The Agony of Defeat

I’m so depressed about the baseball season right now.  The Rockies have catastrophically failed in almost every aspect, and I don’t foresee it getting much better any time soon.  And if they had a bad start, and continued a slump through May, that would be one thing.  But they were leading the division — they were leading all of baseball for a while.  And now I think they’d have serious problems taking on most AAA baseball teams.

Some facts and numbers:

  • The “ace” pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, does not have a single win.  Since he started the all-star game last year, he is 4-12.
  • Jorge De La Rosa, arguably the team’s best pitcher, tore his UCL completely and will be out for the rest of the season.
  • The ace of 2008 and 2009, Aaron Cook, hasn’t thrown a single pitch this year in the major leagues.  He fell apart last year (6-8) and then broke a toe, then messed up his shoulder, then slammed his hand in a door and broke his finger during spring training.
  • Closer Huston Street has given up 5 home runs in his last 8 outings.
  • There’s essentially nobody at 3rd base, and they just fired 2nd baseman Jose Lopez.
  • There are no longer any left-handed pitchers starting.  They have only one lefty in the bullpen.
  • They’ve gone from first to third in the division.  Depending on how the Dodgers do this weekend and how they do against the Dodgers in their upcoming series, they could very easily drop to 4th.
  • Tonight they are starting a pitcher who has never pitched about the AA level in the minors against the team that has the most run production in all of baseball, in a hitter’s park.
  • The team is 7-18 in May, and will most likely finish the month with 20 losses.
  • There are a million other statistics you can look at to make this even more depressing.  (Stolen bases?  0 for 3 in 11 games?)
  • Oh yeah, and the other day, a fan trying to slide down the railing in a stairway out by center field fell 20 feet and smashed his head in, and died the next day in the hospital.  Not only is this horrible for the fan and his family, but I’m sure it’s not helping a) the sagging attendance figures; b) the funk over the team; and c) the team’s finances, because I’m sure the guy’s family will sue the hell out of them because the safety rail didn’t have a safety rail.

It’s gotten so bad that I finally, after last night’s total clusterfuck of a 10-3 loss, deleted the MLB At Bat app from my phone.  Half of me thinks that they will eventually have to come back and start winning games again.  Half of me thinks it will only get worse, and it’s only a matter of time before Todd Helton gets his annual back injury and Tulo gets his yearly leg pull and Aaron Cook comes back from the DL and starts pitching like a batter’s high school coach at the home run derby.  I haven’t gone to any games this year, and I have no desire to drop a thousand dollars on a long weekend to Denver to watch them lose two or three games to the Nationals, or pay $100 for tickets to watch them get demolished in a sea of orange over at AT&T Park.

And it’s still May.  There’s still four months of this.

It’s so hard for me to give up on this, it has become so intertwined with my life.  I mean, I think about the time I spent in Denver and how much I liked it there, and how I loved going to games there.  Granted, I was not 100% happy there; I didn’t have a job for a good chunk of that summer, and I didn’t get much writing done during that era.  But I only remember the good stuff, and it’s odd how memory works that way, how I can smell a certain kind of suntan lotion and immediately think of the times I would slather on that SPF-80 and roast out in the 331 section during a day game.  I sit in my car that I bought back in Colorado and think of all of the times I listened to 850 KOA while driving up and down I-25, trying to keep up with the end of that 2007 season.  Even my iPhone – I think about all of the games I’ve watched on that stupid little app in the last couple of seasons, all of the time I’ve spent trying to follow this team while I was thousands of miles away.

We go to the movies almost every weekend, and it’s become this ritual, how I would get out of a show and flip on the phone and check the score.  And that’s the gotcha to all of this, the way those different disparate sensory inputs all twist themselves together: the wood trim on the mall we go to, the theater’s bright red carpets, the smell of the popcorn, the taste of the same Reese’s Pieces I always get, the design of the little icons on the screen, the feel of the phone in my hand, the look of the uniforms on the pictures in the news recap of the game.  It all fits together in such a perfect storm of pieces, that just taking out my phone now and looking at the hole in the icon screen where the app used to be makes me depressed.

