New Story at Weirdyear

My story “With Sleep, All Things Are Possible” was published today over at Weirdyear.  Check it out here: http://www.weirdyear.com/2011/01/12911.html.  And if you like my style of writing in general, check out their other writing.

If you’re new here and you liked that story, you would love my book Rumored to Exist.  It is 200 vignettes and short pieces like that linked together into a loose narrative.  There are two editions, the second one being annotated and a bit cheaper.  There are a couple of excerpts at the link above, and you can also read the entire thing for free here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/34448088/Rumored-to-Exist

I’ve also just booked a 12-city speaking tour in Egypt.  For some reason, the tickets were insanely cheap.  I’ll give you more details after I get in touch with my Egyptian agent, who is not answering his phone right now.

The City of Lights and Massages

Your blackjack losses subsidize this art.

I got in the cab after no line at all in front of McCarran airport, a first, even when I came out to Vegas a few weeks after 9/11, when people in rural Arkansas thought the Taliban would probably fly an Airbus into their grain silo Any Day Now.  The roller bag and new camera backpack went in the back of the minivan, and we headed off to the Planet Ho.

“Long flight?” the cabbie asked me.  He was one of those guys that was all belly and no neck, probably transplanted out to Nevada to avoid an alimony lawsuit.

“No, a couple hours, but they really cram you in there.”

“What you need is a good rub and tug,” he said.  ”I know just the place.”

Ah, Las Vegas.  A city of subtleties.  How can I go a whole year in the land of fruits and nuts without time in a city where the number one occupation is handing out flyers for prostitutes?

So I turned 40.  I spent the morning fucking around with a radio-controlled helicopter whose battery would not hold a charge, then went to Denny’s for the annual cholesterol boost, got an allergy shot (not at Denny’s), and drove out to the former Oakland Naval Air Station, now known for cheap Southwest flights to all sorts of mid-sized towns across the country (provided you weigh less than Kevin Smith.)  Not a single TSA problem happened to me, although I did see them putting a beat-down on an Asian tourist who did not understand the complexities of “liquids in a ziplock bag, you motherfucker”.  (I realize it is difficult for some people to remember if shampoo is a liquid, solid, or gas.  Certainly a valid reason for every single media outlet in the United States to spend roughly twenty trillion dollars of TV time lamenting over those jackboot thugs that won’t let you bring a machete in your carry-on luggage anymore.)  Did you know Amelia Earhart’s first attempt at her final flight took off from Oakland airport?  Also, did you know that Purdue paid for that plane?  And did you know her plane was taken by aliens and will re-appear in the middle of the shitty remake of Close Encounters that will probably come out in the next few years?  Actually, I don’t know that they’re remaking it, but they’re remaking everything else, so expect Will Smith to be building a giant Devil’s Tower in his living room any time now.

I used to know a bit about Vegas.  It was my default vacation, and I even wrote a book about it. But since I published that thing in 2004, damn near every thing I mentioned there has been imploded and replaced by a chrome and glass tower.  A big chunk of the strip used to be crappy t-shirt shops and places you could rent a high-test sports car from an Armenian illegal for cash on the barrelhead; now the whole stretch looks like some kind of futuristic spaceport in a Tom Cruise summer blockbuster.  Back in the day, I used to write these trip reports, bulleted lists of all the neato things I paid money to see.  Now I’m not into reports as much; I prefer manifestos, scathing diatribes on the cold burn of a multinational real estate project for the rich masquerading as an entertainment option by selling a $16 cocktail, especially the ones that won’t let me post a million to one bet on an earthquake or tsunami during the upcoming superbowl. Fuck all of them and their stupid corporate house rules – I want some real action, the kind I need to drive to some beaten whore casino and hardware store in the middle of the desert, the kind of place that sells dollar hot dogs and not at a loss, because the meat is from Costco.

I got to the Planet Ho (aka the Planet Hollywood, which used to be the Aladdin, which went under a rename after they realized a giant arab with a sword between his teeth isn’t the best mascot for a casino when you need to pull in red-staters to make the nut) and Bill already checked in a dozen hours earlier, the victim of a horrible plane schedule that only left a crack-of-dawn flight or a near-redeye his only options for the long haul out from Indiana.  I usually bunk with him on these trips, partly to save us both money, and partly because when I stay by myself, I tend to do things like drink Singapore Slings with mezcal on the side until I black out and kick in a toilet in the middle of the night.  (You didn’t read the book, did you?)  We both turned 40 at the same time, or rather him about an hour before me, which is probably why he’s a foot taller than me.

Everyone asks me what the hell I do on these trips, and the simple answer is that instead of gambling, soliciting the service of whores, or drinking my body weight in grain alcohol, I usually eat.  And now that I have lost a ton of weight and spend all day and night obsessing over the stupid Weight Watchers online app, my only desire in a place like Vegas is to run train on thousands of calories of Oprah-sized portions of grub.  And there’s no shortage of it; every ten yards is yet another opportunity to get large vats of deep-fried everything to go with your huge tub of whatever drink you’re downing.  The best way to raise house advantage in any game of chance is by diabetic coma.  Ask anyone waddling down the strip, and they’ll tell you all about their fifth or sixth meal that day.

We did other stuff, too.  Marc came into town from Seattle a bit later that night, carrying a deck of loyalty cards, with complex arbitrage plans that I think involved somehow getting rated at casino play from dental work paid for at high altitude with a Costco Amex card and then refinanced through a platinum MasterCard and turned into airline miles then exchanged for mortgage-backed securities.  (I may have missed part of that procedure.  I barely manage to remember to use my Safeway Club Card four out of ten times.)  Tom also arrived much later from Chicago.  I ate an entire fish and chips at one Irish pub, swapping out the chips for beer-battered onion rings, and then we ended up at another Irish pub, where I ate a dozen different appetizers while Bill and Tom found a little game where if you drank a pint of beer in under seven seconds, you got the drink for free.  Now, I’ve seen Bill drink an entire yard of Guinness in under seven seconds after eating a five-gallon bucket full of shepherd’s pie, so it was no surprise they could easily do the limit of two beers each, each day we were in town.

Andrew got into town the next day.  We split a townhouse out at Colonial Crest back in 93-94, but I hadn’t seen him since.  Within twelve hours, we had him on a mechanical bull in an imitation rock bar, while Bill entered some kind of redneck regression and started drinking Bud Lite.  But before that, there was a many-hundred dollar brunch where I ate a progression of Kobe beef sliders and wedge salad, and I took a bunch of pictures of lions at the MGM, which is pretty boring, but it beats losing $300 at blackjack in fifteen minutes flat, which is what Bill managed to do.

That night, we all went to La Reve, which is hard to explain except it’s one of those freaky acrobat musical numbers, where people are contorting in weird ways and flying through the air on wires.  This particular one, up at the Wynn, involved a huge theater in the round, with the stage actually consisting of a deep swimming pool and a series of raising and lowering rings and platforms.  There was once a time when I worked at heights, hanging stage lights from catwalks dozens of feet in the air, taking long naps behind followspots while waiting for my cue to launch a few thousand watts and lumens at a performer.  Now, I sit through shows like this wondering what they used to generate snow these days, and how they always hit their marks on these flips and dives and swoops and twists, especially when we could never get three rehearsals and two performances of a school musical run without some idiot tripping on a cable and knocking over ten thousand 1980s dollars of lights.

Of course there was a Mexican dinner before the show, and another dinner after, along with another round of “let’s drink all of the beers at this pub for free”, of which I did not participate, but it’s always fun to watch the disbelief involved.

The waiter said "don't worry, it's all SlimFast food."

