From Sutafed to Seattle

I got an email the other day from someone in Australia, who was looking for an old Sutafed commercial and happened upon my Trip East travelogue. It’s a strange coincidence, because I’ve been thinking of Seattle lately, for a lot of different reasons. Part of it is that tomorrow will be the 7th anniversary of when I left Jet City and headed out here to New York, and nice round numbers make me think back. And I think part of it is also the weather here, how it’s jumped from a steady 30 to some days when it’s actually light jacket 50s. Hell, I just looked down at my weather widget, and it’s saying 62. That’s almost a solid spring day.

Something about spring always pulls my brain back to Seattle. A lot of natives tell you the winters are mild, but they’re only half right. You won’t see feet of snow, but that persistent darkness and muggy gloom really sits on you after a while. After about 100 days of 40 degrees, rain, and dark, you really start thinking Kurt Cobain had the right idea. I guess when I lived there, I didn’t really have the means to fly down to Vegas for the weekend or otherwise escape the grasp of the PNW. Maybe it would be different with my current worldview. I don’t know. But I do know that once the sun crawled back out and spring hit, I really LOVED Seattle. I loved driving around in my car, going everywhere and nowhere, when the sun was out and it was a crisp fifty degrees, and the air had that fresh smell that everything had been showered down for six months, and in a couple more, it would be summer. Spring anywhere makes me think of Seattle.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I miss Seattle, or what I thought about it, or why I left. It’s a hard question to answer. I do miss it a lot sometimes. There are certain albums that instantaneously transfer me back there faster than a Star Trek transporter could. One of them is Queensryche’s 1997 album Hear in the Now Frontier. I listened to these fourteen tracks so many times while driving around the city, they’re inseparable from that year of my life. I first heard the title cut when I was stuck in Longview, Washington on a Monday. This was when I dated Karena and before she moved north, and we used to trade off weekends for who had the 100-mile commute. I was heading back late Sunday night, and got a blowout in my Escort. I only had the baby spare, not rated for 100 miles of highway driving in the rain, so I called off work, borrowed her Saturn, and spent the next day getting a new tire fitted. When I was driving around this tiny town hidden in the evergreens of southwest Washington, the new Queensryche song came on the radio, and I made a mental note: “go buy that album.” A couple days later, I went to Silver Platters, my old CD hangout, and picked up a copy. I made a dup on tape for the car, and played it 200 million times.

When I think of that whole story, there are so many great nostalgic things to pick up on. First, there’s all of these trips to Longview. Now, things with Karena didn’t end on the greatest of terms, and I’m not longing for her or anything. But there was a certain charm to when I went down there. The place was about as big as Goshen, Indiana, for those who know my hometown, and it’s the kind of place where we ended up going to the Red Lobster that shared a parking lot with the Target a lot. The biggest shopping experience in Longview was driving a half hour to go to the mall in Portland. Otherwise, we rented a lot of videos, bought a lot of Papa Murphy’s premade but not baked pizzas, and just hung out. It was nice. And the story makes me think about my old Escort, which I hated so much when I got it, but now I’d pay cash on the barrelhead for a car just like it now. And man I miss going to Silver Platters, going from A to Z through the racks, and dumping a c-note on double coupon Tuesday, because I was totally locked into their little coupon scheme to get free discs, even if it meant I bought way too many CDs I didn’t need.

That kind of nostalgia kills me. And it makes it hard to answer the simple question: would I go back? I haven’t even visited Seattle since I left in 1999. And I don’t know that I would move back. I mean, I think about when I went back to Bloomington last for more than like a lunch or an evening, which was probably back on that 1999 trip east. I was writing Summer Rain hardcore when I left Seattle. I spent three or four months basically poring into the draft full-time, doing nothing but thinking about Bloomington. Then I drove halfway across the country, opened the car door, and basically stepped into my own book. Yeah, a lot of things changed in the seven years since the book took place. But I remember walking from the Union to my old apartment on Mitchell Street, and probably 95% of everything I saw in the spring air around me was identical to what I saw in 1992. It really freaked me out. But then I got hit with this really heavy “you can’t go back” vibe, when I realized that I didn’t know anyone on campus anymore, and everyone that was there looked like they were about twelve.

