Surge, Vault

One of the 200-some odd reasons my writing throughput and/or quality has dropped considerably in recent years (and I’m talking reasons in my head, not real, quantifiable reasons) is that Coca-Cola stopped bottling Surge soda. For those of you who don’t remember or never experienced it, Surge is/was a citrus soda that originally was called Urge in Norway, and was bottled there to compete with Mountain Dew. (Some Coke bottlers compete with Mountain Dew with Mello Yello, which is available in some markets, but not others.) Anyway, Seattle was a test market for Surge when it showed up in 1997, and once I tried it, I was hooked. Surge basically reminded me of a carbonated version of the Hi-C Ekto-cooler drink. It was more lime than lemon, with an unnatural bright green color, carbonation, and caffeine. It had a very unique taste, and wasn’t anything like its nearest competitor, Mountain Dew. I really liked it.

This was right after the time I quit caffeine entirely, but was going back on it again. I wouldn’t drink any Coke or anything else all day, except maybe the occasional Sprite. But on the weekends, when I was busy slamming away at the text for Rumored to Exist, I would go to Safeway, buy a 2-liter of Surge, and put it in the fridge, as my fuel for the next few days. I drank a lot of the stuff as I worked on the text, and I absolutely loved it.

Of course, when I moved to New York, I couldn’t find the shit anywhere. You already know the rant about how New York grocery stores don’t stock anything of variety, so I won’t repeat it. But I could not find Surge anywhere. Sometimes on a vacation, I’d get a taste. And I think the girl I dated in Cornell back in 2000 found a few bottles at a gas station upstate somewhere once. But after that, it was gone. And that pissed me off, because writers can get really locked into habits or triggers that can set off the hard-to-channel zone of writing. Some people have strange rituals. I used to start writing at the same time every night; others need a certain chair or pillow or snack or drink. Some need certain music; others require quiet. And for whatever reason, I got myself into a situation where I needed a certain type of sugar-water that a corporation test-marketed and then decided not to make anymore.

Well, good news, maybe. Coke has decided to come out with a new drink called Vault. There were a few ads during the superbowl, and they hinted at nationwide distribution in February. Now, I interpreted that as “distribution in every place with real grocery stores that aren’t run by the mafia, so fuck you New York”, and also wondered if the stuff really tasted like Surge, and if I’d get a chance to try it the next time that I went on vacation to a place with real grocery stores. But today, when we were at K-Mart, Sarah found that they actually had the stuff! I bought a couple of 20-ounce bottles, and gave it a try. It’s similar to Surge, although maybe a little more tart, and without as distinct of a green color as the original. The bottle looks different, of course, and you’d be amazed at how much different something appears to taste when it’s in a different bottle. But it’s pretty close. I like it.

I don’t know if I’ll be stocking our fridge with the stuff or not. My writing schedule and situation have been pretty off lately, and I don’t know if the magic elixer will suddenly have me pouring out words or not. I am in that process of thinking about what I will do before I start doing anything, and that’s frustrating and takes time. But it’s getting there.

Okay, I have to figure out a movie and a dinner and make them hobbling distance from each other so it will work out okay…


Knee update #863

Knee update #863: the MRI preliminary results are back, and it is a sprain of the MCL (the ligament, not the shitty cafeteria restaurant in the mall.) So, no surgery, no cortizone, no complications, and I just need to keep it in the brace for a bit and it will slowly get better. I am pretty much off the cane now, although I used it today. No real pain. There’s still some swelling and fluid buildup, but that will go away. If it doesn’t subside in a week or so, I can go back for another draining. And in a month, maybe some physical therapy to strengthen things back up. Otherwise, no further drama, and it’s pretty much back to business as usual.

