I am a year older today.  I had a rainy day off of work today, hanging out here in Oakland and listening to the sound of gravel-like downpours smashing against the skylight.  I will be getting on a plane tomorrow morning and heading to Vegas, for a long weekend with Bill Perry, Marc, and Tom.  No immediate plans, other than gambling, eating, and maybe some comedy.  (I don’t think we’ll be trying to steal anything from Mike Tyson’s house, for example.)

This birthday has been pretty mellow.  It’s the last one of my thirties, and I’m sure next year when the big 4-0 hits, I will be much more freaked out.  At least I did not have to work today.  But Sarah had to go out of town for work on a last-second trip, and that was a bummer.  She did get me a very nice gift though: a Canon Digital Rebel XS.  It’s my first SLR, and my best camera to date.  But it’s going to force me to actually learn about how to take a photo, and learn all of this nomenclature like aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and so on.  It does a good job with the auto settings, and it’s cool to have something that can shoot three frames a second.  But I need to buy a book or a DVD or something.  If you have any good links to things I can skim online that don’t read like a college physics book on optics, please let me know.

I went to Denny’s today, as usual.  This time, it was the one in Emeryville.  I had their new Grand Slamwich, and it was fairly horrible.  It has too many things going on at once – a McGriddle-like maple syrup bread, eggs, bacon, cheese, sausage, mayo, and maybe nine other things.  I dunno, I am not that crazy about Denny’s anymore.  Every once in a great while, I’ll want to go there to get some pancakes, but in general, I am pretty much over it.  But it’s one of those time machine things, a direct portal into so many eras from the past.  I’ve gone there for pretty much every birthday for almost twenty years now.  It’s weird because my big memory today was Denver.  Before the big weight loss thing, I used to end up at Denny’s a lot, and maybe part of the reason it was so big to me then was I spent almost ten years without a Denny’s in my backyard, in New York.  Then I move to Colorado, and I can go anytime.  And then no wonder it takes me sixty pounds of weight loss to get down to an average BMI.

(Tangent: if you write a product installer that has a “thermometer” status bar, it should go from 0 to 100% exactly once, and then be done.  Going from 0 to 100 to 0 to 100 to 0 to 100 and then staying at 100 100 100 100 and then going to 0 and then 100 etc etc is not helpful to me.)

(Tangent #2 – OK I was too lazy to go downstairs to get my iPod, so I installed iTunes, and I’m streaming music from my laptop on my desk downstairs to my laptop in bed upstairs.  Years ago, I would’ve accomplished this by stringing a fifty foot length of cord over the loft.  This is magic.)

Anyway.  I keep thinking back to old birthdays now.  Like I keep thinking about my 23rd birthday.  Part of that memory has to do with just touching a short story that took place in that era, one that might or might not get published in AITPL #13.  I was deathly sick on that birthday; I went to this girl’s party maybe two weeks before, and it was damn freezing outside, and I caught a cold that gradually became pneumonia.  I spent a good chunk of the day in bed, but I remember looking at my birth certificate and realizing both of my parents were 23 when they had me on that day back in 1971, and on that day in 1994, my life was so far from being together in any adult way; I was on my way out of a computer science program and struggling to identify myself as a writer for the very first time.  I was still moping around after a breakup that happened months before, one that I wouldn’t pull out of for a long time.  I was in debt; I was not making any academic progress; I was making only a few bucks an hour taking peoples’ shit on a phone support line.  I didn’t have a car; I lived miles out of town and off campus; I felt like I had nobody and nothing, and couldn’t even fathom being married and having a kid.  It was just one of those mind-blowing moments of time for me, and not just because I was coughing my lungs out and taking cold baths in the middle of January to try and break my fever.

Man, I am listening to Husker Du’s Candy Apple Grey right now, and the song “Hardly Getting Over It”, and it fits the feeling of the above paragraph so much, it’s absolutely uncanny.  This is such a god damned good album, I can’t believe I didn’t worship these guys back in the day.  I was probably too busy trying to find Grim Reaper bootlegs or whatever.  But CAG is such a fully mind-blowingly emotional album to me now.  It seems like every third review of it online says something like “this album got me through a lot of hard times”, and I could completely see that.

(I thought it was hilarious when “I Don’t Know For Sure” showed up briefly in the soundtrack of the movie Adventureland, BTW.)

Okay, I need to pack and wake up in a few hours.  Just wanted to get something in while it was still 1/20.