So yeah, you can’t go back. And I’ll be honest: I’m not going to stay in New York forever. There will come a time when we will bug out of here and go to the next big stop down the road. And I know my relatives automatically assume the next and last stop for me will be when I “grow up” and decide to move back to Elkhart and buy a house right across from my parents’ house and spit out some kids and come over every Sunday for dinner. And of course, that’s all shit. It’s gotta be something new for me on the next stop; I can’t have a do-over. I’m not saying I want to zip all over the country like I’m following the Dead, but I wouldn’t mind trying something else someday. It would also be nice if they had real grocery stores. But there’s Trader Joe’s now, so that’s huge.

Speaking of, we’ve booked our next vacation, and will be going to Alaska at the end of May/beginning of June. Sofar, we’ve got airfare, a week of hotel in Anchorage, and a rental car. From there, we’ll drive around, see some glaciers, take a lot of pictures, eat some food, and who knows what else. I’m going through Frommer’s now. There will probably not be any above Arctic circle exploration, and given my knee condition, I doubt we’ll be climbing Mount McKinley. But I’m hoping for some flightseeing, and it would be absolutely golden if I could get in a flight lesson while we’re up there.

Alaska also has a weird Seattle connotation, too. Seattle’s always had a tight bond with the 49th state. A lot of people that fly up there end up with a plane change at SeaTac, but even back in the old days, Seattle was the last big outpost before you headed north. Some of the culture of Alaska is second-tiered in Seattle in some weird way; salmon’s big because of the fisherman bringing it down. Lots of commercial boats winter down in Seattle, too. There are a lot of street names and other places and buildings in Seattle that are named after Alaskan cities, features, or explorers. And the whole time I was in Seattle, I thought hard about making the jump up the Alcon to get up there. I’d sit in bed with my Rand-McNally, tallying the miles and trying to find the shortest route, the number of hours and days it would take me. Growing up, you look at the big map at the front of the classroom and it looks like Alaska’s just one state’s worth of Canada up from Washington. Really, you have to drive like 24 hours straight through the mountains of British Columbia to get to the most remote southernmost point on the tail of Alaska. If you wanted to get to a city that was actually in the meat of the state, add another 24 hours of solid driving. It’s basically like driving across the entire United States, but up, and on much worse roads. So I never made it further north than Vancouver, and I’m glad I will be able to do it now.

Not much else. Still working on the book of Bloomington stories. It’s getting there, slowly. I should get on that now, actually.


My grandparents in a Steven Seagal movie

The final lasting image of my grandparents together is a Steven Seagal movie. No, my grandparents were not sixth-degree black belts, and neither of them had the 80s hip-guy ponytail. But Seagal’s first movie, Above the Law was shot in their Chicago neighborhood. So whenever the flick’s on cable TV over the weekend, I usually tune in for a few minutes to catch a look at the old neighborhood where I spent all of my Thanksgivings and Christmases, plus other holidays we loaded up the station wagon and drove two hours west to the big city.

I don’t know Chicago geography well, but the one now-gone landmark that was the nucleus of their old neighborhood was the Ludwig Drum factory. Go to the intersection of Damen and North, and then go up a couple of blocks to St. Paul Ave. That’s where my grandparents’ three-story brownstone sat, the place they bought back in 1940 for about the current cost of a new compact car. Across the street was an old brick warehouse where Ludwig made their drum kits, the kind almost every rock band used back then, or the big marching band bass drums used at football games. My mom told me when she was little, the Beatles came to the drum factory to see where Ringo’s skins were put together, and it turned into a full-scale riot. (Of course, in my mom’s stories, pretty much everything turned into a full-scale riot, so who knows.)

The big plot point in Seagal’s movie was this old church, and that was shot at Saint Mary of the Angels church. (Here it is on google maps.) I used to go to this church all the time with my grandma. She was really serious about the church, and was a Polish Catholic, which was like an order of magnitude more strict than just being a regular Catholic, although I didn’t really know how. Our church back home didn’t use any Latin, though, and this place had all kinds of songs and sayings I didn’t understand. The church got shut down because of structural problems right after the film came out. When my grandma died in 1989, the funeral was at another church; the city had slated Saint Mary for demolition. Some people got together the cash at the eleventh hour, and they rebuilt the place. So both Catholics and martial arts fans can rejoice that the landmark was saved.

The Ludwig plant fell apart, and they moved the drum production to Texas or Japan or something. Another company used the factory for a while, but in the 80s, it was used as a studio space for a few TV and film productions. The Color of Money was shot there, and allegedly, my grandfather ran into Tom Cruise, and said he was a nice guy. (I don’t know if this was before or after he turned to Scientology.) Above the Law shot a lot of indoor scenes in the old factory. Like there’s a scene where they’re going to a police evidence locker to check on some C4 explosives – that’s totally the inside of the Ludwig plant. I’ve never been in there, and I only know the place from sitting across the street and looking inside the mesh gate over the loading dock, watching the forklifts move around. But I could tell at a glance that the scene was shot there.