I had to make a couple of quick edits in the glossary, and it got me thinking maybe I should do some more, or at least add all of the half-written additions I have in the queue. I also may have some new photos to add. All of this makes me go back to my original, four-year-old plan to wrap it up into a print book. I have another project going now, but it’s slowly stalling and maybe I should go back. I don’t know. I mentioned over in livejournal that the IDS actually quoted me on something in an article recently, which I guess shows that there’s something good going on there. (Or it proves that stuff comes up in google, and someone needed a quick source.) Anyway, something to think about.

I got a new watch, because the Casio one I bought for my birthday in 2004 has been spazzing out. It has a tiny battery to preserve state, and a larger rechargable short-term battery for the watch’s function, which is charged by a solar cell in the battery face. Either I don’t get out enough, or the short-term battery has some kind of nicad memory lapse, or both, but it kept dying on me, and would require 20 hours of “charging” under a lamp to work for 8 hours. It also had some other problems, like this auto-sleep feature that pretty much constantly shut the watch off on me. So I bought a new watch (and of course, the old watch has worked flawlessly since.)

I bought a Timex Ironman DataLink USB. I had an old Ironman DataLink, which I think I got for my birthday in 1998, but the old one used this weird gimmick where the watch had a photo-eye in it, and the software on your PC would make the screen flicker with lines of data, which basically made like a 2 baud modem. The software only worked with a narrow range of Windows PCs, of which I never owned one and had to use a girlfriend’s computer to load up the watch. But it would hold phone numbers and reminders and other random shit. The new watch has the same features, but has a special USB cable that clips to the side of the watch – there is no plug, just four contacts on the watch. The software is much more advanced, and the watch is slimmer. It has one of those metal bands with a clasp that don’t adjust at all, which drove me mad because it didn’t fit my tiny wrist. I eventually figured out you can punch out some of the links on the band with a tiny screwdriver and make it smaller. So I have a new toy, and maybe eventually I will find out how to download new tones or programs to it. I don’t even have phone numbers yet. But it’s still neat.

Food’s here…


Knee Update 2

Knee update 2: my knee has been getting better slowly, but has still been pretty dicey, so I skipped work yesterday and went to an orthopedic surgeon. He took some x-rays, which I don’t understand much, because they looked just like white insides of knee, and I couldn’t see tendons, ligaments, or shit. But I realize there is a science to reading the subtle shades and fogging and whatnot, so that’s why he’s the doctor and I’m not.

My knee was pretty swelled up, so he offered to remove some fluid. If you’re eating, stop reading this. Seriously. Okay, he got out this giant thing that looked like one of those Ronco Flavor Infusers they sell on TV, for shooting spices and fat inside a pork chop or chicken cutlet. It looked a couple of inches around, and about six deep, so I’m guessing it could hold a good six ounces of fluid. And the business end of it looked like one of the nails you’d use when framing a house, but hollow. First, I put on some roomy disposable hospital blue shorts, which looked like something Urkel would wear to the beach. Then he hit me up with a spray bottle of some kind of super-refrigerant stuff that froze my knee in about two seconds. Then, the prick.

Now, I’m no stranger to needles. As a kid, I had allergy tests, which involved making my back look like that Pinhead guy in the Hellraiser movies. I also got the shots, sometimes as many as four or six skin injections a week. I’m also a frequent flier at the dentist, who admires my ability to take a gram or two of liquid novacaine without flinching. I’ve also had liquid cortizone injections in my big toes to treat gout. That involved getting a smaller novacaine shot first, and then the big horse needle, which the doctor had to drive INTO THE MIDDLE of the joint of a toe that was so inflamed I could not walk, and then when he got it there, he would WIGGLE IT AROUND to distribute the steroid as he pumped it in. So this should be a walk in the park, right?


The guy jabs in the needle in the side of my kneecap, which is pretty tender from being messed up all week, but is also pretty numb from the spray. I could really feel the needle going in. And staying in. And he pulled back the syringe like he was pulling gravy out of the pan to baste an extra-large turkey, and I’m wondering, “when the fuck is my knee going to stop exuding fluid?” And then he GRABS MY KNEECAP AND STARTS MOVING IT AND FUCKING AROUND WITH IT TO GET MORE FLUID OUT.