On Saturday, we all went to the main event, calorie-wise: a giant dinner at Craftsteak.  I did this once before, but this time we got to meet up with Jeremy, who I also hadn’t seen for decades, since the UCS days of telling people that you spelled ezmail with a z, and god damn it, stop trying to telnet to easymail.  They sat us all down at a giant round table and brought out seven courses of Kobe steak, plus seven appetizers, and then finished it with nine different desserts.  Each of the 23 things I put on my plate (plus rolls) was easily a day’s worth of WW points.  Oh, and a diet Coke.

A last-second addition: we got tickets to Drew Carey’s improv thing, which was the cast of Who’s Line Is It Anyway, doing all of the usual improv exercises.  Our seats were pretty far back, plus they were taping the thing for TV, which involved these long camera booms randomly swooping across the line of sight, but it was a good comedy geek moment to see the now-obviously-does-not-eat-at-Craftsteak Carey leading the rest of the group.

I didn’t gamble much.  I blew about a hundred bucks on a Casino War table in the Pleasure Pit, which is Planet Ho’s evil little trick which involves distracting gamblers with  300cc bags of saline or silicone strategically placed at eye level.  The best gambling advice I can give you is not to count cards or look at what your neighbors are playing, but to be a homosexual, or at least find an ugly dealer, which you won’t on a Friday or Saturday night.  That was the worst hundred dollar glass of ice and diet Coke you could possibly find, but at least I didn’t do as much damage as my colleagues.

Cap it all off with a run at the breakfast buffet: giant vats of bacon, pancakes, french toast, waffles, and 197 different desserts.  I got back on the plane as fast as I arrived, and bailed out the Toyota on a sunny Oakland Sunday afternoon that required no jacket.  We did not steal any of Mike Tyson’s tigers, and nobody got tazered, but it was still a pretty okay weekend. And by some god damned miracle, I ended up down a half pound at this week’s weigh-in.  A birthday miracle!

40

This is what North Dakota looks like. In July.

I am 40 today.  Actually, at the very minute this blog post is made (10:53 CST), 40 years ago, I was born at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. 40 years.  40 god damned years.  I don’t believe that. I mean, my body feels like I’m 80 most mornings, but I feel like I should be writing this from the surface of Mars after a long morning of jet-packing around with my cybernetic mind reading robot.  Instead, I’m typing away on a keyboard that’s pretty much the same damn keyboard as they used in 1811, except this one has a bunch of stupid buttons to control my music, and it is split in half to maybe prevent my carpal tunnels from fusing together or apart or whatever it is your carpal tunnels do when you type too much.

I’m actually writing this before the 20th, and WordPress will automagically post it at 10:53, which is really 8:53 here.  I don’t remember my flight schedule, but I will either be preparing for the TSA grab-ass or be en route to Las Vegas for my 11th year of going to Vegas to do whatever the hell I do in Vegas.  Not gamble, not drink.  Not eat.  Come to think of it, I think I would have been an ideal employee for Howard Hughes.

So over here, one of my readers gave us a nice 30th birthday list of assorted trivia, and at the time, I thought that was a damn great idea.  And I have no idea how I managed to remember this, but I did.  So here is my somewhat random list of 40 things about me.  I will attempt to make the list as truthful as possible, and avoid all of the things that my long-term readers probably already know about me, which will be hard after a thousand some posts to this blog.  Here goes.

1) I was born and spent my first few months at an air force base that contained 150 Minuteman II missile silos, an ABM facility, and some untold number of B-52 bombers bristling with nukes.  All of this is gone now; the silos have all been dismantled and imploded, and the B-52s were most likely taken to Arizona and cut into pieces. The history of the billions of dollars of hardware installed underground in the middle of nowhere has always fascinated me.  Here’s a good link to get you started on this obsession: http://asuwlink.uwyo.edu/~jimkirk/gf.html

2) When I was in kindergarten, one of my parents asked me if my teacher had died, after reading about this in the newspaper.  They must have read the name wrong, but I spent the rest of the school year wondering if this teacher had somehow been covertly replaced with a clone or android.

3) The most famous person I ever met as a young child was a man who, according to his promotional material, had the largest feet in the world.  This was at the Elkhart County Fair.  His feet looked like large potatoes that had sat in a drawer too long, gnarly and covered with what looked like tumors or growths.  I bought an autographed picture of him.

4) When I was maybe 13, I went to a car show at the Notre Dame ACC with the sole purpose of meeting KITT, the car from Knight Rider.  I wasn’t really into cars at all back then, but I loved me some Knight Rider.  We got there and the line was insanely long, so I did not go up to get a photo or anything.  David Hasselhoff was not there.  I did look into the car from a distance, and a guy standing next to me proclaimed, “that’s nothing but a Trans Am with a bunch of shit bolted onto it.”

5) I spent a good deal of time after Empire Strikes Back convinced I could build my own light saber if I could just get the right lenses.

6) I really dislike salmon, because I had a cat as a kid that would only eat canned salmon food, so I associate the smell of salmon with cat food.  This was probably a bad quirk to have when I lived in Seattle.

7) My school used to have these book fairs where some group would show up and unload all of these racks of new books that you could dig through and buy.  One year, they were going to have the book that taught you how to solve the Rubik’s cube, but when they arrived, there were only two copies.  All of my classmates tore through the books trying to find the two books like Wal-Mart shoppers trying to get a $39 BluRay player on Black Friday.  This one kid ended up getting it, and then could not figure out how to actually do the instructions, which were somewhat involved and used some cryptic notation to tell you what part of the cube to turn.  I later went to a Walden Books and memorized the part that taught you how to get the side pieces in place, but had to wait another year or so to actually get the book out of a library and solve the whole thing.

8) The two periodicals from my childhood that shaped me the most as an adult were probably The National Enquirer and Mad magazine.  My grandmother used to get all of the tabloids, and I would pore over them when we went there on Sundays.  I liked all of the weird UFO/alien stuff the most, so I found the Weekly World News to be much better.  I ended up getting into Cracked only when Mad was not available.

9) When I first got my own place on Mitchell Street in 1991, I went through a long run of thinking that if I cooked a woman dinner, she would like me or something.  I knew how to cook maybe three things at the time (tacos, spaghetti, fake Chinese food with some kind of spices in a packet.)  I wish I could find all of the people I had cooked dinner for, interview them, and splice it all together into a short film showing my stupidity.

10) I am apt to use the numbers 768 and 863 semi-randomly to indicate a large quantity.  Those are the number of shades that were available in Montgomery Ward 10-year and 15-year interior latex paint, which I sold back in high school, and those numbers are now somehow fused in my head.

11) The oldest thing in my Amazon account is an order for Hunter S. Thompson’s Generation of Swine, which I ordered on September 26, 1999.  That is not the oldest order I’ve ever placed with them though; it’s just the oldest in their system.  I think the oldest thing I ordered there was in something like 1997 or maybe 1998 and it was an old out-of-print book on the history of Indiana University.  I remember when I got it and first opened it, I was sick for a week because it was filled with invisible dust mites, and I have a horrible allergy to them.  I put the book in the freezer for ten days and then was able to read it.

12) The first thing I ever published was in 1990 or 1991.  I wrote this huge screed to the IUSB student newspaper editor about how I was sick of everyone talking about tying yellow ribbons on things about the tropps going to Iraq.  I expected that at the most, they would publish it in the letters to the editor, but they made it an article, and I got a ton of shit for it.

13) I tried joining the Air Force Reserve when I was 17, thinking I’d be able to get some cool job either working on planes or computers.  When I went to the recruiter to talk to him and schedule the physical, I unknowingly wore the Megadeth shirt for “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying”.  I’m not sure he noticed.  He looked at my ASFAB scores and offered me any job I wanted from a binder, but all of them looked somewhat stupid and none of them said “Top-secret F-117 Stealth Fighter mechanic” or “MX Missile Nuclear Warhead Arming Technician”; I think the closest was the guy who rotated the tires on Patriot missile launchers, so I never took the physical, which I probably would have failed anyway.