I switched soaps this morning.  It wasn’t a conscious decision, like that the old soap was giving me problems; I just ran out of one, and broke open a 12-pack of a different brand.  I think the new brand is some Irish Spring derivative, “cool blast” or something like that.  This is significant in that I have these strong olfactory memories of different eras based on the soaps or colognes or deodorants I used back then.  I used this Old Spice deodorant back in my first year of college, and smelling that brand and type of scent is an instant time machine to 1989.  So maybe switching to another variant of bath product will bookend a new chapter in life.  Or something.

I’ve been busy working on the next issue of Air in the Paragraph Line, and I’m making progress, but I’m moving from the phase where I don’t have enough contributions and the end is nowhere near, and the phase where I have enough writing to fill an issue, but I intensely worry that what I have doesn’t have enough pop, and nobody will buy it.  The next phase is where I have 97% of the work done, but I’m struggling with the last 3%, and the worries start to move to the “how do I tell people about this” phase.  There are some good stories in this issue – I should clarify that.  The problem is, after reading stuff 47 times during layout, it gets diluted in my head.

The other project that’s been going on is adding a new pantry to our kitchen.  First, I should clarify what I mean by pantry, as there are two meanings.  One is that a pantry is a small room with shelves where you put staples; the other is a single, full-length base cabinet where you put staples.  I’m working on the latter.  There was this 15″ gap between the edge of our counter and one of the concrete pillars that runs through our loft.  And storage space is a premium in our kitchen, because we just have these open shelves, and no actual cabinets.  It’s one of those “modern” type of layouts, which is great if you don’t actually eat at your place, and you can put decorative glassware and random objects of art on the shelves.  But when they get congested with actual functional dishware and half-opened packages of taco shells and instant soup and noodles and whatever else, it gets a little cluttered.

So my first project was to get these roll-front cabinets at Ikea, but they were only available in some oddball size, because they were supposed to sit on top of a base cabinet or a countertop.  They were too short to put just one there, and two of them would have been too tall.  Instead I went with a single 15″ wide pull-out pantry, which is 80″ tall and about three and a half feet deep, the same as the counter it would sit next to.  It’s a white, with gloss white foil front doors.  And now that it’s installed, it’s great.  The problem was getting it installed.

Ikea, for whatever reason, gets me completely unhinged.  Buying it, assembling it, installing it – I think that they should stop waterboarding at Gitmo and just have the suspected terrorists put together Ikea furniture until they snap and confess everything.  I think part of it is that Ikea has this certain category-killer fuck-you quality to their products.  I mean, you could spend less on furniture by going to Target or Wal-Mart and getting completely shit stuff that looks really bad and is just as bad to assemble, but has no sense of designer aesthetic.  Or you could spend way more by going to a more upscale place where there are no prices on anything (because if you have to ask, you can’t afford it), and nothing is practical or functional, even if it looks nice.  So at Ikea, you get the worst of both worlds.  Everything at Ikea is some kind of compromise: it’s exactly two inches too tall, or has every color but the one shade you need, or it would be great if it had four shelves instead of three, and so on.  There’s a whole community of people who hack together things from Ikea parts, but it’s bad enough assembling the stock stuff.

And assembly…  First, it took about two trips of about two hours each to get everything going.  (The first initial trip, then a second to return one part and get some handles, which I forgot.)  Then the fun started.  This thing did not have one start-to-finish set of instructions, but instead had three different sets: one for the base cabinet; one for the pull-out drawers; and one for the door.  Also, some smaller components, like the door hinges, the dampeners, and the legs, had either their own one-sheet or their instructions printed on their containing plastic bags.  So I had to sort of interpolate these instructions to figure out what steps had to be done.  The cabinet part wasn’t hard, except I got a dozen of the screws in place before I figured out I had one of the sides upside down and backward, because you have to pay attention to that crap, and I always don’t pick up some detail like that from the hieroglyphic drawings inside.  There were also no clear instructions on where the five pull-out shelves went inside the unit, and I spent forever counting holes inside, putting in the screws, and then later finding the shelves didn’t work at that level, which then meant backing out the screws and re-counting and re-inserting.

Other problems: mounting the unit to the wall was a pain in the ass, and didn’t work entirely that well, because that wall is solid concrete and not drywall.  The door itself had no holes to be mounted, and there was only reference to a mystical template that was not included as to how to drill the hole patterns.  (I found a PDF online.)  I drilled and mounted the door, only to find that the highest shelf was too high, and I had to re-mount the top shelf and re-drill the door.  I also forgot the handles, as I mentioned.  So overall, it took about seven hours last Sunday, plus maybe an hour spread out over three different nights, and now it’s done.