And then it’s done. And he shows me this giant baster, which contains about three ounces of fluid that’s roughly the color of a hot and sour soup from a Chinese restaurant. Now, I’ve seen some weird shit in the health arena. I’ve seen a video feed of the inside of my intestine. I’ve seen an x-ray video in real-time of me swallowing. I’ve seen a nail go through my hand. I’ve seen a dentist show me my wisdom tooth pulled out in about four pieces. But seeing a bunch of joint fluid that was just in my knee, well that’s a new one.

The knee felt a lot better, and he gave me a new brace to wear that’s pretty hardcore and much more comfortable than the $10 piece of shit I bought at Rite Aid. But there was no real diagnosis yet, awaiting an MRI, which was my big adventure today.

Okay, so I had a 7:30 AM MRI. Yes, in the morning. It was either that, or hobble around for another week, waiting on this shit, so I woke up early and got it over with. The place was on 42nd and 11th, which is sort of Hell’s Kitchen, or at least far enough from Times Square that it isn’t Times Square, and it’s a bitch to catch a cab. So I got over there 10 minutes early, and it turns out some other fucker is running like 40 minutes late, and he keeps moving during his MRI, and I could have slept another hour. Great.

For those of you not up on your medical imaging technology, and MRI is something that uses colossal amounts of magnetic energy to basically determine the atomic makeup of cells and water in your body, which is fed to a computer that then produces an incredibly detailed image of the target in question. It looks like the dream implant machines in Total Recall, except even more Sci-Fi and Philip Dick-ian. There’s no radiation, but if you have any metal in your body, like a pacemaker or something, it could become a fatal projectile.

The other problem with an MRI is that you have to be completely still, and it can take like 45 minutes to get a scan. I didn’t know this; I thought it was like an x-ray where you got in there, click, and that’s it. Unfortunately, this meant I had to stand in it for 45 minutes, which sucked. It also meant I had to watch 45 minutes of Olympics coverage, and I absolutely hate the Olympics. I hate the trivial bullshit morning coverage even more, the kind of shit where they go to see where the athletes shop and whip up recipies of Italian food, like we give a fuck. Anyway, the machine looked very cool. It was one of the stand-up MRIs, which looks like this. You stand up, and then a tray tilts you back, but it’s more open-air than the old tube style ones. So I sat in that for 45 minutes, wondering if I was moving or not, since my whole leg was stiffening up, and then it was done, and I went to work.

So bottom line is, the knee continues to get better. I can pretty much walk with no cane, but I used it today anyway. I go back tomorrow to find out the news on the MRI, and I’m not saying anything definitive until then, but I think it’s going to be okay in a few more days or a week or something.

Not much else is up. I got a new load of books to read (right after spending four days in bed with nothing to read, of course.) Oh, and John Sheppard has set up for his upcoming book (re)release, so go check that out.



For the last week, I’ve been a bit of a cripple. I seem to have injured my right knee in some way, but I don’t really have a good story to go with the injury. Basically, a week ago, I was really asleep, and I somehow flipped onto my side, but my legs did not fully twist around or something, and I slept a couple more hours with the right leg pinned in some odd position. I woke up with a bad pain and a bit of a limp. This progressed through the week, until I ended up on a cane and really fighting to walk. I woke up Saturday morning at about four in the morning, in total pain and unable to find any sleeping position that let my leg go to a neutral and pain-free state, and decided I needed some professional help. I went to a clinic first thing Saturday morning, only to find their x-ray guy was out. A doctor looked at it, said “yeah, it’s messed up” and told me to come back on Tuesday (damn holiday weekend) to see an ortho and get it worked up. The only good news is I got a script for Tylenol-3, and codeine is my pal.