A lot of Above the Law reminds me of the general feel of the mid-to-late eighties Chicago, a place I just barely knew. All of the cars had those blue and white license plates, and in the background of the chase scenes, you could see the Jewel stores and gritty-looking car repair places, with red brick walls that were turned black from years of soot and pollution. The L-Train ran overhead, making that distinctive sound and looking like nothing we’d ever see back in Elkhart. All of the backgrounds in that movie of the neighborhood remind me so much of what I saw in the back of the station wagon, looking out at this giant city, where every square block housed more people than my entire high school. Watching five minutes of that film reminds me so much of that brief moment in time that it always amazes me.

The one big regret that I have about my grandparents’ old neighborhood was that I never really tried to explore outside of the close domain of their place. My mom was 100% convinced that there were rapists with full-auto machine guns every hundred feet, and if we left the fenced confines of their back yard, we’d be on the back of a milk carton or worse. Now, I don’t think as a four-year-old I should have wandered far, but when I was 14, maybe I could have walked around the block, or down to Wicker Park, or to Osco’s to get a Coke or something. In retrospect, the place was probably as safe as the streets I walk today in New York. I really would like to have more memories of the area around there. I don’t want to live there, and a vacation in Chigago is not high on my list of things to do with limited time and money. But it’s something that interests me in some weird way.

That area is now called Bucktown, and it’s a trendy little place to be, if you’ve got the goatee and the money. The Ludwig factory got broken up into single-serve condos, and the mom-and-pop bodegas and corner bars are probably all cloned Starbucks storefronts. The neighborhood’s probably all filled with hipster doofuses, listening to Coldplay on their iPods and reading J.T. Leroy books. After my grandpa died in 1995, they sold off his building for some obscene amount of money. Looking at the place on Google Maps, I see that they’ve torn out the garden and swingset next to the building and made it into parking spots, which really pisses me off. I’ve always wanted to go back and see the place again, but I’m guessing all of the wood pocket doors and elaborate cabinetwork got kicked to the curb and replaced with Pottery Barn.

I still haven’t watched Above the Law all the way through. But one time my mom rented it, and we found a part in the church where my grandparents were extras. (They probably went because there was a free lunch or something; my grandfather could not pass up anything like that.) You can see them for a split-second on-screen, which is awesome. How many of you can say your grandparents were in a Steven Seagall flick?

Bonus: Coincidentally, Larry Falli now lives about 20 blocks south and four blocks west of where they used to live.


2001 on the big screen

Last night, we went to the Ziegfeld to see 2001: A Space Odyssey on a big screen. I still don’t understand half of it, but it was good to see it on a gigantic screen with a big print and six-track sound and the whole nine yards. The Ziegfeld is one of those old art movie theaters, with only a single screen and a giant auditorium of real movie seats. The whole place, from the hallways to the bathrooms to the snack stands is covered with old trim and looks like real class, not something that was spit out next to a strip mall. (Oddly enough, the current Ziegfeld was built in 1967 a few doors down from the old Broadway theater, which was torn down to put in a skyscraper.)

I hadn’t seen the film in a few years, I think since I got the DVD re-release. And I think I only saw it before that once or twice, on VHS. I do remember, though, as a little kid, my parents had the score on vinyl. I have no idea why, and I couldn’t really see either of my parents watching the movie or feeling a need to buy the album, but it was in the pile of records that I pretty much memorized as a kid. Listening to it was weird and not that interesting, but I loved the gatefold jacket with pictures of the movie in it. This was probably around the time Star Wars kicked in, and those photos of the moon base, and space station, and guys in spacesuits was pretty cool to me back then. I also remember when I was maybe about ten, the film was on TV (probably chopped down to 90 minutes and filled with bad commercials every other minute) and I tried to watch it. I was enthralled by people walking in space and the effects shots, but I didn’t get the last part of the film at all. At that age, there were a lot of things I heard or saw on TV that I didn’t understand at all and my parents would entirely no-sell, and the tiny cultural cracks remained until I was thirty and remembered back to that bad sitcom and thought “oh, that guy was supposed to be on heroin” or whatever. I often wonder if my life would have been radically different if my parents would have just treated me as an adult from the age of three and told me everything that was going on, instead of compartmentalizing things and then never getting around to going back and explaining stuff.

