Remember when Best Buy sold CDs?

I go out for lunch maybe once a week, usually on the day of a day game when I want to catch a few innings in the car on my iPhone.  There aren’t many lunch places near work, but there’s a cluster of big-box stores, a sort of mini-mall that was plopped in place a few years ago, and when I’m done eating, I’ll sometimes wander the stores a bit.  One of the stores is a Best Buy, and the other day, I decided I was sick of all my music and I needed a new album. That typically involves going to iTunes and clicking away, but for whatever reason, I decided to go old-school and actually browse the racks at the big blue box store.

I was surprised to see there’s not really a CD section in Best Buy anymore. I mean, there is a token three or four racks, but it used to be that each of the bins would have maybe a row of 30-40 CDs, and there would be side-to-side bins for dozens of feet, and maybe a dozen aisles like that. Now, there were maybe three aisles, and each rack held exactly one CD. We’re talking about maybe as many CDs as the average Flying J truck stop holds, between the CB radios and coolers of pre-made sandwiches and beef jerky. And the selection – we’re talking about only the most popular of the most popular music; the most obscure thing they had there was maybe Guns N’ Roses.  Almost all of the titles were more expensive, although there was a token section of $6.99 albums.  But the selection part is what killed me. It seemed like overnight, they completely collapsed.  It’s like if the Strand went from 18 miles of books to a layout like one of those airport book stores.

I used to spend a lot of time at Best Buy.  In Seattle, I was hooked on Silver Platters, and used to go there twice a week for my CD addiction. In New York, I never fully found an indie place that met my needs like they did. I worked above a Virgin Megastore for almost two years, and while their prices were sometimes spendy, you could sometimes pick up good deals there, and they did have some slightly obscure death metal stuff.  And there was always Tower.  But I somehow always gravitated to Best Buy, maybe because I could also grab DVDs, video games, and ogle the new home theater stuff.

There wasn’t a Best Buy close to my place in Astoria, but there was one maybe a mile and a half south of me.  The subway didn’t run down there, so my Saturday ritual involved a walk down Steinway to Northern, headphones on, to go blow through part of a paycheck and stock up on digital media.  I’d usually have no shopping list, and would just run through the A-Z, picking out a couple of albums that looked interesting.  I’d do the same with movies, trying to think of a couple of titles that would hold my interest and give me something to do that night.  I’d have to deal with the crowds loitering around on Steinway, and push myself past a bunch of people or take a side street, but the walk gave me a routine.  And halfway between the two places was a Papaya King, so I could get some of their grilled hotdogs and a fruit drink.  (There’s one thing I do miss about New York.)

When the weather wasn’t as good and I didn’t feel like braving the walk, I’d get on a train and head to Chelsea, where they opened a big Best Buy there.  I guess it wasn’t any faster, and maybe the walk on either side of that trip almost added up to the distance from my apartment to Northern, but it got me out of the house and into Manhattan.  And I got a couple of hours of time to read and listen to music on headphones. Plus the subway is heated, and half the damn time my apartment wasn’t, thanks to my shithead landlord.

But here’s the thing: I eventually figured out this wasn’t a routine, it was a psychological problem.  I had this gaping hole in my life, and I tried to fill it by collecting stuff.  And my poison was a 12-centimeter disc of plastic and aluminum.  And I didn’t think anything of it, but I spent a lot of my time and money collecting DVDs and CDs.  And I know, what’s the harm in CDs?  It’s not like I was smoking crack or shooting heroin.  But there is a certain psychic impact on getting locked into a collection like that, and it’s hard to see how nuts you are until you go a couple of years without dropping hundreds of bucks a week on music, or having an entire apartment that’s wall-to-wall CD racks.  I guess a big part of it is you’re always running toward a goal you can never catch.  You’re always buying more music, thinking you’ll get to some mystical state where you have “enough” music, where you’ll always have something to listen to.  But you get to a stage where you have enough CDs that if you actually listened to them all end-to-end, 24 hours a day, it would take you months to finish, yet you are perpetually in a state where you have “nothing” to listen to, and it takes you 20 minutes to leave the house because you can’t pick out a couple of albums to take with you.  (This was pre-iPod, when I did not carry around my entire music collection in my pocket.)

I don’t remember the last DVD I actually bought.  With movies, it’s much more of  a moot point – we have a NetFlix account and a Roku box and a DVR and on demand, so any time I want to watch something, I watch it once, and then that’s it.  I don’t spend $40 on it, watch it once, and then lose that amount of storage space in my apartment forever.  It makes no sense for me to ever buy a DVD.  Even if I really love a movie, I’m not going to watch it more than once or twice a year, so why give up the storage space and money to keep a copy on hand?  I still have a few DVDs, but I put them in binders, which is also a big collector no-no.  Part of the fetish is to have the original packaging, the entire article, and not throw out the cases and keep only the booklets in a binder.  That’s a cardinal sin, but it’s not like I’m going to resell my DVDs, so I don’t care.  In the shelf area that used to hold maybe a dozen DVD boxes, I have three binders that hold maybe a hundred titles.