I am going to Vegas this week for my birthday.  I’m actually leaving on Thursday, coming back Monday.  It will be me, Bill, Tom, and Marc; everyone else wussed out.  Me and Bill are staying at the Flamingo, which will be my first time there.  No big plans yet, but we will have a car, so maybe we can wander a bit.

The Kindle is still working great, at least as far as reading goes.  I tried to convert AITPL #13 to the Kindle, and it looked horrible.  But it was just a straight dump from the Framemaker source with no reformatting at all.  I have a better strategy for the export path, but it will take some time to get it all together.

I wish I could go back to bed for six more hours.  Up until last week, I thought I had today off, because of MLK day.  At least everyone else having it off will mean an easy commute to the office (I hope.)


Cash for gold city

I mentioned before that my great Midwestern tour this holiday season was a two-parter.  We spent a week in Wisconsin with Sarah’s family, which I’ve done every year for I think five years now.  But this time we also took a few more days and drove out to Indiana to see my family.  I haven’t been back there since August of 2007, when I brought Sarah back to meet my family and show her that I wasn’t exaggerating about the place.

I don’t get back to Indiana much anymore.  For a long time, I made an annual trip, and I started by going at Christmas, back in 1995.  And that year, it seemed like such a pointless exercise; pretty much all of my family and friends were out of town or busy with work or having surgery or in jail or otherwise preoccupied, and I basically ended up taking a week of unpaid vacation to sit at home and watch Saved by the Bell reruns for hours at a time, or tag along on a late-night Wal-Mart run (the center of culture in Elkhart) and having the most fun I had all break, which was reformatting the hard drives on all of their Packard Bell PCs on display.  After I wised up and realized that taking this annual trek during the worst months of winter was probably not a great idea, I started doing these preemptive visits in October, which is probably my favorite time of year in Indiana.  But then I realized that it cost me the same amount of money or less to fly from New York to Vegas and stay there, and the whole annual visit thing fell apart.

I never had great overwhelming nostalgia for Elkhart.  I used to have crushing sentimentality surrounding Bloomington (see also my first book) and I would go down there every chance I got.  When I would cruise around Elkhart though, I would get a certain sense of remembrance, seeing the bits and pieces of the city that shaped me so much back in the day, but I would never call it a homesickness, and I would never wake up in the middle of the night and say “dammit, I need to leave Seattle/New York/whatever and go back to the City With a Heart!”  I’d make my annual trip, mostly as a way to feel grateful for wherever I currently lived, and to get enough of a dose of the place that I wouldn’t want to come back for the next 365 days.

I’ve been thinking about Elkhart a lot lately, because I was writing a book that chronicles the last couple years of my high school experience in the late eighties.  I can spend too much time trying to make things like this period accurate: digging up old music, wasting time on wikipedia looking up failed fast food chains and defunct department stores; I scour my archives looking for old receipts and bad photos and little pieces that remind me of this previous life.  This has been way harder for this new book than it was for Summer Rain; for the latter, I still had a lot of old emails and I started writing a book about 1992 in 1994 and 1995.  I had cassette tapes of my old radio show, CDs still in my collection, a huge cache of old zines, and the entire paper trail that a year at a university can provide.  But now, what little I still have from 1988 and 1989 is locked away in a storage unit, and I didn’t save as much stuff back then.  So aside from visiting family, one of my motives for this brief trip was to plug back into the general feel of this old life of mine, to drive the streets of northern Indiana and try to remember what it was like as a kid in the region.

And this trip was so hurried and we had to see so many people, I had little time for this.  In fact, I didn’t even stay in Elkhart for this journey, and I only ventured into the city twice.  We actually stayed in South Bend, just north of the Notre Dame campus on what’s now called 933.  (They renamed all of the old US highways and put a 9 in front of them.  I don’t know why; maybe they lost some federal funding because they felt a need to put the ten commandments on every god damned thing in the state.)  But that did remind me of the times I spent in South Bend and Mishawaka back in the day.