I’m now reading that Legs McNeil book on punk rock, Please Kill Me, and it’s not bad. I’m not into the whole Velvet Underground, David Bowie, New York Dolls thing, and that bores me to tears. I was glad to see some Iggy Pop early on though, because I think he’s hilarious and intriguing. I think this thing will be somewhat boring until it hits the Ramones or so, and then the rest of the book will pretty much explode and be done in a day and a half.

Somewhat related, I was reading somethingawful, and there was a thread where someone found GG Allin’s appearance on Jerry Springer on some web site, and posted it, sort of as a “look how hilarious and cool he is!” The thread devolved into people saying “he’s not punk rock!” and arguing the theory of what is and isn’t punk, which eventually led to anti-corporation rhetoric and explanations as to why it’s inherently evil to go to a restaurant and order breakfast rather than make it yourself. And people ask me why I was never into punk. I sometimes wish the whole pseudo-political movement that attached itself to punk rock had glued onto country music instead, so people on CMT could circle-jerk about Noam Chomsky while discussing what is and isn’t country.

Speaking of GG, his brother Mearle just released a new DVD of three shows from 1993, called Terror in America. It also includes some bonus footage of GG at a family reunion, getting some tattoos, and doing an in-store appearance. From everything I’ve heard, it’s supposed to be a fairly fucked up DVD. But I still remember back in 1994 or 1995 when I bought the “Hated” movie on tape, and me and Larry watched it, and we were sorely disappointed. The video was so lame – it was mostly just GG all strung out back stage, and when he played, there were like 7 people at the show, and the most outrageous thing he did was hit himself in the head with the mic. I guess they re-released it on DVD and put footage of his funeral on there, but still, pretty weak. Even his Springer appearance was better.

Not much else. It’s actually cold here. I wanted to get the bike all cleaned up and see if I can ride with the knee, but it’s in the thirties and windy and I’m not up for some all-weather extreme bullshit when I don’t even know if I can ride or not. So, back to writing.


Perotta, Leitch

I’ve been trying to read more stuff that’s close to what I want to do for this next book of mine. I keep saying that this book will be the heavy metal Indiana version of John’s Small Town Punk (which was Florida and punk), but I wanted to find some other books that were similar in texture and purpose to inspire me. At some point, I want to make a total list of all of these titles, with reviews or reasons why they fit the bill, but I’ll get to that later.

I wanted to ramble a bit about Tom Perotta a bit, since I read a couple of his books recently. I never heard of him, but after I read John McNally’s The Book of Ralph, Amazon told me I might like him, and since the descriptions sounded interesting, I went ahead and ordered two of his books: The Wishbones, and Joe College. I later found out that he’s most famous for writing the book Election, which was turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, but since I never saw the movie, I never knew about this, and I’m sure everyone else does and I’m just a dumbass. Anyway…

I read both of the books quickly, and had the same reaction to both. (Oh, if you haven’t, I’m going to discuss spoilers, so if you’re the kind of person who gets all freaked out about that, stop reading. I probably don’t need to say that since the only people I know who get freaked out about spoilers don’t read books.) Anyway, here’s the deal: I really liked Perotta’s non-main characters, and I really loved the way he could paint a scene. He did such a great job of laying down the detail of a scene in a way that might make you chuckle because of the small details, and he does it in an extremely efficient manner. His writing flows well, reads fast, and doesn’t contain extras, but there’s still a lot of flair there to make you enjoy everything. In that sense, he’s a lot like McNally; his descriptions of crap Chicago suburbs in the 70s really worked, and I liked that.

What I didn’t like about both of the Perrotta books that I read were that he basically made the main character look like a total moral fuckup, and then had these huge act2/act3 tragedies that he later forgets all about and leaves unsolved. In The Wishbones, the lead character is this past-prime musician in a wedding band, working as a courier and living in Jersey, who one day sees a geezer at a wedding show die and decides he needs to marry his girlfriend of 15 years and move them both out of their respective parents’ houses. But he later has the dude hook up with this Lower East Side/Park Slope hipster poet chick. You’d think this would lead to the fiancee finding out and tragedy ensuing, but that’s not what happens. He uses the setup to tweak out the main character’s emotions a bit, then pretty much leaves her aside to continue on with the main plot. The main character forgets all about it, everyone’s well, a nice fall wedding, end of book.