As far as CDs go, I use iTunes a lot, and the instant gratification there sort of kills going to the store, especially when a $16.99 CD at Best Buy costs you ten bucks online.  Sure, I don’t get the physical case, the printed book, but that’s more collector-ism for you.  There was a time where I thought I NEEDED the physical disc in a rack on the wall, but do I?  I buy songs and albums to listen to them; I don’t buy they to pay some allegiance to a band, to have their entire collection, even if I don’t like some of the songs or albums.

So I went through the racks at the Best Buy, and found a Peter Gabriel album I didn’t have, a collection of covers he did.  I felt bad about buying nothing and leaving, but I also felt bad about buying something.  It felt like dieting for years and then ending up at a McDonald’s and getting the old meal you used to eat five times a week, and then getting sick off of it.  I don’t even have a place to put CDs anymore, and as I opened up the plastic, I realized I’ve probably only listened to a CD in my car maybe twice.  I was firmly in the iTunes camp by the time I got this car in 07, and I’ve only used the iPod connector, and the occasional AM radio scan for traffic or a local ball game.  So it felt weird to listen to the CD, and didn’t compel me to return and buy a hundred more.  Always weird when you realize an era has ended for you.

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Sometimes even idiots can predict the future

I wrote the following in 1996.  Does it sound familiar?

I have this theory about the Internet, loosely based on a theory Douglas Adams put into motion in one of his books about shoes. See, as more companies launch their Internet services and convince everyone in the world that they need to use the Internet, more people will use the services. But, the companies will stumble to conquer the market and deliver more Internet services to people, and they will in turn create more fragmented, shoddy Internet services. This will cause a higher demand for Internet service, because people will be pissed off with their service and will switch to other services. The higher demand will cause more service providers to come to market, and will cause large servicess to develop different offerings for people (of lower quality).
Eventually, this increase of both supply and demand will cause all other free market businesses to become internet services just to stay in business, but they won’t be able to, and the entire global economy will fail.
That’s my theory anyway.

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Interview in Six Questions

I almost forgot about this, but months ago, I answered some questions for Jim Harrington, who publishes a blog that’s just interviews with publishers and editors of small journals and magazines.  It’s always fun to be on the other side of the interview, and answer questions instead of stumbling through questions and reformatting answers, or even worse, the days of transcribing the damn things off of tapes.

Anyway, here’s the interview.  Check it out: http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/2010/05/six-questions-for-jon-konrath-editor.html

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Knots, rings, points

Here is a tip that I think I saw on LifeHacker that is now saving me at least an hour of time a day.  I listen to my iPod a lot at work, and I also use the “go ahead and hate me for having an iPod” white headphones when I am writing in the morning on my laptop.  I went a long time hating earbud headphones, and always liked those vertical in-ear things that Sony championed, but they became harder to find and fell apart more often and I eventually gave up and started using the white ones because I have 79 pairs of them sitting around the house.

Anyway, I always have to take off and put back on the headphones constantly, and when I do, I can never tell which one is left and right without spending 17 seconds looking for the little L or R.  So here’s the trick: tie a knot in the right cord, right up by the earbud.  Then you always know which one is the right side.  And that saves me 17 seconds times the 200 or 300 times I have to take them on and off every day.

I went to get my wedding ring resized the other day.  I realized it has been two years since I started the weight loss journey, two years since I ate at McDonald’s on a daily basis and consumed a regular Coke per hour.   I’ve been at my goal weight, more or less, for a year and a half, and my wedding ring was way too big.  I bought some crap online that looks like caulk that you put inside a ring to keep it from slipping, and that sort of kept it on my finger, but I needed it permanently fixed.  But there’s a fear there, that I will pay to get it done and then immediately fall off the wagon and gain 50 pounds.  As everyone has told me, maybe getting it resized will then force me to stay on track.  And maybe if I buy a treadmill, it won’t become a thousand-dollar place for me to hang my clothes and stack my half-read magazines after like three days of using it, right?

Our rings have some kind of manufacturer’s guarantee that they will resize them for free for their lifetime, but I would have to go back to the place in New York where I bought them, or maybe FedEx them back, and that seemed like too much of a hassle, so I finally just broke down and went to a store in the Stanford mall on my lunch break and dropped it off there and paid them to resize it.