14) Other foods I refuse to eat: olives, mushrooms, beets, cauliflower.

15) Of the first five cars I owned, four ended up getting sold to junkyards, inoperational in some major way. My first car (the Camaro) was the only car I sold to someone in functional condition until I returned my lease car in 1998.

16) I went to computer camp, I think the year before 6th grade.  It was a day camp held at the junior high, and we typed BASIC programs into Apple II computers and then played that pioneer game where you always died of dysentery.  I remember it was the summer that ET came out, and when my dad took us to see it, it was sold out and we saw Wrath of Khan instead, which is of course where I got the name for this blog, because every damn smart-ass in the world has made the same joke, so I decided to run with it.

17) I dated someone in my freshman year of college that had the same first and middle name as my youngest sister.  (I did not do this intentionally.)  She was obsessed with Billy Joel and we used to fight constantly, until my shrink helped me write a script to use to break up with her over the phone.

18) My current computer is 1520 times faster than my first computer, and contains 2,000,000 times more RAM.  I guess that’s not a fact about me, but it tells you something about how computers have aged in my lifespan.

19) One winter, I think in 1992, I had a few days before school started, so I went to the main library and looked up every book and article on two random things that I knew nothing about: the Jonestown massacre and the movie Deep Throat.  I spent an entire day in the stacks of the library, sitting on the floor reading about both of those things.  I think if that happened now, I’d probably just read about them on wikipedia or google them, but there was something comforting about being buried in the eleven floors of books on a cold winter day, reading about events from the distant seventies.

20) I had some obsession as a teenager with sitting down and listening to all of Rush’s albums in order, which I never did, although I tried a few times and usually got bored around mid-Caress of Steel.

21) I have a scar on my right hand from when I fell on a nail and it went through my hand.

22) I go through, on average, a keyboard a year.  I’d like to brag that it’s because I type so damn much, but the truth is, I eat a lot of meals at the computer and spills are a constant problem.  My current keyboard of choice is the Microsoft Ergo 4000, but I wish I could find a good ergo keyboard with less sloppy keys that were not as spongy as these ones.

23) I spent most of the late 90s revisiting hobbies from my youth, mostly because of eBay.  This included buying an Atari 2600 and a fully loaded Commodore 64 setup.  I also spent a lot of time and money building model rockets and then losing them at this rugby field north of Seattle.

24) I also spent a lot of cycles in Seattle wanting to become a filmmaker.  I read everything I could find about Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez, bought a camcorder, and wrote this script that was a parody of Apocalypse Now that had to do with finding a parking space in Seattle.

25) I drove from Elkhart to Seattle in 1995 and it took me just 48 hours.  I drove from Seattle to New York in 1999 and it took me 14 days.

26) I was obsessed with model airplanes for probably too long, well into high school.  I mostly focused on 1/48 scale jets, although my favorite model was a 1/35 scale F-15.  I think after I got a car, I stopped building models.  I blame this all on my friend Derik Rinehart, who was even more obsessed with planes and ended up joining the Air Force and working on actual F-15s.

27) When I got my first paycheck from my first real job, I went straight to Elliot Bay Books and bought every Bukowski book I didn’t have.

28) The three things that influenced me to start writing in 1993 were the Henry Rollins spoken word album Boxed Life, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions.

29) I used to get on these kicks about learning a foreign language, and would buy a book or a tape or enroll in a class and then never follow through.  Languages I’ve tried to learn: Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, Swedish, Russian.

30) My lack of Spanish got tested in 2009 when I was in rural Mexico, had a crown fall out, and had to negotiate with a dentist that spoke less English than I speak Spanish.

31) When I was a kid, I won a Huffy BMX bike from Honeycomb cereal. This was not the promotion you probably remember, where they gave away small metal mini-license plates, and if you got some special gold plate or something, you won; it was some kind of stupid activity book where you scratched off various things to solve a puzzle.  I solved the puzzle and my mom did not believe me – she thought it was some thing where you solved the puzzle, sent in the thing, and you’d enter for a one in a billion shot at a bike.  But it was real, and we mailed it in, and after a wait of what seemed like 47 years, a giant box showed up from UPS.  It was a red 20″ bike with gold rims, knobby red tires, gold handlebars, and those snap-on pads that were supposed to protect your junk when you hit the bar, but how much testicular protection do you get from 1/8″ of neoprene?  It also had a coaster brake but also a rear hand brake.  I rode the shit out of that bike, until I eventually got a ten speed in my freshman year of high school.

32) I have an obsession with planes and flying.  I always wanted to get a pilot’s license, but I either have the money or the time, but not both.  I’ve taken flight lessons and have landed a plane (which is supposed to be the hard part) but for both financial and logistical reasons, I’ll probably stick to radio controlled helicopters for now.

33) I took a COBOL class in college. The textbook had instructions on how to use punchcards, but I actually did the work on a VAX using the EDT editor.

34) I usually order eggs over medium, although egg whites scrambled hard has been coming up more lately.

35) I generally avoid reading the news, because I think it’s all bullshit, but also so people who read the news far too much flip out and think I’m some kind of heathen because I don’t read as many ads disguised as news as they do.

36) I’ve never had a problem reading in a car (as a passenger, not while driving), although I keep meeting people who find this amazing because they get horribly carsick when they do it.

37) Calculus II was the demise of my computer science degree in college.  I blame it on a lack of trig knowledge – I think I was asleep that semester in high school.

38) I’m starting to see the occasional grey hair, which means it’s all going downhill from here.  At least I have hair.  I’ve had a receded hairline since, well, ever, but it hasn’t changed at all.  Everyone that used to give me shit about “losing my hair” when I was 20 is now bald.

39) I’ve lived in 7 states and 10 cities (11 if you consider Manhattan and Astoria to be two different cities, which from a tax perspective they aren’t, but if you go by ZIP codes, they are.) I’d like to stay in California, although there are a lot of things about LA I like.  And that stupid House Hunters International show has me thinking I should buy a castle in Estonia for $48,000, but I’m a big fan of indoor plumbing.

40) I can’t believe I could make a list of 40 things, but I can’t believe I have hit 40, either.

So there you have it. 40. Happy birthday to me, and also happy birthday to Bill Perry and all of the others that share 1/20 with us.  Congratulations to everyone who read this far, and thanks for reading this thing in general. And now, I am off to the desert to eat too much and lose a few bucks at the tables.

Robot Kim Jong Il and the Fist Fuckers of Doom

Not my house. This is actually at AT&T park, but it could be my house if I bought enough stuff (and did steroids.)

I almost bought a baseball pitching machine yesterday.  Well, not really, but I sat in this sporting goods store in Emeryville – Sports Annex or Sports Center or Sports Fucker or something, I pass by it every time I go to Taco Bell, but I never go in there.  Actually, I went in there once and bought a Matt Holliday shirt, an Oakland A’s Holliday shirt, and about five minutes later, he got traded to St. Louis.  And I bought the shirt in a Large, and of course I washed it once and now it’s too small to fit one of my cats.  Also, I don’t go to Taco Bell anymore, or at least I haven’t since the start of the year – one of those resolution things, one of the only ones I’ve kept so far.

I went to the store to buy a set of ankle weights, the adjustable kind where you can take out little iron cylinders in half-pound increments to change the amount of weight.  They look like little ammunition bandoleers, or the kind of weights you’d put on a body before you threw it in the East River. This exercise thing is not a new year resolution thing, by the way.  My chiropractor keeps giving me different exercises I am supposed to be doing and now I’ve brought ankle weights into the equation, because the natural weight of my feet is not enough, I guess.  It’s ironic that I’ve spent all this time and money losing weight, and now I have to go buy some more.  Maybe that’s not ironic; maybe it would be ironic if my father was killed in an accident with an ankle-weight truck and my leg was messed up from a childhood without a father.  Maybe I can pitch that as a sitcom idea.

