and tried to go for this “tough guy” image, adding catchy riffs and moshpit-inducing style to their music. It was one of those right-place/right-time things (it being like the very early 90s) and all of a sudden, they were the next big trend. They talked about smoking a lot of pot and they all had a bunch of tattoos and they were badasses, especially if you asked any of their loyal fans about them. And of course, Ray (and many other Death Metal people) hated Pantera, because it was just a big huge gimmick, and the music was repetitive and nowhere near as brutal as underground bands, and they were basically The Monkees with tattoos. Ray even made up these flyers that basically told the “real” story behind the band, how Dimebag Darrell used to be Diamond Darrell and wear spandex and eye liner and sing songs like “Ride My Rocket”. Even the band got pissed about people dredging up their past, and refused to acknowledge their albums before 1990’s _Cowboys From Hell_.

Pantera was an annoyance, moreso to Ray than me. I stopped following metal around the time they hit their peak, with the 1994 debut-at-#1 album _Far Beyond Driven_. They were always in the news, and Ray always hated them, but it didn’t bother me that much. When I heard about the shooting today, it was weird, but it takes a lot to faze me these days. I never would have wished death by lead to any of their members; I was hoping the slow road to smaller and smaller venues and then maybe a job cleaning hulls at a boat shop or loading trucks at a guitar store would be more acceptable.

And that’s all. My soup-based dinner didn’t seem to be enough, so I should rummage around the kitchen before ER starts in 15.

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Family Guy (not the cartoon)

I got the huge delivery of food yesterday, so I feel good about life (for the moment.) I don’t know why having cabinets and the fridge full of food makes me feel complacent about life, but it does. I’m eating boca burgers with cheddar cheese and real hamburger-type buns, and I have enough soft drinks and juice to last me the rest of the year, so that’s good. Even though it’s cold and rainy outside, it feels good to sit in the overheated apartment and relax. If there was anything good on TV on Monday night, I’d be 100% happy.

Last night, for whatever reason, I watched this movie The Family Guy, with Nick Cage. He is a super high-power Wall Street executive type that is emotionally bankrupt, and through some unexplained magic, he wakes up in a life in which he married a college girlfriend he dumped 13 years ago. They had kids and moved to Jersey and he became a tire salesman at his father-in-law’s place, and he goes through all of the initial “where am I” confusion and eventually determines that he loves the wife and the kids and even though life is hard, he has all of these good things to show for it.

Okay, I’ll admit that if I was given a choice between my current life and his – including Tea Leone as wifey – okay, I’d give up tech writing in a second to sell tires and get a shot at her. Even in the dumpy housewife role, she was something else, and probably the reason I kept watching for so long. But really, the movie pissed me off on a couple of levels, some obvious, some a bit closer to the bone.

First, as you may have guessed, I was pretty pissed off at the whole assumption that kids and family are immediate validation in life, and the magic miracle of not pulling out is somehow more esteemed than any other action a person in our society could do. Because having some child actor/future cokehead say “pusghetti” instead of “spaghetti” is so damn cute, that we can ignore the fact that this film is pretty much propaganda for people to breed and be happy and shut up, even if they’ve been downsized into working double shifts at Burger King to pay the mortgage on a shitty house in a shitty suburb of New Jersey. I hate when Hollywood does a “feel good” film like this or Pay it Forward in which a director or producer can say “I’m doing this film as a message that people should be good to each other” and then market the piece of shit like any other product that’s meant to be consumed by the sheep, meanwhile being just as evil of a person as the guys that installed the damn death chambers in Germany or something.

The other thing that pisses me off is that, in a sense, this movie is true. I mean, I’m not driving a Ferrari and wearing a $2500 suit like Cage is in this flick, but I feel about as emotionally bankrupt as I possibly could these days. I mean, I have not dated anyone in almost five years now, I haven’t cultured any new or lasting friendships, and I’ve watched almost everyone else in my life slowly fade away. I’m sure a lot of that is that I don’t put enough effort into things, but even when I do, it doesn’t change the fact that this isn’t college anymore, and people are too busy with their own lives to hand-hold me through my personal depression or whatever. I’ve spent years saying I don’t want kids or want a family or anything else, but sometimes the whole holiday thing has a way of sneaking up on me and awakening that 1% of me that wished I did find a soulmate back in college and get on the house and kids life plan back in like 1992.

There’s also the part of me that wonders who I dated and broke up with in college that would evoke a similar movie moment for me, if I had the whole magical wormhole power that Nick Cage had in this movie. The movie made me spend time thinking who I dated who might actually still be single and still be someone I would go back to. But that’s a stupid thing to fantasize about, especially since pretty much everybody I dated back then ran in horror after our breakup and made sure every bridge was thoroughly burned.

I also had a very weird and vivid dream last night that I had MS, and that all of the tiredness I’ve had lately was due to degenerative nerve damage. It was one of those episodes where I woke up at four in the morning and was completely awake and was absolutely certain that I had MS, until I went and got a drink of water and got back in bed and thought, “what the fuck am I doing?”

Okay, I am going to go write now.

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