(Side note, I was driving to that mail and had a horrible sense of deja vu as I sat on El Camino or whatever that main drag is with all of the palm trees.  Then I realized that I drove down that strip in 1996 when I was in the Bay Area for the first time and wanted to see the Stanford campus late at night.)

My ring size went from an 8 3/4 to a 7 1/2.  The Asian lady that helped me was astounded that I lost so much weight and kept asking me questions, like “did you have the surgery, the thing where they suck it out?” and could not believe that I just stopped eating shitty food and got off my ass.  I’m still surprised when people interrogate me about this and wonder how a person could lose 60 pounds without going on some crazy Oprah-endorsed diet where you only eat food with two or less vowels in their name on odd days or whatever else.  I mean, one one hand, it’s simple math. Your body needs X calories to run; when you eat five Double Down sandwiches and a box of Krispy Kreme donuts and consume X * 257 calories a day, you gain weight.  So don’t do that.

In reality, I know it’s dickish for me to say that, because when I was overweight, pretty much everyone said “well just eat less and exercise” and it drove me nuts.  Because I would eat less for like two days and then freak out and eat way more, and not know why.  And a component of it is knowing what to eat or how to eat to get through the day without legitimate hunger: balancing meals with more protein and less carbs, avoiding foods that are all fat and carbs, spacing out meals, eating enough fiber, knowing what foods fill you up and what ones are just junk and make you want more.  There are a lot of little tricks and things I learned at Weight Watchers, and they vary from person to person, and it’s a learning process to figure that stuff out.

But there’s definitely a psychological factor, and there are a lot of things that kept me shoveling the food that were all in my head, and those demons are hard to defeat.  I ate a lot out of boredom.  Like, I would get frustrated that I couldn’t write (that’s another fifty posts of neurosis) and I didn’t want to just sit and watch TV and it wasn’t like I was training for the Olympics or anything, so I would eat.  And then I would feel worse, and I would try to write, and it wouldn’t work, and I would get just one more handful of potato chips.  And I have some truly addictive traits, and I know I am addicted to sugar.  There are some foods, some candies that I cannot eat just a small amount of.  Like I can’t buy a one pound bag of Reeses Pieces and eat just 16 of them and leave the rest for next week.  There’s something addictive about the sugar at a base level, and this whole tactile thing about the crunch of the candy, the way it feels when you chew it, that when I eat just a few, I immediately think about eating more, and I cannot stop.  The advent of the 100-calorie pack and the small serving, as opposed to the jumbo serving value pack, that helped me.  But when I go to a movie, unless I remember to sneak in the 100-calorie pack of something to eat, I will go for that giant $16, two-pound bag of Skittles, because they don’t sell the small size.  And that’s problematic, and saying “just eat less” doesn’t solve it.

My target weight was 175, but I pushed myself down to 170 before I officially said I was at goal weight and began the month of maintenance before they actually declared me at goal.  And I kept losing after that, and I think my lowest weight was at like 163, but I stabilized around 167 by the time we got to SF in 2008.  And now I am hovering right at 170, and for safety’s sake, I wouldn’t mind being a hair below that.  I’m at a new job with few lunch options and a Taco Bell dangerously close by, so I feel a need to really revamp things.  I have not been going to meetings in over a year now, and have not been counting points, and I wonder if I should start again.  Maybe.

I don’t have my ring on, and it’s really weird to not have it.  I keep feeling to see if it’s there and have a minor freakout after I wash my hands, thinking I lost it in the sink.  I get it back Monday, but it is weird to not have it all weekend.

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Meet the press

From: Jon Konrath <jkonrath@speakeasy.org>
To: mtp@nbc.com
Subject: idea for your show
Dear Meet The Press,
I have been a loyal fan of your show since before Mr. Russert took
over in 1991, and I really enjoy his work.  I also think your show has
been a vital piece of my TV schedule in light of current events, and I
hope you continue your great coverage of our War with Terrorism.
Here’s a thought I was discussing with a guy at work though, and I
will tell you now because I am sure there is a lot of lead time in
preparing your show.  Even though you guys are all serious, I think
you should take some time out this April, and do an April fool’s
show.  For this show, instead of bringing out politicians and authors
and specialists, you would bring out actual presses.  I mean, for
“meet the press”, you would have a printing press, a clothes press, a
punch press, and so on.  Various operators and owners would also come
out to represent their presses, and then Tim would ask them political
questions in a joking manner, like “Mr. Smith with the offset press,
what do you think of school vouchers?” and then various arguments
would ensue.
Anyway, I think it would be great if you did this.  Also, I used to
run a machine press at an old job, so if you need me to come in, I
would be willing to help.  Thanks again for a great show.
-Jon Konrath
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Taxes and nuclear war