I tried to explain this in a previous post, and it’s hard to really describe it.  But when I grew up in Elkhart, I quickly tired of everything there.  For example, there were two “real” record stores, neither of them very good, plus the chain places like Musicland.  And the only places to buy books were the Waldens in the mall, a religious bookstore in Pierre Moran mall, and this used book place called the Book Nook that was downtown.  I wasn’t a serious bibliophile back then, but by definition, you pretty much had to go to South Bend to even look at a book that wasn’t published by Stephen King or Danielle Steele.  That meant when I got a car and got to spend my days off school driving west to this sister city that was roughly twice as big, it had a certain slight magic to it.  Yeah, it had no skyline, and aside from the grid of streets downtown and the mess of strip mall suburbia jutting out from the university campus and the Scottsdale Mall area, it was just a big bunch of nothing like Elkhart.  But it was my first glimpse of something, and it had this appeal that later made me seek out a new start outside of Elkhart, and eventually out of Indiana.

And now, twenty years later, I was cruising through whiteout snow conditions in a rented Chevy “this is why we needed a bailout” Cobalt, driving down Main and up Michigan and past the Century Center and beyond Coveleski Stadium and down Grape Road, remembering all of those trips across Elkhart and into St. Joe county, taking Cleveland Road over to the University Park Mall, and visiting Orbit Records in the Town and Country strip mall.

Elkhart has had some rough times in the last year or two.  That’s no secret; the President has been making all of these trips through the city, using it as an example of a city that’s hit rock bottom.  This is news to some, but it’s always had this boom/bust cycle.  I remember right before Desert Storm, when gas prices were going up, nobody was buying RVs, and pretty much every corner had a “will work for food” sign on it.  You could buy pretty much any car by taking over payments for someone, and the housing market plummeted.  You saw laid-off fifty year old dudes working the register at McDonald’s, and every other factory warehouse was shuttered.  Fast forward to six months later, and everyone’s working mandatory overtime, the RVs are flying off the lots, and everyone is pricing out Harleys and swimming pools and additions to their houses and boats.  People never remember the hard times, and when the next slump happens, everyone has three mortgages and four car payments and not a lick of savings.

Sarah said this best when she said that Indiana had this desperation to it, like a smoker with emphysema.  There’s no culture to it, and especially in the winter, all people do is buy stuff at the local big box store, haul it home in their long-bed extended-cab truck and sit in front of their 70″ TV and get fat.  Other than the bars, the entire culture is built around this hoarding of material goods, this need to have every piece of junk made in China that’s stamped with Dale Jr’s number.  There are always these token attempts at it, a ballet or a symphony that a hundred people might find out about, a token museum with a couple of paintings in it, but people’s main cultural investment is in their retreat from the day labor and into their nothingness of eating bacon-wrapped everything while watching electrons flicker by on their DLP screen.

There were so many memories fallen in my drives through the old territories, so many old stores boarded up, killed off by the Wal-Marts and Best Buys and lack of interest.  And every other vacant storefront was transformed into a “We will pay top dollar for your gold!” place.  It’s no surprise Glenn Beck takes a close second behind Jesus in these parts, and Glenn loves to tell everyone that gold is the best thing to stockpile for the end times.  So pretty much everyone with a failing VCR repair business or minimart is now buying up gold from losers who bought gold-plated everything during the salad years and are now trying to find a way to pay off their $3000 heating bill this January.  It’s one of the infallible businesses in Elkhart: car parts places, check cashing stands, liquor stores, and pawn shops.  If you want a recession-proof business, start one of those.

I unfortunately took no pictures on this trip.  It was too damn cold to be enterprising about walking around with a camera, and I’ve been gone long enough that I now send out the “you ain’t from around here” vibe and set off the hillbilly paranoia security alerts when I try to get all investigative about this.  Maybe next time.


New decade rising

For whatever reason, I have not been overwhelmed with this whole change in decade.  I vaguely remember the start of the 1980s, but I think that was mostly because I got the Death Star playset that Christmas.  (And when I got it, my dad joked that I should just leave it in the box because it would be worth more.  And if I would have, I could sell the damn thing now and pay off my mortgage.)  I also remember the 1989/1990 change, mostly because I was home for college, and this girlfriend I had back then came up from Bloomington to visit me, and we fought constantly for the entire week she visited.  And I guess we all remember the whole Y2K thing, mostly because we were all waiting for jets to fall from the sky at midnight, and nothing happened.

This decade change is pretty anticlimactic, though.  I think part of it is the addition of numbers behind that big 20 prefix doesn’t seem to have as much impact.  2012 and 2001 and 2112 and 2010 and 2020 all seem too similar to me.  Another possibility is that I’m so apathetic, I just don’t give a shit anymore.  I remember back when my first car hit 140,000 miles, and me and Tom Sample pulled over on the side of US33 and danced around the car like idiots because all of those zeroes came up at the same time.  My car just hit 30,000 miles, and I didn’t even notice it.  Maybe that’s because it’s just an LCD display now, and not actual dials of numbers.  Or, once again, apathy.