Now, Tom Perrotta isn’t a slouch when it comes to plot. He’s very meticulous and playing the rules of the Iowa Writers Workshop, carefully weaving the main and secondary threads and giving them a bump in the right places and all of that. But after reading both books, I had such a strong “what the fuck happened to…” feeling, that I didn’t really feel satisfied about it. And yeah, maybe he did that intentionally, to introduce some tension, or make things believable. But I still kept thinking “what happened to that secondary plot?” and it threw me.

I also started reading two Will Leitch books, again based on Amazon, and I didn’t really like either one. He has Life as a Loser, which I already mentioned, and it’s more of a lower-quality Chuck Klosterman imitation, but it doesn’t totally pull through. It was like reading Chuck’s rough drafts, and I gave up halfway through the book. I started Catch, and I don’t know. I don’t have an agent, or a bunch of fans online, but I think I could do better. I’m not trying to pick a fight; I’m just saying, his writing’s a bit wooden. Maybe halfway through the book, it picks up steam, but I don’t know if I’ll make it.

In other news, I think my knees are almost better. I say knees plural because the left one got a little torqued out from limping around on a cane and in a brace and overcompensating. Today was my first real day with no brace, and they don’t feel good now, but I did make it with no real problems. And in an effort to be more human, I actually bought a pair of dress shoes today, since when we go somewhere formal, I usually have to fake it with a pair of tennis shoes or something. I went to Kenneth Cole to invest in something that looked good and didn’t make me feel ready for amputation in 15 minutes, and I ended up spending about twice as much as the most expensive shoes I’ve ever bought. But they’re nice. I hope I don’t accidentally shred them to pieces on a fragmenting New York curbside or something.

Oh, I fixed a bunch of random weird stuff with the site’s RSS feed, but I won’t go into it right now.


Pee-Wee League

John Sheppard posted a nice Little League photo the other day, complete with 70s bright colors and high pants, which made me think a bit about my brief experience in Pee-Wee League back in the day. I forget when this was, but I’m guessing maybe third grade, and it was yet another one of those things where my parents really wanted me to experience different things besides the Apple II and/or determine if I was gay by forcing me to play sports. And given my lack of any hand-eye coordination or motor skills, I’m surprised they didn’t just give up and start buying me Cher albums and teaching me about flower arranging.

Pee Wee League was one of those things that not only made me feel bad about my inability to do something that so many other people could do easily, but I had kids making fun of me¬†well into high school¬†due to my inability to throw a ball long distances when I was a little kid. I know parents think these things will toughen up their kids, and teach them about teamwork and discipline and how to oil a leather glove. I guess one of the other things was that I was supposed to learn all about the national past-time and develop a love for the game. Honestly, I couldn’t name more than five baseball teams back then, and at the time, I was far too preoccupied memorizing random statistics about Star Wars characters than infielders and outfielders. This is probably best proven by the fact that I had about a dozen baseball cards, but I had every single one of the first two series of the Topps Empire Strikes Back Cards. (Insert speech about how I wished I sealed that shit in a vacuum-packed safe so I could put them on eBay and finance the down payment on a beachfront house, instead of randomly losing them all or accidentally covering them with peanut butter.)

Each of our Pee-Wee League teams had a corporate sponsor (if you consider “corporate” to include local car washes and septic system pumping companies) and a name of a real major league team. My assigned team was the AstroBowl Astros, sponsored by a local bowling alley, with a nod to the Houston MLB team, and featured orange hats and t-shirts. We didn’t wear the pants or the cleats or any other gear. I think there was a concerned mother freakout about wearing a cup, which happened when this kid named Skip ended up sliding into home plate ball-first and doing some damage to the yet-functioning family production units. I distinctly remember my mom’s hysterics, leading to a hand-off to my dad, who spent his childhood in the protection-free fifties, when you could still buy Jarts, M-80s, and small-caliber firearms at the local soda stand. The closest thing he knew about protection was when he got a CB radio so he could protect himself from speeding tickets on the highway. My dad grudgingly took me to Sears, where we silently walked to the athletics department and found that all of the various supporters and protectors were, at the smallest range, made for kids roughly twice my age or size. I think I could have used the smallest cup in stock as a batting helmet. Dad basically mumbled, “Son, be careful, and don’t tell your mom,” and that was that.

Somehow, I got put on a team that made the Bad News Bears look like the Yankees with a two billion dollar salary cap. Every kid who could not play was on the Astros. Most of the kids at school got onto cool teams, like the Dodgers, the Yankees, or the Cubs. (Yes, the Cubs were a good team; we were 100 miles from Wrigley Field. Despite the fact that they were a horrible team during that era, at least they were recognizable.) The only things I knew about the real Astros were Nolan Ryan, and the fact that they played in their namesake dome on their namesake artificial turf. That wasn’t much to go by.