I should channel all of this energy into writing.  And I’m trying to write, but I’m thinking about it too much right now.  And that’s the problem with both writing and baseball: thinking about it is your worst enemy.  If you’re standing 60 feet and six inches from a batter up on a pitcher’s mound, and all you can think about is the number of losses behind you and the ability of that batter and his stats versus your kind of pitching, you have lost.  If you stare at a blank page and think about how much you need to write and what you need to get done and how you need to get that next winning book out there, you will lock up completely.

Could be worse.  I could also be a football fan, and staring down that huge disaster of a lawsuit that’s probably going to derail their next season.  The more I think about sports, the more I miss the days when I hated all of them.

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20 Facts About Baseball You Didn’t Know

1) PNC Park, home to the Pittsburgh Pirates, was built on what was later identified as an American Indian burial ground belonging to the Shelmikedmus nation. Since its construction, the Pirates have not had a winning season.

2) No player in history at the major league level has had the middle name Xavier.

3) During the filming of his PBS documentary about Baseball, Ken Burns pitched 12 games under the assumed name of George Johnson for the High-A Myrtle Beach Penguins. In 22 innings, he gave up 67 runs and pitched only seven strikes.

4) Hunter S. Thompson worked as an assistant machine operator at the Louisville Slugger factory when he was a teenager.

5) Manny Ramirez did a series of Rolls Royce ads in Japan between the
2007 and 2008 seasons, which can be found on youtube.

6) Under the current MLB Player’s Association Collective Bargaining Agreement, any position player on the 25-man roster of any team is allowed unlimited access to any American Airlines Admiral’s Club lounge in the continental United States.

7) The size of a regulation baseball (between 5″ and 5.25″) was originally set because it was the diameter of an average cow’s kidney.

8) Johnny Damon’s great-grandfather was the first person to buy a Model T Ford in Thailand.

9) Originally proposed names for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays included the Tampa Oranges, St. Petersburg Piers, Florida Mickey Mice, and Pinellas County Sunshines.

10) The Colorado Rockies have an alternate home jersey specifically designed for playing in snow. It has a pullover hood, full-height boots, and a parka top. It’s rarely used because it impedes pitching motion, but they were most famously worn in game 4 of the 2007 NLDS, in which it snowed over 27 inches during 9 innings of play.

11) The MLBPA blocked negotiations in 2004 that aimed at moving the Montreal Expos to Havana, Cuba. The biggest issue was complications with obtaining work visas for players who had previously fled Cuba for the US.

12) Pitcher Randy Johnson is an avid collector of Strawberry Shortcake figurines and memorabilia. In 1998, he paid $650,000 for a rare 1985 Berrykins Strawberry Shortcake doll that once belonged to Kim Jong Il.

13) There is no specific rule banning the use of human-animal hybrids as baseball players, although it’s rumored that the owners collectively came to a gentleman’s agreement limiting their use during the 2006 off-season owners’ meeting.

14) The 2010 version of the MLB At Bat app for the iPhone contains a number of hidden easter eggs, including a hardcore porn viewer available during the 7th inning stretch.

15) Cracker Jack purchased at Giants games at AT&T Park does not contain any peanuts and is manufactured at an alternate facility that does not process peanuts, in accordance to San Francisco peanut allergy laws.  Also, when singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch, they change the line “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack” to “Buy me some tofu and Cracker Jack.”

16) In 1986, George Steinbrenner explored the possibility of a ban on facial hair for all fans attending games at Yankees Stadium, but his legal staff eventually convinced him this would not be feasible.

17) Janis Joplin’s younger brother Mike was the bullpen catcher for the Houston Astros from 1971-1973.

18) Billy Martin was the celebrity endorser for Excalibur crossbows in 1981.

19) There have only been two times in baseball history where a position player who was pitching was hit by a pitch during an at-bat, had the game interrupted before they took first base, and then appeared pitching for the opposing team during the makeup game due to a trade in the time between games.  This is the only situation in which a player other than a pitcher can have their own walk credited against them.

20) After becoming a vegetarian, Prince Fielder killed a goose with a line drive at a road game against the Florida Marlins, and refused to eat the dead bird.  This was the first time a player has killed a bird during play and not eaten the carcass, which is a secret tradition held among most omnivorous players.  This dates back to an infamous incident at Bennett Park in 1911 when Ty Cobb killed a homeless man with a baseball bat and ate his left arm during the intermission between two games of a doubleheader against the White Sox.

