Baby powder air freshener time machine

I went to New Jersey yesterday, in an effort to see something other than my job and my apartment for once. It was okay. I’ve been trying to sleep without Tylenol PM lately, and went through the whole week without taking any. By Friday night at about 11:00, I was pretty much dead, and fell asleep. That meant I woke up way early and spent the morning reading in bed. After that, I went to Neptune for a grilled cheese, then hopped the subway down to 34th street. Then I got a ticket and got on a PATH train to New Jersey for the trip to the Newport Mall.

I know a lot of people go to NJ every day, but it’s still a rare novelty for me to take the PATH. It’s a completely different train system than the MTA, with different cars, different announcements, little paper tickets, and fairly clean train stations that look much more modern than the century-old New York system. I only go to Newport maybe once a year, and it always reminds me of when I first lived in New York and found it a really Big Deal to go out there.

I guess part of it is that I never go to malls anymore unless I’m in another city on vacation, and I have this strange obsession with them. Even when I am not buying stuff, when I’m not shopping, I still used to love to go to malls and just walk around and look at people. I grew up working in the Concord Mall after years of riding my bike there as a kid, and then I spent a lot of college going to the mall in Bloomington to do my laundry, go to Morgenstern’s, shop at Target, and just walk around the place. In Seattle, when I didn’t really have any money to do anything for the first year I was there, I would always drive to different malls, trying to find new ones to check out. I know that all sounds strange and pathetic, and I know a lot of people think the mall is the death of society and the symbol of homogenization of our culture, but I guess I see it differently. A mall is a huge open space that’s always static, the perfect place to go during the winter when you can’t walk around outside, but strolling a mile or two indoors might get things going. The culture of the mall is very relaxing, at least to me, and it always seemed futuristic in the sense that so many different wares are presented in this single modern building, the next step toward just having a teleporter that magically made corn dogs and new CDs for you to consume.

New York City doesn’t have malls, of course. You’re supposed to go from store to store in the rain and sleet and shop from an even more limited selection that’s marked up 400% because the place has to pay an insane rent to keep the store going, and you’re supposed to like it. I don’t care about the shopping aspect, seeing as I just buy everything I need online, but the giant open space aspect is something I miss. There are malls within a dozen or two miles of NYC, but without a car, most of them are not reachable. I know that seems silly, seeing as we lived in Elkhart and would drive to South Bend to shop all the time, but a Target store four miles away from me here is practically unreachable because it’s not on a subway line.

I got out to Jersey City, and the first thing I notice off the train is the faint perfumy smell of whatever they use to clean out the stations. It smells almost exactly like some kind of baby powder air freshener that was in my mom’s old station wagon in the summer of ’93, when I had to borrow it every night and drive to my third-shift job. So in addition to memories of the summer of ’99 and when I first explored the PATH, I also have memories of Indiana twelve years ago as I walk up the tile-lined tunnel that empties out to the street level.

The area around the Newport Mall is that sort of generic suburban commercial genre of architecture, with lots of five or ten story office towers covered in mirrored or emerald glass, belonging to anonymous insurance companies. It’s a drastic change from the buildings-everywhere look of Manhattan, where everything is a hundred years old and brick, instead of late Eighties corporate expansion modernism. It reminds me of the east side of Seattle, or the north side of Indy, or any outlying part of a major California city. The transition from Penn Station to the open air surrounding these buildings always astonishes me. It also makes me think that I’m some kind of weirdo, the only person who actually enjoys being around office sprawl architecture instead of the look of New York City.

You have to walk through an office building to get to the mall, and then you’re in a typical Simon mall. Simon owns a bajillion malls in America, including College Mall in Bloomington; Northgate Mall in Seattle; and Newport Centre in Jersey. I can tell I’m in one of their malls the moment I set foot in it, just from the arrangement of the stores and the look of the common areas. It seems like every one of their malls is a wormhole into some other part of my past, which is another reason I like to go there.

I didn’t actually spend a lot of time at the mall once I got there; I was mostly interested in the trip, in killing a few hours to get out of the house and do something different. I made a couple of laps of all of the stores, walking through the three stories and looking at the shops for anything I might need or want to buy. I did spend some time at Sears looking at power tools, but didn’t really think it would be worthwhile to spend a few hundred bucks on a table saw and then haul it home on the PATH. I also went to the pet store and looked at the dogs, wishing I had a big house with a yard so I could get one or two of them. Mostly I just window-shopped, then got bored and headed back to Manhattan, so I could go to Best Buy and blow some money on new DVDs.