I ended up as the catcher. When you have an adult pitching and the catcher doesn’t call pitches, this was where a coach parked their worst player, which happened to be me. I could barely throw the ball back to the pitcher. I could not infield to any extent, but it usually didn’t matter. The best strategy for the opposing team was to hit it anywhere in the outfield, and run in every single person on base while I sat and watched them cross the plate, because it would take about 45 minutes for someone to retrieve the ball and throw it home. I remember one game, against the faux Dodgers team, which had all of the jocko guys in it, when the score ended up being like 78 to 2. It was like a basketball game between the Harlem Globetrotters and a bunch of geriatrics who were off their meds.

I think we did win one game, and it was against one of the best teams, maybe the Yankees. It was on a day of really shitty weather, where the temperature dropped to about 45 or 50, and it was raining on and off, and extremely dark. Because it was on and off, the officials kept deciding the game would go on, and then they would change their mind, and then it would be back. We only wore t-shirts, and maybe half of the team got the idea to put on jackets under their uniform shirts. But wet denim jeans are always horrible, and your hands would be absolutely freezing. The parents on our team were pulling all of this “toughen up!” bullshit, and pretty much every kid on both teams was crying or trying not to cry, but still streaming tears down their rain-soaked faces. The only parents there on average were the mothers, who were trying to act like the fathers and overcompensating with whatever macho bullshit they caught from TV. (This was in an era when the divorce rate was like 100%, and all of the dads were probably off either getting loaded or trying to fuck the non-baseball moms.) So for whatever reason, our team could withstand the pain way more than the fake Yankees could, because we had to put up with so much bullshit under normal operating conditions, we didn’t even care that our hands were turning blue. Even the kids that couldn’t hold a bat were popping off doubles and triples, and we ended up pulling in a 12-4 win over the best team in the league.

One of the big things about Little League is that when you win (and it’s not practically snowing out), you go get ice cream. You’d think that since we had our asses handed to us on a regular basis, we’d never see any dessert action, but our coaches were sympathetic, or maybe in that “nobody’s a loser” parental mindset, so they usually found out where the other team was going, and we’d go to the other place for celebratory losing treats. There were two ice cream places in close proximity: a Dairy Queen, right next to the Taco Bell on 33 where I’d work when I was 16, and a Tastee Freeze, which was right in front of our corporate sponsor, Astrobowl.

I think I liked Dairy Queen better at the time, and we went there more, because the winning team usually went to Tastee Freeze because it was a local institution, and I think we lost almost every single game. Dairy Queen was more of a restaurant, like McDonald’s, and it had a sit-down dining room with a solarium. It didn’t have as many ice cream types, but I always got the peanut buster parfait. Tastee Freeze didn’t have any seats, just a window where you ordered. Maybe it had some picnic benches, but I remember sitting on a curb when eating my ice cream most of the time, and I wasn’t into that as much. Looking back, I probably like the Tastee Freeze better, because the ice cream was a lot more “custom” and they added sprinkles and cremes and sauces and other toppings while you waited, instead of just pulling out plastic-wrapped, pre-extruded things made at the central office in Kansas or whatever. Tastee Freeze is more of a small-town memory to me, something I’ll never see again in the big city.

When I was in the 7th or maybe 8th grade, we had to go to AstroBowl for a couple of class periods of bowling. It was across the street from the Junior High, so this was built into the curriculum, since we all know that bowling is an important skill for finding a job and providing for your future. (It’s important to note that even to this day, you will get your name in the Elkhart newspaper if you roll a perfect 300. Bowling is a big deal in Indiana. Not as big as crystal meth or illegitimate children, but it’s probably in the top ten.) Anyway, when I went over there and made a fool of myself yet again in another sport-like activity, I saw that in the trophy case by the front door, there was a picture of my old Pee Wee League team in a frame, along with a couple of other baseball team pictures that the bowling alley apparently sponsored. I was probably eight or nine, maybe ten when I went through that experience, but even at the age of 13 or 14, it was like looking back into another world to see that picture. I don’t have a copy of said photo anymore, but whenever I think of it, I always wonder if it’s still in the trophy case, gathering dust..