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Extreme Hoarding

Yesterday I caught about an episode and a half of this show Extreme Couponing and felt maybe 10% intrigue and 90% anxiety and terror.  If you haven’t seen the show, the basic rundown: they follow maybe two families a show, with some alpha-mom type that has giant binders filled with coupons that makes an attack run on a big grocery store, filling multiple carts with whatever items are on sale, and strategically using coupon-doubling days along with store loyalty programs, store coupons, manufacturer rebates, and whatever else is needed to drive the cost of a thousand dollars of items to something like twenty dollars.

Each episode also does a profile on the family, and they always have a house that is filled entirely with stockpiles of canned goods, every closet and spare room containing stacks and stacks of cereal boxes and paper towels.  They always show the couponer with piles of newspaper circulars, clipping away and stuffing things in whatever anal-retentive organizational solution the person uses for keeping straight what packaged goods are on sale that week.  At the store, they bark orders at the poor cashier, intermixed with reaction shots of other Kroger customers amazed at this woman buying 150 bottles of Excedrin because the five dollars off the four dollar item offsets the cost of the twenty pounds of cheese and 38 packs of hot dogs in carts four and five.

There is some intrigue in this.  I remember way back when I first got to Seattle in 1995, and I used to try to shop for as little as possible.  I’d been lowballed a bit on my salary at my first job, and I got stuck with a huge car payment and even more on insurance, and I was living in an expensive city (or more expensive than Indiana, anyway) and living alone.  I dig back through my old journals and see entries where it was 10 days until payday and I had $7 and a full tank of gas to last me until then.  And I didn’t know how to cook and didn’t know how to budget or shop or any of that.  So I’d get the Safeway circular in the mail – this was long before the explosion of loyalty cards – and I’d only buy the things in the little newsprint booklet, only get the items with coupons or deals.  And there was nothing more exhilarating than getting ten bags of groceries for something like $40.  Of course this was countered with the realization that I’d have to eat rice-a-roni for my next ten meals.

I still try to exploit these deals as much as I can, without going overboard.  I mean, I use my Amazon Visa card to buy damn near anything I can find, just to get the points.  And I only buy Coke when either Target or Safeway has the big sale on it, and then I buy ten cases at a time.  But I don’t have one of those plastic accordion files that’s sorted and color-coded and organized by aisle and expiration date.  I don’t even know where to get paper coupons now – do they still print newspapers?  I think I remember looking at one about ten years ago.

So this show is obviously fake.  I did a quick search, and all of the people on the various coupon sites call bullshit on the whole production.  Stores are tightening the reins on these double coupon days, and many of the offers have transaction limits or limits per customer that would prevent you of clearing out the entire Albertson’s of shake-and-bake in one swoop.  They show some of that on the show, with the people dividing up the purchases into different transactions, dragging along friends and spouses to ring up items in batches.  They showed this one lady breaking up her purchase into 18 different transactions, taking up about an hour of this cashier’s time.  I don’t know what bizarro world this person lived in, but in any of the places I’ve lived, that shit would get you a beat down.  No cashier is going to let you break up your 244 boxes of Uncle Ben’s into however many under-$50 purchases you need to fly under the radar without pulling out a blackjack and beating you in the head until you leave and pay full price for everything from now on.  And if a cashier doesn’t do it, I’m sure the person behind you will.  (And every fucking time I go to Safeway, I swear this person is in front of me.)

And I’m sure they also pick the families that have the biggest crazy-factor to them, the ones that will make the best reality TV.  God forbid they find some quiet, slightly Asberger’s introvert who has no goofy soundbites and won’t lose their shit when they find out the manufacturer’s coupon is limit-5.  They’re going to go with the loud, obnoxious woman who loses her shit in the freezer aisle when she finds out the Pack-and-Save doesn’t keep twelve dozen boxes of Gorton’s fish sticks in stock at all times.

Another thing not addressed is that many of the people spent all day, 30 or 40 hours a week, clipping coupons and strategizing these mass purchases.  And then they spend three or four hours at the store, and maybe another couple of hours packing the stuff away.  I don’t know how much your time is worth, but if someone told me I could spend an entire work week getting paper cuts and newsprint dust-induced asthma and the payoff would be a savings of a few hundred bucks, I’d pass.