I had a state tax check burning a hole in my pocket this weekend too, but I dumped it into E*Trade and bought some stock. Despite the fair amount of stupid discretionary spending I’ve done this year, I’ve actually managed to sock away some cash. I wonder if that trend will continue. (Probably not, especially when I start thinking about vacation again.)

Made tacos tonight, for the first time in a while. Sunday turned into taco night for a while, a worthwhile tradition. I just finished reading a book about the post-Soviet expatriate bubble when capitalism briefly flourished and everyone bought lots of Russian bonds at 220% interest and drank thousand-dollar champagne like it was kool-aid, until the bottom fell out in ’98 or so. I have a stack of other books to read now, I need to find out what is next. It’s good reading weather, dark and cold outside, the perfect conditions for bundling up in bed with a good book…


The death of HST

I just finished snaking out my tub drain with an $8 auger I bought at the National Wholesale Fernandez store next to work. (It is so nicknamed after a coworker who has far too strange of an attraction to the place, buying made-in-China snack food by the cubic ton.) I extracted a good five years’ worth of male pattern baldness in a greasy, black, slimy turd hanging off the end of the corkscrew tip of the low-tech endoscopy tool. I hope this means my shower will drain in under an hour from now on, but I’m expecting many repeat performances, so I’m glad I finally made the investment.

Speaking of roto-rootering, I just ate an immensely hot Indian meal from the local delivery joint. They are pretty bipolar as far as how they spice the food. Sometimes, the vindaloo is about as spicy as a mean cinnamon applesauce, and other times, it’s eternal damnation to a weekend on the throne, after you drink a gallon of milk to kill off the burning in your mouth. I never ate Indian food at all before I got to New York, except for maybe Simms’ experiments from cookbooks. For whatever reason, Bloomington had no Indian restaurants when I was in school, and I don’t even know why I never found any in Seattle. It’s possible that my whole digestive malady during those years, plus my white-bread childhood, made me avoid anything spicy. Now, I actually like the stuff.

I should probably write something about the fact that Hunter S. Thompson killed himself on Sunday. It was weird to hear about that, although I agree with the concensus that he’s probably overdue by about 30 years, with all of the shit he’s pulled in his lifetime. It’s strange, because HST is in many ways a huge influence on the work I’ve done and the path I chose with some of my fiction, but I didn’t choose to do the kind of journalism he did. And while he had a couple of really great books and some pretty good moments in his articles, his body of work is also pretty small when you discount the volumes that are nothing but reprints of his articles and letters. And there’s Rum Diary, which was a great book, but totally not his style. Compare that to someone like Burroughs or Kerouac or Steinbeck, and it makes you wonder what the role of media stuntman really leaves behind. Years from now, only the Johnny Depp caricature of the man will remain, and nobody will remember his interaction with the media regulars, the politicans, or the sport coaches. All that will be left will be a few books that don’t entirely add up to the life he lived.

I’m sad to see him go, but if he had his reasons, it’s his life. I mean, the rumor is that he was having health problems, with a broken leg, some hip and back surgeries, and a lot of time with his ass in a chair. Maybe it got worse, maybe a doctor told him he’d never walk again or he’d need another painful surgery or seven. I don’t know why he put the .45 through his head, but if he felt he didn’t have another ten volumes of investigative journalism ahead of him or twenty years of twilight in a wheelchair and didn’t want to live a life of shitting and pissing into plastic tubes in a hospital bed, well that’s his game.

The livejournal group for HST has other thoughts on the matter, and they’ve spent the last few days whining the most inane babble about Thompson’s death. Most of it goes like this: “D00D, I’VE BEEN READING HUNTER FOREVER, SINCE LIKE 2003 AT LEAST, AND I DID MY SENIOR PAPER ON HIM, AND OH MAN, WHAT A LOSS OF A VOICE FOR OUR GENERATION! I MEAN, FUCK CHIMPY BUSH AND AMERIKKKA AND NOW WE DON’T HAVE DOCTOR GONZO TO HELP US. OH DUDE, PASS THE BONG MAN. HERE’S A 47-PAGE TONE POEM I WROTE THE OTHER NIGHT AT THE SKATE PARK ABOUT HOW I FEEL ABOUT LOSING THE GREATEST MIND SINCE THAT NIRVANA DUDE.” Basically that, about 478 times a day. I should unsubscribe.

I ordered another laptop bag. I think I’ve bought three since Christmas. I can’t find one that fits right and holds the laptop and feels comfortable. I have this Ogio one on the way, and it looks a little bit better. I had a Trager bag that was perfect, but after about a million miles and four years, every strap and zipper and buckle was broken or fucked, and I gave up on it. I think Toshiba makes some “solutions” for carrying the damn computer, but that basically means they got some cheapo company in Korea to make Jansport bag knockups they could price up at four times their value. Meanwhile, my 15-year-old IU backpack is holding up fine. Too bad it doesn’t hold my laptop.