(My new year resolutions included re-joining weight watchers to lose ten pounds, which I did (the joining part, not the ten pounds part); not eating at Taco Bell, which hasn’t happened yet in 14 days, although I drove past it to get to the Sports Fucker; and writing a book every other day, selling so many of them that Stephen King calls my house crying like a little bitch because I’m selling so many damn books it’s making him look like the literary equivalent of Battlefield Earth, and then optioning the book to some big studio, and in the movie, the main character alternates between weighing 135 pounds and like 250 pounds of pure cut muscle, and Christian Bale would play the role and would totally gain and lose all of the weight; or if I can’t write a book that sells like two million copies, I want to write one book that’s 180,000,000 pages long and sell two copies. (This may involve moving in the margins or having some artwork or changing the font or something.) I am not on track for this last resolution.)

So I get to the Sports Fucker or whatever it’s called, and this place is pretty huge and I’m always surprised, because they sell fishing gear and golf stuff, and have rowboats and canoes and fishing licenses and an indoor golf driving range.  And it’s arguable that either fishing or golf is a sport, because both of them are essentially modes of transport (boats, walking) along with some arm motion involving some kind of metal or wood stick, plus a lot of waiting, and both of them are excruciatingly boring to watch on TV unless you’ve taken a lot of pain medication and/or hallucinogenics first, in which case they are absolutely fucking fascinating to watch. Oh, they both also contain attire that is largely not required for the activity, but that is so distinctive that if you wore it to work, someone would say “hey man, looks like someone is going fishing|golfing today!” or “what kind of fucking idiot wears a fishing hat|golf cleats in an operating room?”

This place also sold a ton of baseball equipment: catcher’s gear, bats, balls, gloves, shoes, shirts, socks, supporters of the athletic sort, protective gear ensuring the future generations of baseball fans and players are not cut short by a line drive to the junk. And they also inexplicably had radio-controlled helicopters in the baseball section, those little ones you get for thirty bucks at Brookstone, charge up the batteries for 20 minutes after installing $97 of AA Duracells, and then promptly fly the thing into a wall in under ten seconds.  But I mostly looked at all of the baseball stuff, and wished it was baseball season, and wondered how many days it would be until I was listening to a Rockies game on my iPhone again, cursing the O’Dowd brothers for spending too little money on the bullpen and counting the number of games the Dodgers or Giants would have to lose for us to move up a spot in the NL West.

I have one of those RC helicopters, by the way – I got it this xmas.  I’ve been having a lot of fun flying it in the loft with the 19-foot ceilings, although my cats would disagree.  My helicopter is on its last legs, with a bunch of cracks and chips and dings and dents, but it’s still flying.  It’s an essentially stupid hobby, because you charge the thing up and then do a couple of loops around the room, and that’s it.  There are no heat-seeking missiles or water cannons or onboard WiFi cameras or anything else.  You can’t do loops like Airwolf or drive it to work instead of sitting in traffic on the 880, cursing the day you bought a tiny Toyota that has a windshield lower than the trailer hitch on most Hummers.  But I spend all day googling sites looking at bigger helicopters, and I could easily spend another five grand on an elaborate model with ten channels and two cameras and photorealistic details, and then fly that into a wall in ten seconds.

So I’m looking at all of the stuff in the Sports Fucker, and speaking of new year resolutions, they have an insane amount of workout gear aimed at the market segment referred to as “people who buy gimmicky crap with pictures of that dykey woman from Biggest Loser on the cover, thinking they will use it ten times a day and look like some UFC dude that bench-presses small-block Chevy engines (and not the lightweight aluminum ones they put in Corvettes – the iron ones with all of the extra emissions control crap that makes them weight like twice as much and probably doesn’t do dick for the environment anyway, but this is California, so like what the fuck) and then use it once and put it in a closet.”  But I obsessed over the baseball stuff, the specialized bat affixed with some kind of tension band things with Derek Jeter on the cover that you are supposed to use to improve your swing, and the stupid titanium necklaces with Derek Jeter on the package that is supposed to increase your sports stamina, and the space-age grip tape with Derek Jeter on the package that is supposed to magically increase your bat speed, and the convoluted forearm brace with Derek Jeter on the box that is supposed to keep your arm muscles aligned so you can throw a baseball four thousand feet.  I last played baseball in the pee wee league, and it didn’t work out so well for me, so I’m not up on the advances in stupid K-Tel crap that is supposed to help your game.  The closest thing we had to any of that was maybe some a cup, and nobody would let their kid wear a cup because they didn’t want them to become a pussy.  Now, pee-wee leagues require kids to be encased in solid lucite with metal corner protectors like one of those anvil road cases for guitars, which doesn’t matter, because in the pee-wee leagues they are not allowed to use a ball or keep score, and everyone is a winner.

I suddenly got the idea of buying one of those things where a pitcher pitches at it, and it has a strike zone on it, and it returns the ball back to you, and then buying a pitching machine, and aiming it at that, and essentially creating up a perpetual motion machine that just pitched an endless batting practice all day.  And that itself is boring, but if I also got the helicopter, and flew that while there was the random obstacle of baseballs flying past at 60 MPH (90 MPH if you used their stupid plastic ball), that would be like creating my own asteroid field to fly through, not unlike Empire Strikes Back, unless George Lucas took that out of the new BluRay version and replaced it with a retarded musical number, which sounds about right.

But I didn’t buy the pitching machine, or the pitching target with ball returner.  Like I said, it takes an incredible amount of effort to not hit the wall with the chopper, and an even larger amount of effort to a) watch golf, b) buy some resistance bands or a yoga mat without Jillian Michalses butch face on the box, perpetually screaming at me for eating a piece of cake back in 1974 and c) not go to Taco Bell and order every single thing on the menu except for the new Cantina Tacos, because seriously, who eats that shit anyway?  So I had to get the hell out of there fast, and I got a set of ankle weights with some other random aerobics/yoga looking model on the box, probably made in China by indentured servants arrested for their Falun Gong involvement. They don’t give you much of a workout, but they make a formidable weapon, which I will need when Stephen King shows up at my house giving me shit about how my book Robot Kim Jong Il and the Fist Fuckers of Doom should not have sold more copies than Full Dark, No Stars and I punch him right in his Boston Red Sox loving face.

Amateur radiology and faceless examples

I have a printout of some random PDF that illustrates twelve stretching exercises I am supposed to do to prevent repetitive stress injury.  I never do them, because I always forget, but that’s not the point.  The point is, the people illustrated have no faces.  They have ears, and you can tell from the side view that they have noses, but you can’t see the noses from the front view.  There are no eyes, no mouths, no nostrils, and no holes in the ears.  One of the exercise guys is wearing a tie; the other ones are pitiful fucking slobs. One is either wearing a skirt or the kind of baggy shorts you see in the NBA, or that a hesher wears.  I suppose it could be a kilt, and the person has short hair, so they are probably not a metal dude.  Two of the illustrations are wearing a wristwatch; the others are either too poor to own a quality timepiece, or they use their cell phone to tell the time.

I’m almost certain that back in grade school, we had some workbook or set of ditto worksheets that had similar line art people, probably either showing how damn great it was to recycle your pop cans (i.e. soda cans, this was Indiana) or how we should all work well with others, lessons that were mostly lost on my schoolmates.  I don’t remember if these people had faces or not.  It was the seventies, so I’m sure they also mixed it up with a token amount of men and women of various races.  I do remember this was the era when the “he” pronoun was falling apart, when they would alternate using “he” and “she” in every other example, as if that made things better.  It was better than having to use “he and/or she” every time you’d normally use “he”.

This is an actual MRI of my right knee. No shit.