Also consider storage costs; you’ve got some 2000-ish square foot house in the Midwest, and let’s say you are paying a grand a month in mortgage.  Turning a third of your house into a Costco is going to effectively cost you $300 a month in lost square footage.  Yes, you can whittle that down by calculating the tax savings on a mortgage, and you pay off the house in 30 years, blah blah blah.  But the cost of turning your spare bedroom into the back room of a Wal-Mart is not free.  And that goes for any of this hoarding shit – there’s a cost, either financial or psychological, to playing the “die with the most toys” game.  That line from Fight Club about your stuff owning you is true.

And there’s the health risk issue.  Feeding your family high-fat cold cuts and having a million calories of potato chips on a rack in your living room has to be unhealthy from a BMI standpoint.  Maybe half of the people on the show are of the rotund midwestern category, and given that fresh vegetables don’t have manufacturer’s coupons or mail-in rebates, I’m guessing these people are eating nothing but pure sodium and nitrites in the form of packaged and processed meals.  In one of the episodes I saw, this woman was filling her cart with cases of Maalox bottles, and I was thinking, “you probably wouldn’t need to take that much antacid if you ate something other than stockpiled Frito-Lay products for five meals a day.”

One of the things that disturbs me the most is that most of these families are religious, some extreme form of right-wing christianity.  They don’t advertise this in the most blatant of terms, but it’s something you can pick up quickly.  When a blonde-haired  family of ten from Idaho shows up and the soccer mom uses “oh my gosh” all the time, my Mormon indicator is flashing bright red.  There is this weird intersection between the highly evangelical and the “I’m going to get mine” crowd that seems more than just causal, and probably wasn’t what the authors of the New Testament had in mind when they laid down that whole meek inheriting the earth thing.  Jesus didn’t do the whole fishes and loaves thing to bring it all back to his house and fill the shelves in his basement for himself.

I’d absolutely love it if one of the people on the show filled their minivan with five thousand dollars worth of stuff, drove over to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, and said “merry christmas” and left everything.  Instead, we get “I’ve got three years’ worth of Dinty Moore stored under my toddler’s bed!”  Ugh.

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Please Shut the Fuck Up About the Rapture

Everyone is talking about how the world is ending on Saturday.  It’s like the Sarah Palin of news stories right now: incredibly embarrassing, and something that won’t go away if you keep talking about it.  So of course I’m going to write about it, because that’s what I do.

I wasn’t raised believing the rapture; I was brought up Catholic, and it’s not part of the Catholic doctrine.  But I remember the first time someone laid out the Book of Revelation to me as prophecy, which was in grade school.  I had a friend, also named Jon, who went to some fire-and-brimstone church, and one day at recess, he told me I was going to hell because I was Catholic, and started talking about the moon turning red with blood and all of this other crazy stuff that sounded more like a horror movie than any part of the bible I knew about.  Of course, I was not a biblical scholar back then — I’m still not, but back then my working knowledge was pretty much limited to the stuff we covered in CCD class.  (And if you’re one of the christian sects that thinks Catholics are satan worshippers, you’ll probably also be quick to point out that the Catholic bible is different and includes all of this other junk that the “real” bible doesn’t.)  I probably knew there was a Book of Revelation, but I didn’t sit down and look at it until much later, probably when I got into Iron Maiden and wanted to fact-check Number of the Beast.

Jon was a weird dude, and he must have gotten ahold of one of those Jack Chick comics that week or something, because he got off of the topic and we remained friends for a good decade or so after that.  His mom was some kind of hippy who didn’t let them have a TV and they eventually took off for Alaska.  We later got back in touch; he’d joined the Army to get out of Alaska and ended up in West Germany and then Desert Storm.  He got back and I saw him once in 1991 before he vanished off the face of the earth.  But that playground discussion as a kid stuck in the back of my head and didn’t let loose for a long time.