I also don’t make many new year’s resolutions, because all of the big things I do or plan never happen to land on even numbers like that.  But here are some vague ideas of resolutions I may or may not do this year:

  1. Not gain back any weight.  I managed to stay below my goal weight for all of 2009, and I need to keep that up.  Actually, it wouldn’t hurt me to lose about five more pounds, but as long as I stay the same pant size so I don’t have to go out and buy more, I’m fine.
  2. Publish Air in the Paragraph Line #13.
  3. Try to write here more.
  4. Try to write more, period.
  5. Kill a dolphin with a spear gun from a helicopter.
  6. Learn a dead language, and teach it to several of my coworkers, so we can talk about other people behind their backs.
  7. Only eat hot dogs at baseball games.  I think I ruined this by eating a char dog at Midway airport, but come to think of it, that was still 2009, so who cares.
  8. Memorize one page of a dictionary word-for-word, and then tell everyone I memorized the entire dictionary, and when they ask, I start reading off that one page and everyone thinks I’m a goddamn genius.
  9. Be in an emergency situation where someone asks if there’s a doctor because someone collapsed or something, and say “yes, I’m a doctor”, and when they ask me to do CPR or something, tell them I actually have a Doctor of Divinity degree and tell that dead guy to suck it.
  10. Keep hand-shaking to a minimum.

I should actually make one of those giant 101 goals lists and put it on here, but these guys are doing a much better job at that idea.


Dental trauma #863

Happy New Year.  I have been home for a few days.  I’m still not 100% unpacked.  Maybe today.

I had to go to the dentist on Saturday morning for the next step in the latest dental trauma.  They are replacing the crown that came off while I was in Mexico.  The problem was getting the crown off again, since the Mexican dentist seems to have done a pretty good job gluing it on (probably with some adhesive that’s illegal to sell in the US because it’s also used to kill rats in science labs.)  To remove the crown, he first had to give me about ten injections of novocaine, because it’s on a live tooth.  Then he used a grinder to cut down a groove in the porcelain and metal of the crown and a sort of dentist’s prybar to then wedge apart the crown until the seal broke and he could pry it loose.

Two issues with this:  first, it’s a tooth at the very back of my mouth, which involves forcing open the jaw at an unnatural angle for a long period of time.  Second, the sounds and vibrations associated with the cutting and prying are far from ideal for a person with dental anxiety and unnatural fears of teeth being pulled or falling out.  Short of getting my wisdom teeth pulled while under a local (and then having the dimwit break a tooth off and send me across town to an emergency oral surgery to get the other half of the tooth removed), this is pretty far up the list of bad dental experiences.

They got a temp crown on there and sent me on my way, feeling like I’d just got out of a bad Guantanamo Bay talk session.  After a few hours, my jaw started chattering uncontrollably, as some weird side effect of the shots wearing off.  And then, my jaw started hurting horribly, mostly from trying to fight to keep it open.  It still hurts today, although it’s not as bad as yesterday.  The main problem is I have to now limit my diet a bit for the next week, avoiding anything that could pull loose the temp crown, or get stuck in between teeth back in that corner.  I didn’t eat all day yesterday, but eventually had a vegetarian pad thai that seemed to work okay.

Next up: a root canal in the tooth next to this one has to be redone; it has some kind of infection at the very tip of the root.  This was a root canal done back in Seattle, in 1997 or 1998.  There’s a bit of strange nostalgia about that.  The endodontist I went to back then had an office in Northgate, just a skip south of Silver Platters records, which was my second home when I lived there.  I have no idea how I afforded a root canal and a biweekly trip to buy new CDs at this place. A quick google shows me they are still open.  The bad news is it looks like they discontinued their certificate plan, where they gave you these fake money certificates when you bought stuff, and you could turn them in for free CDs.  There was a whole system to this madness, where you would get extra certificates on certain days, and for certain sale items, and so on, and I tried my best to exploit this system by only shopping on Tuesdays or whatever else was required.  Now, it’s all about iTunes.  End of an era, I guess.

It’s also the end of the 00s, although I have nothing interesting to say about it, other than wondering where the last ten years went.  Seems like yesterday we were all worrying about Y2K and I was trying to settle in my new and somewhat shitty apartment in Astoria.  That was ten years ago?