I didn’t do the stretches today.  I’m going to a chiropractor and he has me doing a different set of stretches for my back.  He took x-rays last week, and I got to look at those, which are always amazing.  If I could buy an x-ray machine on eBay, I’d be dead of radiation poisoning in a week.  I’d walk around with scans of x-ray films taken from every conceivable angle, all loaded onto my iPad.  I’d start talking to a stranger in a drug store, and say, “hey man, you think these mediastinal contours look normal? No man, I know you’re just a bricklayer, but do you think this aortic knuckle has any loss of definition? I’m always worried about adjacent lung consolidation.”

The x-rays showed one of my legs is shorter than the other.  I knew that.  I’ve known since junior high, when they would line up everyone in gym class and check for scoliosis.  They would train the new teachers by having them look at my back, as an example of a fucked-up spine.  By junior high, I’d been to the Elkhart Clinic at least a hundred times, to the orthopedic guy, the optometrist, and the allergy clinic.  It’s thirty-some years later, and I’m now going to a chiropractor, an optometrist, and an allergy clinic.  It’s a recurring theme.

When I was a kid, you’d have to wait for the TV set to warm up before you watched it.  I totally forgot about that.  We had this giant Magnavox console TV that you could shackle inside of a B-17 and drop on a German industrial city to take out an oil refinery.  You’d turn it on, and the sound would fire right up, but the picture would slowly fade into view.  One day, the picture never came on, just sound.  We turned it on and off ten times, nothing.  Left it on for an hour, just listening to audio of Tom and Jerry (not as good), no picture.  My parents opened the back, took out the dozens of little glass tubes, brought them to a drug store with a tube tester, this giant machine that vaguely resembled a stand-up video game, but instead of a joystick it had a bunch of knobs and an armada of sockets, where you plugged in the little glass cylinders.  I don’t know if you waited for a red or green light to come on or a needle to swing or what happened, and I don’t remember if they sold tubes there, but I remember every damn one of those tubes came back good.  We got another TV set, a smaller solid-state unit, and it sat on top of the deceased set, which functioned as a TV stand for the next decade.  This was Indiana, everyone did this.  I bet a half-million Hoosiers have their new flat-panel LCD HDTV sitting on top of an old beast like our Magnavox.

The Magnavox had a little lead box inside of it, containing a couple of tubes that gave off x-rays.  The lead box had a ton of warnings stuck to it, in an era when a potentially lethal meat-grinder with exposed blades and no guards whatsoever would not have a single warning on it.  I probably could have turned this into an x-ray machine if  I could buy some film at the Osco’s where we got those tubes tested.

I think I got my first x-rays in maybe the first grade.  Chest films.  Elkhart Clinic.  I had pneumonia for weeks.  My sleep cycle went completely off; I’d sleep twenty hours in front of the Magnavox TV, then be awake all night, reading Encyclopedia Brown.  It must have been around October, because my mom said I should just wear the x-rays as a skeleton costume.  I’m sure she said this because I probably asked for a Spider-Man costume roughly 48,724 times that month.

The guy that wrote and directed the Encyclopedia Brown TV show also wrote and directed Better Off Dead.  He also animated the Whammy on Press Your Luck.  He often casts Curtis Armstrong in his movies, better known as “Booger” from Revenge of the Nerds.  I always used to see Armstrong in the BMG cafeteria when I worked at Juno.  I also used to run into Diddy in the elevator all the time.  Booger was much cooler.

I turn 40 in a week.  I can’t really wrap my head around that.  I’m sure there’s some Nick Hornby book I can read that will explain all of this.

If People Can Eat Blood Pudding, I Can Say I’m a Writer on my Tax Return

[Ed. note: This originally ran on drunkenscrawl.com in 2001.]

I never planned on being a writer. I didn’t go through the usual sequence of events: grade-school poetry books, systematic barbiturate abuse, ritual castration, and endless memorization of various tomes of literature, some good and some bad. My friend Nick
preached the ways of his creative writing program – the incredible female:male ratio, his classwork on nun sodomy and pornographic science fiction, and the time he nailed a tenured professor after a lengthy yet erotic argument over the existence of neo-fascism and scatological fantasies in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But I wanted to stick with what I knew: high-energy physics. Once I lifted some plutonium and built my first low-yield nuclear device, the chicks would follow.

Somewhere during a depressing summer where I was demoralized by a series of artificial vagina failures that left me with first-degree upper thigh lacerations and a distrust of all things vinyl, I enrolled in my first English class. Actually, I took a required composition class during my first semester of college, and forgot about it thereafter (the teacher, a sexy and psychotic fiction writer heavily influenced by Sylvia Plath and Penthouse Forum letters from the late ’70s, stalked me for about two years after I turned in a 37-page story about a virus based on the Revised Standard Version of the bible that increased erectile function in males until the entire eco-political system of the world was thrown out of balance. She urged me in repeated visits, letters, and telegrams to sodomize her
and her undergraduate roommate from Monticello, North Carolina, while posing as a Domino’s Pizza delivery boy. I waved her off, after having heard stories about the Domino’s-Mafia connection and thinking I’d end up part of some crazed “kill my wife” conspiracy plan that wouldn’t really help my English grade at all. It’s odd that I didn’t
remember this episode until just now – maybe I should’ve taken her up on the offer, but I got an A in the class regardless.)  The story also entertained a theory that there were metaphorical connections between various categories of the DSM-3R and NHRA bracket drag racing categories. I never managed to complete this idea, but I did write several papers on the lyrics of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and mathematician Nikolai Ivanovitch Lobachevsky (if you play the aforementioned CD at the same time you throw out Euclid’s fifth axiom and attempt to construct a non-Euclidian geometry in which more than one parallel line will pass through point P, a bunch of the words from the CD and various steps of the construction line up with uncanny accuracy. I don’t remember all of the lyrics, but someone out there’s gotta have a web page about it.) I never got laid during the course, which had a female:male ratio of 39:1, and it made me go even deeper into a world of narcolepsy, relativistic quantum field theory research, and a diet consisting largely of Combos pretzel snacks, microwave frozen baked potatoes with large amounts of imitation bacon bits, and supermarket-brand grape soda, which I purchased by the palletainer.

Months later, after the sweeping change of various post-Soviet era nuclear treaties, plus my dismissal from the high-energy physics PhD program for holding a 0.37 GPA, I entered an academic confusion further complicated by my breakup with a 19-year-old aspiring actress and practicing endodontist, who meant the world to me, even if we only
dated on and off for six months and I managed to sleep with her roommate and 17 out of 25 of her floormates. It still hurt, I had no direction in my life, and I had a root canal sealed with temporary filling and nobody to fit it with a porcelain crown. (Well, nobody I
loved anyway. I could’ve paid a dentist, but that would’ve felt like prostitution to me.)

One day, while waiting in an LAX book store (at the time, I had been commuting from Manhattan Beach to West Memphis every third day, and driving back to school every 21 days to catch up on academic work and various babe-trawling schemes,) and who do I see but Henry Rollins, ex-frontman from Black Flag and writer extroardinaire. He was wearing an Australian leather dingo hat, a Paula Abdul tour shirt, and skin-tight green spandex leggings as some sort of disguise from his fans, enemies and hangers-on. I went up to him and told him a full history of my interest in his work: the SST compilation cassettes I played constantly during high school, the time I followed the Rollins Band on the Lollapalooza tour, my Masters of Science in Human Performance Technology thesis on his book Pissing in the Gene Pool. He seemed unimpressed, until I told him that my father had accidentally dropped two unfused Mk 84 bombs on his father’s foot during the Vietnam War, which made him warm up like a long lost pal.