The weekend has been extremely boring, except for the parts when I’m on the T-3 full-force, which is pretty decent. But I’ve done nothing except watch TV and DVDs nonstop. I haven’t been able to read much, and writing is out of the question. I have found a comfortable combination of pillows and supports to keep the leg in a good position, and I’ve found ice packs on a constant basis help a hell of a lot. (Luckily we have a fridge with an ice machine.) I still don’t entirely know what is wrong with the knee, but I’m 90% certain the doctor will waste my day and then say “soft tissue damage. keep icing it.” In a perfect world, the doctor would shoot some kind of steroid into a tendon and all would be well. We’ll see.

Nothing else to report. I think the most interesting thing that has happened to me lately is I caught about half of Back to the Future II this afternoon…


Snowed in

We’re snowed in. I think it snowed like two feet in the last 24 hours, which doesn’t mean much, since I’m sure the subways are running. I haven’t left the house all day, so it’s been nice to watch the total wall of white swirling outside the window. It won’t be as nice tomorrow morning when I need to hike through it to get to work.

I’m still scanning slides, although the worst of it is probably over. I have maybe 60 more to do, but I’ve stopped for now. It’s very strange to take a look back at my very early history. It’s amazing to see all of my relatives who are now gone, and see my other relatives in a much thinner version, with full heads of hair and skin still tightly affixed to body. Seeing my parents in their mid-twenties, dressed in bad 70s fashion, is also a trip. I also enjoy getting a look at the little house in Edwardsburg, Michigan where I spent my early childhood, until 1978. It was a total dump, a cinderblock square with a roof and a very rough interior that my parents managed to buy for something like ten grand. But they spent a lot of time and a lot of spare marked-down, leftover building supplies adding onto it, painting things and enclosing a porch, and putting in new windows. I never thought about any of this as a kid, since I didn’t know any better. I thought everyone had a bathroom vanity made out of spare lumber and a set of living room furniture that came straight from a garage sale. It’s interesting to look back and think about how rough things were when my parents were starting out, and then look at how easy I have it here.

Speaking of old school, I read John McNally’s The Book of Ralph and greatly enjoyed it. It’s yet another one of those coming-of-age, back-in-the-day, I-was-a-childhood-loser sort of books, but it’s done with a real charm and finesse. It’s basically about a kid named Hank who reluctantly hangs out with this guy Ralph, who has flunked two grades and is basically a real version of Nelson from The Simpsons, except with much more hilarious lines. It reminded me a lot of Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned, and oddly enough, it takes place in about the same neighborhood, so there are some common landmarks. McNally really developed some characters that were the same exact ones you went to school with, or the dad character which is either exactly like your dad, or you had a friend with a dad just like him. But once he got the base of common events and characters, he punched it up with the greatly uncommon and insane that made it a great read.

I’m still chipping away at the next book, which is now above 50,000 words, of mostly just notes and observations, and little finished writing. At the very low end, I’d like to scrape by with 100,000 words and call it a day. An average guess is to have three books of 50,000 words for a total of 150k. The pie-in-the-sky goal is to write another book like Summer Rain, which was just over 220,000 words. Anyway, the book is underway, and is going good.

I forget what else. I should clean up the millions of slides all over my desk.



I am scanning photos endlessly. I’ve got a lot of 93 and 94 done, and a good deal of my Trip East in 99. I’m mostly scanning with no regard to how I’ll get shit in iPhoto or ordered up yet, but I’ll eventually be adding stuff to my photos page. For now, you can go and look at these pics from my 1994 trip to Knoxville with Larry. I also got a shitload of slides from my mom from 1970-1973, so lots of pictures of me naked in a bathtub. Scanning slides is a major pain in the ass; at least with film, I can load in a strip of 4 and go away for 20 minutes. With slides, I have to constantly reload. I wish this thing would let me load up one of those Kodak carousels and leave it for a day or two.

Not much else to report. Gotta go change slides.