OK, the new Wired is here, so I have to go read that and make fun of every other page.


Bookcases and citrus overload

It’s Friday. Half of my bookcase ordeal is over. I bought two bookcases from Target, and had them delivered to work, since I am 100% certain that any package left outside my apartment during the day would be stolen. Yesterday, I took home the shelves and hardware for one of the bookcases, and today, I slugged home the long side boards. Despite my totally ripped and muscular apperance, I’m not exactly in shape, and after hauling home that shit, I felt like Jesus carrying the cross or something. Okay, Jesus had people throwing shit at him, but he didn’t have any stairs, turnstiles, or New York subway riders to deal with. I got the damn thing home and assembled, and it’s now next to my dresser and full of books. I have pretty much all of my books off the floor now, and have another new bookcase to spare, so I’m pretty happy and ready to rush out and buy a shitload more books.

I’m slightly sick today, in that limbo of almost catching a cold where I want to sleep for days and eat nothing but soup and Gatorade. This is caused by the rapid swing of climate here in New York, and my heater’s lack of reaction to it. This happens so much in the winter that I know a good dose of vitamins, a lot of orange juice, and many naps will make it clear up in a day or two. It’s a good weekend for sleeping and doing nothing, too. I have to go to the dentist tomorrow to get a new crown fitted, but other than that, I’m hoping to sit around and read and play with the new computer and do little else. I’m slowly learning more neat new tips at tricks about the Tablet PC and about OneNote, the Microsoft program that’s designed for free-form notes and scribbles and other organizational doodling. I’m actually trying to figure out a good way to post OneNote pages straight to this journal, so you’ll go here and just see a page of images that look like my notebook page. I don’t really want to do that every single day, but it would be nice to do sometimes, like if I was trying to explain something that begged for a drawing.

I am still thinking about books and book ideas, and I’m back to the concept that I should write a book in Summer Rain‘s style that covers all of my consulting experience back in the golden days of computers, from 1991-1995, basically. Every time I read Bukowski’s Post Office, I think I should do a book exactly like that, but about all of my old days in UCS. Well, I’d change the names, glue together the events a bit, and focus on the funny and ironic events. I need to start taking some notes on this and see if I can do it or not.


Thirst and travel

God damn it, I am thirsty. It’s about 12% humidity in here and way too hot, and no matter how many glasses of water I drink, I’m parched. I just chugged a quart and a half of ice-cold, Britta-fresh water, and a second later, my throat was sandpaper.

I’m still reading this book about the girl who sailed around the world, and I’m almost done with it. It makes me wish I could get a small boat on eBay and pack it full of surplus MREs and powerbars and try to do the same thing. It’s enticing when you think that you aren’t paying for a hotel room to sleep in each night, and the wind is your fuel. But pretty much every thing that could go wrong with a boat is serious money, and I’m pretty sure I would fuck up majorly and hit a reef or flip the thing over or something, and I can barely swim. The idea of being alone for that long of time is appealing to me, though.

I’m always getting caught on these books about long, solitary travel, like motorcycling across Alaska or pedaling through Cuba, or whatever. I think I would enjoy driving across some insanely long journey, like I did back in 1999 when I moved to New York, except some longer, more open-ended journey. One approach would be to get a truck and some kind of camper that fit on the bed, and then equip the whole thing up with supplies and a laptop or two and head out to Alaska or Baja Mexico or whatever. Each night’s stay would be free (aside from camp permits), but I’d have to pay for the gas. Another journey that would be fun is if I get a Light Sport pilot’s license, which would allow me to fly small planes with a bit of gear in them. You have to fly during the day and only in the best of weather, plus you can’t go in the more trafficked airspace, but if you swung around major cities, you could probably go cross-country from small airport to tiny airstrip, and then put up a tent or hitch a ride to town for a Motel 6 at night. That would make a pretty damn fun trip, and an interesting book, too. Maybe someday, when I get the money together.

Not much is going on here otherwise, except I am insanely tired again. Feels like a good time to sit in front of the tube and see what happens on Law and Order.


Rebuying history

Way back in 1997 when I met Nick Hornby at a book reading in Seattle and told him about how High Fidelity possessed me to buy way too many CDs, I made a vow to re-buy all of the old albums from my youth that have stuck in the back of my head. See, I bought a lot of tapes back then instead of CDs, because my car had a tape player and cassettes were noticeably cheaper back in the day. But my car had rust holes in the floorpans, and lots of those tapes got loaned, ruined, melted, lost, or dropped through the carpet onto the pavement below. And now I’m always on a hunt to find those last few albums on disc.