We headed to the snack bar, and I explained to Rollins my entire predicament – the graduate program dismissal, the ex-girlfriend’s female circumcision right after the split, the habitual mouthwash abuse and lack of any focus. He set down his chili dog, and after a pondering moment of silence, he replied with words of wisdom I’d never forget: “Fuck women. Fuck school. Fuck money. Go write some books, get a good agent, lift weights, get tattoos, and never do a film with Keanu Reeves.” He then comped me his latest spoken word CD, and vanished in a puff of smoke.

Since then, I’ve followed his lead with frequent and nonsensical diary entries, sometimes writing several hundred pages while waiting for a plane or during a shift at work. Soon, the journals turned into short stories, chapbooks, zines, books, an encyclopedia on vacuum cleaner technology for Funk & Wagnall, and a gold disk to be launched on the DSM-1 space probe by NASA as a testimony to humanity, the arts, and extreme, Satanic, unholy black metal (the record portion of the disc will contain unreleased tracks by Venom, Varathron, and Cradle of Filth, among others.)

And that is how I became a writer.

Assault on the Aerie of the Asbergers

We went out yesterday for lunch at this Burmese place (which was thankfully not renamed a Myanmarian place which would completely screw up the GPS, which would probably tell us to drive 5,427 miles on I-90, take three left turns, then drive 5,426 miles in the other direction) and I can’t tell you much about the Burmese place except the food was decent, and they brought me this salad that had 16 ingredients checkerboarded on a huge plate that was then mixed together at the table, which is a great concept unless you’re the poor bastard that has to lay those 16 ingredients on the plate for minimum wage.

After lunch, we wandered around this neighborhood on Telegraph, looking at thrift shops, including this craft reuse place that had loads of trippy stuff, like giant boxes of photos you can buy by the pound.  The pictures were not like getty stock photos; they were just boxes of random family photos, vacation photos, and snapshots.  I seriously wanted to load up on these, scan them in, and use them as stock photos on this web site, so you’d come here to read my blog, and the featured photo to the left would be two dudes playing hackeysack on a beach in Yo La Tengo t-shirts.  And maybe I will do that, except that I absolutely hate scanning photos, and wouldn’t mind having a lot less stuff in the house, not more.

We wandered up Telegraph a bit more, and I saw this game store.  For some reason, board games and RPGs have had a huge resurgence lately, which I find fascinating and annoying.  The annoying part is that I was playing D&D back when it was a rung below pedophilia on the social acceptability scale.  And I blame the two-pronged attack of role-playing games and computers as the reason I never got my shit straight from a social standpoint back as a teen.  And I got out of the whole dragon-slaying thing well before college, but then a decade or so later, every damn hipster doofus in the world is reading Tolkein and talking about how cool their pewter half-orc figurine collection is.  And part of me wanted to get back into it, but I don’t have endless expanses of time like I did when I was 14.  But it’s always been something I was curious about, like how I’m vaguely interested in the world of model railroading, but I honestly have no deep affection for trains themselves, and do not have the time, space, or close-up vision to build a giant railroad setup in my house.  (But I still re-read Sam Posey’s Playing with Trains every other year.)

So we went in this game store, and it was wall-t0-wall stuff that would have made me have an aneurism when I was fourteen.  I mean, back then, in bumfuck Indiana where I grew up, you had essentially two choices for all of your TSR gear: the Kay-Bee toy store stocked some small amount of books, modules and dice, and Walden’s Books carried some of the hardcover books and Dragon magazines.  There weren’t any other places to get any of the non-TSR games, although I’m sure if I had a car to go to Chicago or Indianapolis, I could have found some of the more rare Avalon Hill crap and delved even deeper into the life of geekdom.  But this place – the Oakland place in 2011, I mean – they had tons of board games, books, modules, game systems, models, miniatures, and collectibles.  If I was still a gung-ho Dungeonmaster and borderline hoarder, this was the place to show up with a rented u-haul and a cashed out 401K.

And then just as I was thinking “maybe I should get on Facebook and find some people in my ZIP code who would be interested in playing some Axis and Allies”, I saw the store had a little game area in the back, with a bunch of tables where you could come in and battle it out, tournament style.  And there were a couple of people playing.  Do you remember this kid in the documentary Trekkies?  Okay, imagine three of him in a shouting match with each other that goes something like this:

1: YOU CAN’T USE SILVER AGAINST A CHANGELING IN A HUMAN FORM

2: NO THEY ARE ALWAYS AFFECTED BY SILVER SO YOU NEED TO THROW A D20 SAVE YOU MORON

1: NO THEY CAN BE AROUND TRACE AMOUNTS OF SILVER IN THEIR HUMAN FORM YOURE JUST TRYING TO RUIN THIS CAMPAIGN

3: HE CAN BE AROUND SMALL AMOUNTS BUT IF HE ISNT SHAPESHIFTED AND YOU POURED FIVE GALLONS OF LIQUID SILVER DOWN HIS THROAT IT WOULD CERTAINLY HAVE AN EFFECT ON HIM YOU CRETIN

2: I’M THE DUNGEON MASTER AND THIS IS MY CAMPAIGN SO YOURE GOING TO ROLL A D20 SAVE BECAUSE EVERY IDIOT KNOWS SILVER AFFECTS CHANGELINGS.

And so on.  I wish I would have pulled out my phone and recorded it, because it was the funniest damn thing ever.  And it also reminded me why I’m probably not going to rush out and get the Red Box set and start re-learning how to play D&D again.

(Side note: the kid was named Gabriel Koerner, and he’s going on 30 and has done a ton of pro work as a CGI artist in stuff from Lost to Enterprise to Shutter Island, so it looks like things worked out fine for him.)

Okay, so here’s the other thing.  There were a ton of cool board games there, and I wouldn’t mind having people over to play board games every now and again.  But it also made me think it would be cool to design some whacked-out board games.  And I spent the whole day thinking “is there some lulu.com-like print-on-demand thing where I can upload my own rules and text and artwork, and have it spit out really cool board games?”

Well, there is: http://www.thegamecrafter.com.  I don’t know how well it works, and the web site is not exactly web 2.0, and a lot of the games on there look cobbled together by 14-year-olds with very little photoshop experience.  But, if I had infinite time, I would sit around and churn out some kick-ass games, like “Abortion Clinic Tycoon”, “Zombieopoly” and “Crips versus Bloods: the Board Game”.  And I’m almost certain this is how I will waste at least a few days of my time until I realize I can barely draw a stick figure.

I’d hate to be a piece of furniture in Steve Ballmer’s office this week

The Mac App Store launched Thursday, and Herman Miller stock went up two points in anticipation of all of the chairs Steve Ballmer has probably been throwing at people this week.  There’s no way the sweaty-pitted Microsoft CEO isn’t beating his middle managers like red-headed step-children after the news came out that people downloaded a million apps in the first day, with 10,000 apps available at launch.  The Mac App Store changes things in ways that people in Windowsland cannot even contemplate, although when Win7SP2 launches with the MSFT half-ass attempt of the same concept, I’m sure we’ll hear all about the greatness, just like we’ll hear about how great judicial advocacy is from Teapotters that have railed against it for the last two years when they need it to keep Guantanamo bay open.

The Mac App Store changes things in a big way, both good and bad.  Back when I got started in this industry, if you wanted to write and sell an application for a Mac (or a PC), you rode your dinosaur to work, hired a bunch of people to put your crap on floppy disks and into boxes, and then either sold it yourself in your local computer stores (kids younger than 20: imagine a Best Buy with only a computer section, that didn’t suck), or you got your retail boxes dumped into the channel and flushed out to big stores and catalogs.  (Catalog: a paper version of Amazon, but it took 4-6 weeks to get your stuff.)  Then the internet happened, and people sold software on web sites, where you somehow sent money and either got a download or got a CD-ROM sent to you through the pony express for later installation at your own leisure.