Oddly enough, a quick google shows that AstroBowl is for sale. Take a look at those photos and you see that parts of Elkhart have changed absolutely zero in the 15 years since I have left. The bowling alley looked identical back in the day: 70s futuristic logo, Pepsi sign above the door, big double stripe on the side of the cinderblock building, and cracked up parking lot. I’m honestly surprised that the location hadn’t become a TGI Friday ten years ago. I don’t bowl, but it would be sad if the place got sold and became a Mexican bodega or something. Current price is $450K, if you want to relive that Ed TV show and move back to the small city.

[Note from 2020: the AstroBowl was a Mexican event center for a few years, then sat abandoned for a decade or so, until the city tore it down. It’s now a parking lot for school busses.]

My parents also made me play basketball in the 6th grade, which is an even bigger story. Maybe I’ll type that one up sometime.


Bike junk

Yesterday, I got an application for Bike New York in the mail. I have no idea how they got my name – maybe from some bike junk I ordered off the web – but it was a strange coincidence, because I would love to get in shape and try the ride, but I’m completely fucked up right now. I sprained the MCL in my right knee about a month ago, and I’m just now at the point where I’m not in agonizing pain on a costant basis. Hobbling around on a cane has caused my other knee to feel a bit wonky, and I have to wear this horrible compressive brace every day, which is like having my leg in a vice while I’m at work. Then when I get home and take out my leg, it’s imprinted in a reverse-mold of the inside of the brace, like some kind of Play-Doh fun factory thing. After extrication, my knee feels really – weird – as it expands and sloshes back into its regular form. I usually take drugs by then, so I can avoid this strange feeling. Despite all of this, I am getting around better, sometimes without the cane, and maybe the brace will go away soon, too.

But I don’t think a 42-mile bike ride is in the cards, at least not on May 6th or whenever it is. I keep trying to do the math on how long it would take me to train for a 42-mile ride, and then also trying to predict how long it would be until I could ride a bike, and then add them together and see if they were less than eight weeks. While I could maybe train more in a given time period, by riding way too much, I can’t speed up the healing of the knee, so that pretty much fucks the whole thing.

Why do I want to do it? I guess just to say I’ve done it. I’ve ridden farther before, and this is not a competitive race-type event, so it isn’t harder in that sense. But the last time I did anything like this, I was 16, and I rode a 100K ride on a POS Huffy 10-speed that you get on sale for $100 at Wards, along with a rack and panniers filled with probably 30 pounds of shit I didn’t need. It poured rain the whole day and it was bone-chilling outside, with plenty of headwinds that made me wonder why the fuck I even did the event, since nobody in my entire school even knew about it and it obviously wasn’t about getting chicks, which was one of only two things I cared about back in 1987. (The other one probably involved listening to every Rush album in a row in one sitting, which I used to think would be the ultimate project, and now I realize will be my own personal hell if there is in fact a god when I die.) The New York ride would also be slightly more interesting than the Indiana one. The New York one goes through all five boroughs, which means a couple of interesting bridges, and a rare chance to ride on closed-off streets of the city. I guess the Indiana one was interesting too, and at least took you through Michigan and across some attempts at hills and twists, but unless you go south of Indy, there isn’t much beyond the one-mile grids of county roads and cornfields.

I haven’t been writing shit lately. Part of it is a lack of a routine to fall into, part of it is a lack of anything to write about. I guess I have two projects that I want to eventually finish. They are both biopic, modernist, whatever; one’s high school, the other is college. Both of them don’t have enough greatness to survive. I wonder how Summer Rain turned out as good as it did, as far as the story and length. Was it just a coincidence that everything happened in such a great story line like that, or was it just a lot of hard work that carved it into a solid line? I don’t know. Sometimes I’d like to think if I kept my nose down enough on this high school one, I’d start to get some bulk, and the pieces would become carvable and eventually fit into each other until it started to look like a book. But I don’t know, there’s a lot of pessimism here on that.

In the reading category, I just finished The Wishbones by Tom Perrotta, which was a decent read. It was close to the style that I wish I could write in, similar to Nick Hornby and High Fidelity, although not as raw or as dense as I’d like. There was also this weird twist at the end that sort of threw me, but I won’t get into it. Anyway, now I’m reading Will Leitch’s Life as a Loser, which I completely spaced and forgot I read half his shit on years ago. I’m enjoying the book despite the fact that it’s a typographical disaster; it’s a weird size that it too square and too big, and the columns are way too wide with small print, so it’s impossible to track across the page, especially if you’re on a bouncing F train.