Growing up in Elkhart, there were a lot of evangelical churches, many people biding their time until the second coming, thinking they’re one of the chosen few who will magically ascend when the shit goes down.  It seemed like every abandoned movie theater got turned into a makeshift church, and like liquor stores, the worse the economy got, the more churches popped up.  And as a kid who listened to too much heavy metal and counted the hours until I could split, I disagreed with pretty much every piece of religious doctrine that got thrown in front of me.  I saw the end times as this huge bait/switch, something used to justify this huge ponzi scheme that managed to shackle every person in my podunk town with despair and misery.

What always got me about Revelations was that nobody could agree if it was stuff that was going to happen, stuff that did happen, or stuff that was a neat story with some allegory about how we should feel about god.  When I got past the point of actually believing in any religion and started looking at the bible as a literary and/or historical work, I found it somewhat humorous that this could essentially be the story of the first century of the church, and all of these people were looking at it like it was a sentence that would be served any day now.  I looked at the bible like I looked at any conspiracy theory, like the JFK assassination, starting with the conclusion and a bunch of loose pieces of evidence, trying to backfill the timeline and piece together some esoteric explanation about how it all fit together.  I eventually got bored of this, especially when the climate changed so much that if you did not agree directly with every micron of someone else’s opinion on the subject, you were a satanic child molester that deserved to bathe in the fires of hell.

Now, I don’t care.  And it’s odd to see the story have legs as much as it does right now, with everyone talking about how the world will end this Saturday, because of some loon (who, coincidentally, happens to also live in Oakland) who has been advertising it on billboards and the sides of busses for the last few months.  This has been predicted many times before, and I’m sure roughly 27 minutes after the time passes this Saturday and we don’t all blow up, everyone will have forgotten all about this guy, and some other guy will realize throwing another random date out there is a great way to get some free press and make a few bucks.  Its interesting that there are a lot of fringe way-out denominations that do believe in the end times, but I don’t see any of them putting their chips down on the same number as this dude.  Either they’re going to wait and see if it happens, or when this guy flubs up his numerology, they can all pop out of the woodwork and shout “false prophet!  You need to buy my book and find out the truth!”  Or they’ll say “well, that was just a metaphor or some shit, and here’s why you really need to pay attention to this crap.”

Life’s too short.  I’ve burned up too much time reading crap about this on Wikipedia.  Oh, and Vangelis Papathanassiou had this prog-rock band called Aphrodite’s Child that did a concept album in 1972 based on Revelations.  It was titled 666, and has nothing to do with Iron Maiden or heavy metal whatsoever.  But it has a couple of really trippy songs on it, including this one “The Four Horsemen”, which is completely unrelated to the Metallica song by the same name.  I’ve listened to it about 17 times in a row while writing this, and now I think I’m going to have to either stop listening to it or drive into the city and see if there’s a place I can buy a pair of flared jeans, a silk shirt, and about 4000 dried grams of mushrooms.

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The Retail Race to the Bottom

The Borders by my house looks like a food warehouse two years after the apocalypse started.  I went a few weeks ago, when the sign dudes stood on the corner with the “ALL TITLES 40-60% OFF”, hoping to snag an armful of good science fiction, because I’m going through this phase where I’m trying to read everything I “should have” read when I was a kid and too busy poring over Car Craft and trying to figure out if I had to replace the front springs in a ’76 Camaro if I wanted to swap out the 305 for a 454 that I couldn’t afford in the first place.  I found maybe two or three books I wanted, but everything else was already picked clean.  They still had stacks of “destined to be remaindered” books, but I didn’t need to Teach Myself HTML 4 in 30 days, so I ignored all of that shit.

The whole store was so depressing, for some unexplainable reason.  Store designers spend untold sums doing subtle things to layout and placement to hypnotize consumers in optimal ways to buy more stuff or feel more comfortable or set the mood.  You don’t notice it, but if you’ve ever worked in a department store and you’ve spent time after hours during a massive store reset, when pieces are scattered everywhere and the kayfabe has been dropped, you know the deal.  Something didn’t look right, and it wasn’t just the hoarders digging through the out-of-date celebrity cookbooks, looking for a deal.  Half of the entrances were boarded up already, covered with giant vinyl banners advertising the fact that everything but the fillings in the cashier’s teeth had to go.  And something about the lighting, the vacancies in shelves, the massive numbers of books in the wrong place, faces out – it made me feel overwhelmingly depressed that this place would soon be yet another vacant storefront.