But if you had this great software package, you had this huge list of problems.  Gotta set up a web site.  Gotta get a shopping cart system in place.  Gotta take credit cards and get a merchant account and whatever SSL nonsense your ISP wants you to get.  Or, gotta bend over and spread for PalPal’s cut of the vig.  Gotta find a way to have a download center that isn’t just at widget.com/dontlookhere/dl/product.zip so the first person that buys your crap doesn’t just spam the magic link to the world and let everyone download.  Gotta come up with come crazy system of software enablement, serial numbers you type in and send securely, whatever obfuscated nonsense you need to keep the world from just emailing your ZIP file to all of their friends.  Gotta find a way to drive traffic to the site.  Gotta find a way to get people to return to the site for upgrades and new versions.  There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things to consider, and either every software reseller reinvents the wheel, or you join some tribe or cabal or commune or collective or whatever else to use one common set of machinery for everyone’s releases, and you pay for the privilege.

So now you avoid all of that.  Pay Apple a hundred bucks to join, upload your DMG file, and you’re in a searchable, centralized catalog of apps.  When a new Apple user fires up their iMac for the first time, there’s a pretty little icon to click that brings them to a huge store filled with games and productivity apps and stuff people can click on without scrambling for their credit cards or signing up for yet another e-merchant account that will probably eventually get hacked, with your password and Visa number and home phone ending up in a torrent sent out to every script kiddie in the world.

There’s also the issue of central maintenance.  When you have to push out a patch, you don’t spam out emails, and you don’t have to write complicated code to beam back to the mothership and check if the latest version is installed on the user’s PC. You tell Apple you have a new version, and let them do the dirty work.  And when a person bricks their MacBook or spills juice in their iMac and has to go get a new machine, they just plug in their username and all of their apps magically download again.  There isn’t a two-month process of trying to remember all of the crap you installed, or a weekend-long backup and reload on an external drive or a pile of DVD-Rs.

Yeah, there are downsides.  You’re paying Apple that hundred bucks, and they’re also skimming 30% of the take on your sales.  But do you know how much banks take from mom and pop companies on merchant accounts?  I’d tell you, but there are like 79 different surcharges and monthly fees and address verification fees and machine rental fees and every other nickel-and-diming the banks can think of to hit you with.  That 30% erases a lot of headaches.  And compare it to how much of a discount you’d give in channel sales, and it’s not a bad deal.

There are all of the “walled garden” arguments you’ll hear from the Microsoft camp.  You’ve heard the same arguments since the App Store showed up on the iPhone, although you haven’t heard as many of them since Windows Phone 7 adopted the same exact strategy for their app store.  And you probably won’t hear much more about it after that Windows 7 Platinum Home Deluxe SP2 Zune Marketplace shows up in the next rev of their OS, providing the same exact walled garden, albeit with a lot of the wall’s pieces removed to appease any of the big software makers that balk.

I think by the fall, everyone at every point of the food chain is going to try to launch their PC app store.  Amazon’s probably brewing one; I’m sure all of the hardware manufacturers like HP and Dell are going to have a long, painful meeting this Monday where some idiot who has never installed software in his life but can wear a mean tie and gets all of the ZDNet headlines beamed to his Blackberry is going to pitch their genius idea to launch their own bundled crapware app store on their new computers.   App stores will be the add-on toolbar of 2011, just like they were for phones in the last 18 months.

Another argument that is a plus and a minus is what the hell this will do to pricing.  People are now used to paying 99 cents for a game on their phone, so good luck on putting your desktop game on the App Store for $79.99.  Sure, you can trim down that price a bit because you’re not paying $47 a copy in merchant account fees to Bank of America.  And your game is some one-gig DVD release and not just a two-screen screen-tapper you wrote in a weekend.  It’s going to cause unbundling of suites, like Apple is doing with iWork and iLife, where people will only buy the apps they want, at a lower price and a smaller download, instead of buying a full package of apps on a DVD.  I don’t know what the magic price point will become, although I’m guessing people will be less apt to buy a $99 app and more willing to pay something like $19 for Real Apps and $4.99 for games and entertainment.

I just got the update and installed the App Store, and gave it a quick drive to download the new Twitter client.  No problems, no surprises.  I haven’t bought anything yet, but when I get a free second (which will be in like June) I will probably hunt down the latest versions of some of the older registered payware/shareware I have, just to make the next update easier.  All I can tell you now is, I’m glad I’m not working at a hardware manufacturer that’s probably going to go on damage control and require all of its R&D center employees to waste a lot of their free time generating stupid powerpoints re-selling an already done idea.  Also glad I’m not driving across the 520 bridge every morning to potentially have a 57-pound Aeron chair thrown at my head.

My Brother Died in a Clown Car Crash, You Douchebag

[Ed. note: This originally ran on drunkenscrawl.com in 2001.]

I just got back from watching Godzilla is One Bad Motherfucker, starring Samuel L. Jackson. I went with a bunch of people from my Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and we all got so fucked up – we drank before, during, and after the movie. One of the guys, Vince N., who used to be in some pussy arena rock band back in the 80′s, was shooting Jack Daniel’s straight into his heart with some kind of veterinary-grade needle as big as a fucking pencil. I blacked out and woke up in the women’s restroom of a Kerasotes theatre with one of those nine dollar boxes of Jots shoved up my ass. And I don’t even remember buying the Jots, or I would’ve given somebody shit about them being nine fucking dollars.

Back at the homestead, I undo the twelve locks on my front door and go to take a shit, first putting down my laptop, MiniDisc, combination MP3 player and vibrator, Palm Pilot, cell phone, GPS, scientific calculator, dosimeter, altimeter, belt-clip mounted electroencephalograph with 3-D spatial visualization goggles, portable defibrillator, and Game Boy with add-on camera, printer, and blow-job device. Some people say I have a problem with electronics, but my only problem is getting all of these fucking batteries recharged, because my piece of shit apartment has one electrical outlet, and I have a Mayan pyramid of power splitters and outlet trees and surge protectors coming out of the bastard.

Anyway, drop my shit all over the floor, go to the answering machine: twelve messages. The first eleven are wrong numbers for some guy that is probably dead also named Jon (or John, more likely) who, based on the fucked up messages, is either a priest or maybe he’s involved with some kind of ponzi scheme with old people. It’s a fine line, really. So the last one is a message from my friend Nick, back in Indiana, and according to the amount of time it takes my near-worthless recorder to wind the wheels of the tiny tape, it’s gotta be a long one.

“Psycho, did you go see it? Did you go fucking see it? Jesus fucking Herschel Christ on a cross it was so fucking awesome! I saw it four times in a row! Go fucking kill someone and see it! I don’t wanna ruin it for you, but Godzilla totally fucking destroys Japan! And the special effects are totally fucked out – he looks even more fake than in Godzilla 2000! Nothing else to report.  I am doing a CD layout job for this jerkoff in a goth band and I told him to send me a slide so I could scan it, and he sent me a ViewMaster reel. I don’t even know if he wants the left or the right eye for the scan, let alone how the fuck I’m going to bring a circular piece of fucking cardboard with Blue’s Clues pictures to the photo shop to get it scanned, since those bastards barely know what to do with a roll of 35mm film. OK, I need to go, Friends is on. Hail Satan.”

Shit. Shower. Several dozen Immodium AD tablets followed by a bottle of seltzer water mixed 50-50 with Johnson’s lemon-scent floor wax, to coat the intestines from the barbaric effects of straight grain alcohol and concession-stand hotdogs. I needed sleep. I needed a day or two of rest followed by a grilled cheese sandwich and some Manhattan clam chowder. I fell into the bed, a Beretta 93-R 9mm pistol under my pillow, a copy of the Chevy ’68-’73 big-block engine rebuild manual at my side, the only thing I can read these days. There is no literature anymore. The last good piece of writing produced was the terrorist manual We Shall Fight in the Streets, and you can’t even find that at your local Barnes and Noble. Only VCR repair manuals, classified ads, and legal disclaimers are produced now, and The Idiot’s Guide to Living in a Society Where Everyone is So Braindead, They Actually Elected a Cokehead President (Second Edition). The word has been dead for twenty years, and everyone’s too busy watching Dawson’s Creek to notice.