My only other complaint about Leitch’s book is that it makes me wish that either I had a better way to chop my own life into zany and compelling bite-sized 2000-word pieces on a weekly basis, or that maybe I should get some kind of life that lends itself to doing that. That Tucker Max book had the same effect on me. I read about all of this crazy shit that he did, all of these good stories, and I thought I needed to live a life like his – not necessarily HIS, but with other activities that were easily shrink-wrapped into entertaining portions. I know the stock answer is “but Jon, you can write observational pieces about ANYTHING,” and my answer is, go ahead and do it, but I need to find what works for me.

Okay, enough babbling for tonight.


New York at its finest

I think the best way I could describe outside right now is “fucked.” It’s 30 and raining, basically, which means sort of snow but sort of not, very dark out, and the ground resembles a spilled Slurpee, but everywhere and not Coke-flavored. The intersection outside of my office is being devastated by a crew of phone company people. They’re jackhammering and scraping out a trench in the middle of the intersection, and it’s filling up with this slush, and traffic in every direction is fucked. The jackhammering and pounding sounds like the block is being shelled. A Verizon truck hit a guy in the face with their rear-view mirror in front of the Wendy’s, so there’s an ambulance blocking even more traffic as he holds a dozen yellow and crimson Wendy’s paper napkins to his face to stop the bleeding. A dozen people try to watch what’s happening, but everyone else pushes past them to go inside and get their Chicken Strips Tenders meals and Biggie sized fries.

This is New York at its finest. Every time someone tells me “I think it would be so neat to move to New York!” I want to make them endure an hour of this, and then send them back to Iowa or whatever.

As an experiment, I came to work without a cane today. Probably not the best day to do it, but it’s been working out okay. Of course, in about five hours, I will be screaming bloody murder about this brace on my leg, which usually starts constricting me too much after about eight hours. I have been able to find Vault everywhere, luckily, but I have been drinking so much of it that I think the caffeine is freaking me out. I drank 4x20oz bottles yesterday, plus a regular Coke, which is about a months’ worth of caffeine. I should stop that. I’m drinking a Dr. Pepper now, which is my favorite occasional drink. A strange thing is that maybe six years ago, I was taking some medicine for panic attacks, and I only took it for like a week, because it made me really sick to my stomach. But for some reason, it totally fucked up my sense of taste or smell for Dr. Pepper, maybe something about the vanilla taste in it. And I couldn’t even walk by a thing of Dr. Pepper in a grocery store without retching. I stopped taking the medicine, and then I was fine. It was pretty weird. I’m wondering why one of Dr. P’s competitors haven’t isolated this drug and put it in their drinks as a way to cut out the competition.

Lots of things are going on, and it will be very busy for a few days. It was Sarah’s birthday on Monday, which went well. And then her mom is coming in tonight for a long weekend. We are having an Oscars party on Sunday, and I don’t even know what is involved in that as far as planning or whatever, but I’m assuming it is taken care of. We’re also going upstate to Guy and Scott’s place on Saturday, which should be fun, but that’s just for a day. And add in a bunch of other dinners and seeing friends and soforth.

On top of that, we are catsitting for a friend and have her two cats for a week, because her place is being exterminated. The cats are mostly hiding right now. One is extremely skittish and we will probably not even see her for the week, unless treats are involved. The other one is a little more playful and okay with humans, and she was running around a bit. I’m still not sleeping through the night and wake up every few hours, and it was funny to wake up at like 4:30 and see both of them tearing around the house and playing.

I’ve been vaguely thinking about changes to this page, because I’ve been reading a lot of web design propaganda lately. I’m trying to think of some CSS changes to make to the site, which is not a big deal. The one thing I wish I could easily hook up are buttons for Back and Next at the bottom of each entry. There’s no easy way for me to do this. (Yes, I could hard-code the links in each time I update, but life is too short.) I wanted to do some PHP trickery in which each time a page is drawn, it takes a peek at the directory of HTML, and gets the two entries before and after the current one. The problem is knowing in the script what is “the current one,” because each of these pages imports headers and footers and there are symlinks and all other sorts of things that make the usual way of determining the current page to totally fuck up. I think I could do it if I passed the PHP the page’s ID, like I do with haloscan comments. But then I’d have to go back and edit all of my old pages, which might be a huge pain in the ass. I’ll probably do the CSS first.

Google ads are gone. Not really worth it for this kind of site. I think I made less than a dollar a month, and given that I make about a dollar a minute at my day job, it’s hard to get excited about that.

I have been doing a ton of reading, and at some point, you will get to read another huge list of what I’ve been consuming. But now, lunch is over.