Amazon and GEMM have found many ways for me to empty my wallet in pursuit of older music, as have ebay and google. I went on amazon a few months ago and put every Saxon album I used to have but couldn’t find on my wish list, and I got the album Innocence is No Excuse in the mail today as part of a belated birthday gift. Now, I remember this album in the stores back when I searched Super Sounds and Camelot for any sign of a metal record on Combat Records or with the drippy-blood or Old English font that might indicate heavy metal coolness. And I thought I had this particular 1985 release in my collection at some point, but after putting it in, I realized I’d never heard any of the tracks, except for one or two that made their way onto a live album a decade later. It had the same sound as some of their other old albums, but just different words and songs. So I’m looking forward to many listens of that in the future.

Saxon’s a strange band. I got into them initially because Vyvvyan, the red-haired punk with metal spikes in his forehead on the British cult classic show The Young Ones wore a Saxon shirt. He also wore Mot


Shelves and boats

I need more damn space. I spent a good chunk of today shuffling around things, walking around with a tape measure, and trying to find some way to squeeze in a new big bookcase, or possibly a few smaller ones. There’s no hope in getting a larger one, unless I can sell my bike, throw out one of my chairs, or otherwise displace some big piece of furniture. I did find two or three places that I could fit a smaller set of shelves, like one of those deals that’s a foot wide. I had one of those I bought back in Bloomington that was all black enamel, very modern looking. It became the home for all of my favorite books, all of the Bukowski and Kerouac and Burroughs and other things I cherished most in my collection. Unfortunately, it got left behind in Seattle, and now I can’t find a place that sells the same model anymore, or I’d order three or four of them and cram them in every odd corner where there’s a fractional amount of floor space.

I did buy some shelves online at Target, though. I bought two bookcases that are 16″ wide and have five shelves, with the lower ones being almost square and the top ones being half that size. I then spent an hour cleaning out behind a dresser and the bed in my room, vaccumming out dust and picking up change and forever lost CD cases and stray socks and whatever else migrated back there. An even bigger project will involve moving over my three big bookcases in the room, pushing them nine inches to the left. Yeah, that sounds stupid, but I want to put one of the new shelves next to the old ones. I wouldn’t mind getting one of these that’s about twice as wide, to fit in the area between my door and closet door. I like the idea of having a room that almost completely surrounds me with books. I also like the thought of getting all of the piles of books on my bedroom floor into some shelves. And maybe someday having a filing system for everything would help.

As far as reading, I started on Tania Aebi’s book Maiden Voyage. When she was a teenager, her dad made her a deal that instead of paying for her college tuition, he would buy a boat and let her use it to take an around-the-world sailing cruise, solo. She would write articles on the go and sell them to a sailing magazine for money, and spend two years seeing the world, learning to solve problems, and getting more education than she’d find in a dull classroom. With almost no sailing experience, a pile of textbooks, and a 26-foot sailboat, she headed out of New York City on her grand journey.

The book’s one of those things that makes me wish I could do the same thing. The idea of spending that much time alone, seeing the ocean, and experiencing the voyage the way people did hundreds of years before – that just sounds incredible. I have spent a lot of time driving in a car, looking through the glass as the country rolls past me, but spending the time in the open air of a boat, with little technology other than ropes and cloth and a sextant sounds like it would be a completely different experience, like the difference between riding Amtrak and pedaling your ten-speed across the country. Of course, she ran into just about every imaginable problem when she got out of port, from engine trouble to contaminated water tanks to endless leaks to a dud sextant that threw off her navigation. But still, it’s an interesting read sofar.

It was fifty degrees out today. I went for a walk for a bit, mostly to see if the cheap store on 30th had any sort of plastic magazine holders, the kind where you put a bunch in a vertical sort of thing and then put it all on a shelf. I figure if I bought about a dozen of those, I could get all of the damn magazines off my floor. I think I now subscribe to about a dozen things, and I never seem to read half of them. Anyway, they had no plastic things like I wanted, although they had a pre-built ship model that looked like the one in Napoleon Dynamite. It was like thirty bucks, and I have too much other junk around, so I didn’t buy one.

I want to buy a real sailboat, though. I also want to buy a bunch of space-saving technology. And some sound-absorbing curtains or panels or something so I don’t have to hear my neighbors yelling.

OK, I should go write, but I probably won’t.