I smelled a Carl’s Junior hamburger. I remembered how to cut and paste street signs into my Amiga. The temperature drifted, the walls filled with the static cry of a TV that was supposed to record Herpes Island but the fucking narcs at Time/Warner cut my illegal cable feed again. I saw Darth Vader at a monster truck show in 1992, carving Walt Whitman poetry into a skinhead’s back with a butane-powered soldering iron. The smell of burning flesh filled my nose. Everything faded away.

I want to build a really fast car with an engine that sticks out of the hood and no exhaust. That’s the first thing I remember, along with dating a woman that gradually shrinks to the size of an egg, and then I boil her and crack her head open with a spoon, but I somehow think that imagery is from the time I read Aesop’s fables after two tabs of acid, because she was dressed something like Humpty Dumpty. I spent an hour of the dream reading a massive Web index of homepages belonging to every person I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t go through the list from A to Z – I’m guided by a bizarre algorithm of data from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s clock in Boulder, Colorado and my Magic 8-Ball. My network connection from here to the list is not that stellar, so I open a second browser window, reading CNN news and going through pharmacological sites (they are usually the most updated thing on the web.) I also read a lot of movie information at IMDB, searching for that elusive furthest link from Kevin Bacon. I find out that the girl I went to the prom with was actually an android built by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but I can’t remember past that.

I went to a college physics class and met a girl in clown makeup whose boyfriend had “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.” tattooed on his forehead. I told her about my brother that died in a clown car accident, then wiped off the red and black color makeup so she only looked like a mime before I fucked her in the ass. It was one of those “I missed half of the classes and had to get an A on the midterm or I was fucked” dreams. A lot of people talk about this dream and think it’s funny, but I LIVED IT for six years, and usually when I wake up, my heart beats at like 310 for an hour until I walk around the house and convince myself that I’m not in college anymore. And by the time I realize I’m not, I’m even more depressed.

“Somebody set up us the bomb!” My X10-based security system electrocuted another idiot trying to cut through the bars on my windows. 3:22 AM. The girl upstairs was screaming at her guido boyfriend because he allegedly ruined her life or something. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Most of the women in this neighborhood only date men with kilos of fake gold chains and an IROC Z-28 with tinted windows, and only I see humor in this. Outside, twelve cars in front of my window have their horns wired permanently to the on position, like it will make a difference.

Fuck. I have at least two hours until my array of hidden alarm clocks will try to wake me. I want to write my dreams into a notebook and sell them as a movie. Instead, I dug up a M47 Dragon II shoulder-fired, man-portable anti-tank missile system from under the bed, opened the window, and took aim at a ConEd truck parked backwards and across two lanes of the road. Someday they’ll build a small missile that will home in on the BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP of the reverse gear on those fucking trucks. The secondary explosions of gas tanks still feel like a dream, even with the empty launcher in my hand. I saw fields of soybeans melt with napalm, the thick black smoke of a crashed Huey UH-1 gunship, the out of control rotor blade slicing Vietnamese schoolchildren in half, a David Lynch porno with Cronenberg fucking a giant fake bug. I think of genetic testing and pure artesian water frozen into tiny cubes, and fall back asleep.

2010 in books

In 2003, I made a list of every book I read that year.  (It’s here.)  I haven’t done this since for a few reasons, although laziness is the biggest one.  Also, I don’t read as much as I should, and these lists are never accurate.  It’s like every top-100 record list by rock snobs that have Captain Beefheart on the list.  I can guarantee you that far more people listen to Boston’s first album than Don Von’s, and but people put him on the list because they want to look superior or act like they have a refined taste.  (For the record, I am listening to “More Than a Feeling” on repeat as I write this, something I do for hours at a time, until I decide to switch to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” or “Freebird”, or the Oakland SWAT team knocks my front door off the hinges because my neighbors have phoned in a potential Waco standoff, because there’s no other possible reason for someone to listen to side 1/track 1 of Boston – Boston 483 times in a row.)

Okay, so here is a partial list of the books I read in 2010 that you should read but probably won’t, because this post itself just broke the 200 word mark, and that’s way too long for anyone not on near-lethal amounts of ADHD medication.  Oh, in no particular order.

  • Loner: Stories by John Sheppard – This is a story collection by my pal John Sheppard that contains three stories previously released in Air in the Paragraph Line, plus a story entitled “Loner” that completely blew me away.  John’s an incredibly underrated writer and the book is worth it for this one story.
  • Meat Won’t Pay My Light Bill by Kurt Eisenlohr – Kurt is better known in these parts as the artist who painted the AITPL 13 cover, but he’s also an awesome writer.  This is a very Bukowskian novel about a punk named Lupus who wants to quit working and spend his time painting, and all hell breaks loose.  If you liked Post Office, this book is totally up your alley.
  • There Are a Million Stories in the Naked City by Fiona Helmsley – This is a cool-sized pocket book that consists of 120 pages of creative non-fiction stories about Fiona’s days world of punks and strippers and heroin and a dirty, pre-Giuliani New York City.
  • Awkward 1 – I first met Awkward Press editor Jeffrey Dinsmore during my brief stint in LA in 2008, which was right before he got Awkward up and running.  They’ve since done a more substantial second issue in 2010, which tells you something about my reading backlog.  This episode has five short stories about awkward occurrences, all of them great.  Each one is pretty innovate in how the story unspools, like Honor Rovai’s “Housesitting”, which starts off as a letter to a housesitter that quickly morphs into a crime confession.
  • The American Book of the Dead by Henry Baum – A high-concept thriller about the end of the world as brought on by a far-right conspiracy by religious fundies in a Cheney-type style.  It’s a good plot that would (or will?) make a great movie, but is also noteworthy in that it was self-published and isn’t just another SKU number regurgitated from the entertainment-industrial complex.
  • Air in the Paragraph Line #13 – I know I published it, and I wrote two of the stories, but I also read a metric fuck-ton of stories before selecting these, and I re-read everything here a million times during the production of the issue.  Todd Taylor’s “Banjo Alien Zen” is one of my favorites in here, as is Rebel Star Hobson’s piece about the insanity of working in a redneck-infested convenience store.

I didn’t buy as much this year because I re-read a lot of old books.  I moved, and in the process of moving, I tried to tightly prune my collection and dump books that had followed me across the country multiple times that I should have read but didn’t.  Also, I tried to nail down what I was supposed to be writing, or what I wanted to write, and a lot of that involved re-reading books important to me.  Here’s a partial list of what I re-read, all books worthy of purchase, if you’ve got that Amazon gift card from xmas burning a hole in your pocket:

  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson – A panic Kindle purchase when I realized I was on the way to the airport for a cross-country flight and had nothing to read.  I practically inhaled this on the plane ride home, and it was just as good as the first half-dozen times I read it.
  • The Risk Pool by Richard Russo – This is pretty much becoming an annual read.  Nobody paints a picture like this guy.
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick – Alternate reality we-lost-to-the-Nazis fiction at its finest, especially since all alternate reality fiction currently written is some right-wing wonk trying to get across some point about how paving roads is socialism.
  • The Fuck-Up by Arthur Nersesian – One of my favorite books about New York, even if there is a geographical goof about every five pages.
  • Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno – I love how he captures the love-but-not relationship between a guy into heavy metal that sort of likes punk and the best friend girl who loves punk.  Every time I read this, I want to write my own book like it, and I usually start, and get five chapters into it and then quit, and then damn Meno for making it look so easy.

So what should I be reading in 2011?