Moving houses

Damn, my Loompanics order got here fast. I thought the whole going out of business thing meant they would take forever to fill the order, and 87% of the books would be gone already, but everything I ordered showed up in about four days. I was home sick on Friday, and spent the day going in and out of nap-state on the couch while reading a book about a guy who homesteads in the desert in a little house he built for about $300. Pretty crazy, but interesting. (And no, I can’t do this on my land – we actually have zoning that explicitly prohibits this sort of thing.)

Another book I got that I was flipping through last night talks about the ins and outs of buying houses and then moving them. It’s a pretty interesting book, because I’ve always had some fascination with that process. When I was a teenager, the US-20 bypass got built, just a short distance north of our subdivision. Where it crossed, there lay a different, slightly older division of homes, and they were all bought by the government at fair market value and the owners given the boot. Most of these were fairly new ranch-style homes, maybe ten years old or so, and after The Man got the land, they auctioned off the structures for a pittance. In the year or two following, I saw a lot of homes being hoisted onto steel frames and pulled by huge trucks to their new locations. I remember one time, riding my bike to the Concord Mall, I started down a hill on Sunnyside Drive, and as I gained speed and popped over the crest, I saw a giant house blocking the whole road! That’s a pretty unusual sight to behold. They put in the house on that land, and from what I remember, they either added a smaller house to make it an L-shape and grafted the two together, or maybe they just built the new wing from scratch. Anyway, the fact that they bought these houses for hundreds of dollars (if that) and then installed them to make a house costing maybe $50K more is pretty enticing.

The author of this book talks about people bidding on houses that are being struck out to expand airports and ending up with $100K homes for something like $25. Of course, you have to pay to move it, but depending on how far you go, that could cost you only five or ten thousand dollars. You hire a mover, and they pop the house off the foundation with jacks and mount it to steel girder framing to keep it from twisting or buckling. They’re also going to do the other dirty work, like sever that electrical and wiring junk, and deal with any outcroppings, porches, decks, garages, verandas, or other pieces that are going to worm lose during the whole trip. They talk to the local PO about traffic, and maybe work around any power lines or other problems on the route. Then the whole thing goes mobile, and they prop the house up on the new site with a shitload of huge oak timbers.

Depending on if your movers are just taking you point-to-point or if they are a turnkey place, the movers will either take their money and run, or they’ll do the next step for you. The next step involves basically building a foundation under the house that’s now hanging in the air. Maybe you were able to dig a basement and pour footers and walls, in which case you’ve got a nice sill on which to drop the bitch and start wiring and picking paint for the living room. Or maybe not, in which case you do your digging and concrete work while the house sits above you. You then have to go through every system of the house (wiring, HVAC, plumbing) and get it all up to code, which might take some work if you’ve just moved a 200-year-old plantation house or something.

And despite what people thing, moved houses are not fundamentally weaker than new houses. I know that misconception sounds like it would have to be true, but for whatever reason (probably the fact that they have to jack all of the house to the right level and build a new foundation around it), the new houses are often stronger. And they don’t buckle or bend as much as you think, because of that steel below it.

I wish the Alamosa airport got some huge grant to expand and put the nix on a bunch of houses so I could buy one. I’m guessing with all of the crazy homesteaders out there though, it would cost a lot more than it would if I lived in Elkhart. (Not that I’d want to live in Elkhart…)

In unrelated news, I got a Nikon Coolscan V ED film scanner, and I’ve been pulling in a bunch of my 35mm negatives. It works well, although it’s slower than fuck. Also, I cannot find some of my negatives, which I thought were all in one place. I don’t feel like digging around for them though – I have enough to keep me busy until summer. Also, my mom has a warchest of old slides, containing a lot of my baby pictures and other early stuff. She’s going to ship those off so I can restore them and get them onto CD, hopefully.

Still writing. Still not talking about what I’m writing. It’s getting near the 50K word mark though.