From: TaxHelp@hal1.ausc.irs.gov
To: jkonrath@speakeasy.org
Subject: IRS Email Tax Law Assistance
Date: Thu, 7 Sep 2000 12:24:38 -0500
NOTE: Our response to your tax law question appears below.  If you have additional questions on this or other general tax law topics, please return to our web site at: (http://www.irs.gov/taxlaw) to submit it.  Please do not use your “reply” button to send a follow-up question.
Thank you for your inquiry.  Publication 2194, Disaster Losses Kit contains the contingency plan for the large number of people who would have casualty losses in the event of a worldwide nuclear war.  For additional information, see Publication 547, Casualties, Disasters, and Thefts and Publication 584, Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook.
Your Question Was:
Does the IRS have any sort of contingency plan for the large number of people who would file massive capital losses in the event of a worldwide nuclear war?
IRS forms and publications may be accessed on our web site at the following address: http://www.irs.gov/forms_pubs/index.html or ordered through our toll-free forms line at 1(800) 829-3676 which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with 7-10 days delivery time.
We are interested in your opinion and providing the best possible service to you. Please take a moment to answer our survey at: http://www.irs.gov/help/newmail/email-survey.html
This answer is based on our understanding of the facts you presented in your question.  Omission of facts may affect the answer given.
Here’s a tip for navigating the IRS homepage. Use the “search” button at the bottom of the web page. Enter key words or phrases when the entry box comes up. It could help you find your answer immediately.
EMPLOYEE ID: 93-02406      Mr. Hickernell    Tel.:(800)829-1040    msg#: 670143
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Mayday

It is a Saturday morning, and even after allergy meds in the mouth, nose, and lungs, I am still hacky, but I’m alive.  I’m working off the couch today – I always keep the MacBook at the desk, but with the new MBP and its nifty keyboard and unibody silver, I feel some need to sit on the couch and try to click away at this.  So I’ve got one cat on the cushion next to me, the other curled up on the chaise on the other side of me.  And I’m writing.  Well, not writing.

What the hell am I supposed to be writing?  I realized the other day that I have been working on my “next book” for nine years.  And I think it would have been faster to transfer zero of my files to this laptop and start from scratch.  I am in this weird no-man’s-land, where I have a thousand just-started projects I have given up on, none of them in my “voice” or really challenging me.  And I really need to give up on all of them and move forward.

Here’s what’s up on blocks right now:

  • About 50,000 words of a novel that takes place in the late 80s in Elkhart.
  • About 90,000 words of a  collection of short stories / novel taking place in Bloomington in the 90s.
  • About 75,000 words of a novel called “Zombie Fever” that’s hopelessly stuck, although it has brief spurts of genius.
  • This idea of making another journal book using the 800,00 words from this site, somehow warmed over into something printed.

My big thing is this: it’s easy for me to start banging out something about my thoughts and experiences and past, some essay about Indiana or the one that got away or whatever else.  But I also don’t feel like it’s that exciting.  I mean, there are a million Raymond Chandlers out there, and every year, the MFA programs of the world turn out a few thousand more.  I feel like I can do that writing, but I don’t feel like it’s totally me.  I feel like the writing that I did in Rumored to Exist is a lot closer to my voice, and I should be doing more like that.

So I should quit whining and write that book.  But the idea for the book, the plot, the settings, the structure – it just isn’t coming to me.  I sometimes get these great ideas for a plot, usually after I watch some movie that’s unique or creative, and I start taking notes, and then two days into it, I realize “I just essentially wrote an outline for The Matrix, except instead of the main character being Keanu Reeves, he’s a depressed tech writer who can’t get dates.”  I feel like Rumored’s biggest problem was that it didn’t have a solid end-to-end plot, but any time I start laying out a plot, I choke.  I need to figure out some compromise between the two, and until I do, I’m completely paralyzed.

I always hear about these professional sports guys who go to psychiatrists that specialize in helping players relearn their anxieties at the plate or whatever and sometimes wish I could find one like that for writers.  Of course, given that the league minimum salary is more than four times what I make and MLB’s health plan and amount of free time in the off-season is also a bit more generous, I have a few limitations there.

Oh, the twittering thing was a false alarm.  I had some fun but then realized I was spending all of my time thinking of one-liners, and twitter’s basically the popularity contest I’m trying to avoid.  Right now, here is my only goal: I have a shelf right now that has all of my books on it, all of my printed, published books.  I want to finish filling that shelf, then move on to the next one.  I need to write books that I can read, that I would like on that shelf.  I don’t care if anyone else reads them, or likes them – I just need them done, and there.

Still love the new Mac, by the way.  I thought I would hate this new buttonless glass trackpad, but once I figured out all of the shortcuts, I love it.

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