I don’t even shop at that Borders; I think I’ve bought a grand total of three books there since I moved to the East Bay in 2009.  I’ve eaten at the neighboring food court quite a bit, so I guess it’s become part of the routine to go there after a falafel or some Afghani food and shuffle through the magazine racks.  But I somehow feel both strange remorse and responsibility for the sinking of this ship.  And it’s not that I miss this Borders as much as it sets off a chain reaction of emotions and memories about all of the other stores that have turned to vapor and vanished in the last decade or two.

I used to love malls.  Ask my pal Larry about the overwhelming obsession I had with wandering million-square-foot indoor shopping empires, and he’ll tell you stories of being dragged to College Mall for no reason other than to run the circuit, walking up and down the hallways  and then ending up at Morgenstern’s Books for two hours to ogle over every single World War II book in stock.  (And Morgenstern’s wasn’t even technically in the mall – it was in a strip of stores across the street.)  I found some strange peace in going to any Simon-operated property and wandering past every storefront, from Ayres to Zale’s, looking at mannequins donning bad early 90s attire.  It wasn’t even that I bought anything; I wasn’t like one of these housewife machines that walked out of the clothes stores with a maxed out piece of plastic and two armfuls of boxes.  I’d just get some osmosis-hypnosis effect, listening to the muzak and peoplewatching.

But those bank-issued sixteen-digit hologrammed devils did get shelled when I went to record and book stores.  All through college and my time in Seattle and New York, it was a weekly ritual to take every ounce of disposable income to the media gods, the places that stocked my fix for reading and listening.  In Seattle, I had a two-night-a-week habit locked in at Silver Platters, this CD palace up by Northgate mall.  They had this certificate plan where you got a paper dollar for every title you bought, but if you went in on Tuesday or if you bought certain sale items, they’d give you extra points.  And if you came in on Wednesday, you could turn in your dollars for extra value.  So I’d go both nights, buying armfuls of every Gary Moore or Peter Gabriel import single I could find on Tuesday, and then redeeming these paper coupons for more stuff on Wednesday.  And I’d end up there on weekends anyway, spending my Saturday afternoons cruising all of the other retail outlets nearby.

And I had this routine with the book stores, too.  Every Friday night, I’d end up at the Barnes and Noble in Bellevue, after gorging at the Denny’s there and scribbling in my notebooks for hours.  I’d wander the stacks, pulling books that looked interesting, things I could consume, inhale through the late nights.  I’d end up reading some obscure title in bed late into Friday, knowing I’d been hypnotized too long when I’d hear the sound of the landscaping sprinklers seven stories below my open bay windows going off at 5 AM in the Jet City darkness.

New York helped break me of the mall habit.  There aren’t really malls in Manhattan; the square footage of a single food court could be broken up into a thousand studio apartments renting for two grand a month, so you’re not going to see that shit unless you take a train to Jersey City.  And I did, for a while.  I’d take the N to the Path, and emerge in this bizarro world where people drove cars and parked in outdoor parking lots and shopped at huge Simon-owned palaces of consumerism.  But these trips became less frequent.  Any time I found myself in a strange new (or old) land like St. Petersburg or Pittsburg with keys to a car in hand, I’d visit the old haunts and take a lap or two, get a corn dog on a stick and think about the days when I wore the name tag and listened to the muzak professionally for hours on end, asking people if they needed help with anything.

But then Amazon happened.  I started buying books from them way back; I remember in I think 1996, buying an old book I could not find anywhere else on the history of Indiana University, and it slowly became my go-to place for the things I could not dig up at Elliott Bay Books.  CD Universe entered my ecosystem around then too, and I’d hunt down the rare finds I couldn’t get at Silver Platters.  Amazon went from supplementary purchases to my main outlet for everything, as my go-to media places in New York began the long slide into nothingness.  I dumped serious cash at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, which used to be on the first floor of where I worked (very dangerous), but is now a Forever 21 clothing store.  I also made the Best Buy pilgrimage every Saturday, when they still sold CDs.  Now, unless it’s Miley Cyrus or Lady Gaga, good luck finding anything there.

So yeah, my purchases, or the trends behind how people like me make purchases, may have killed off the retail stores.  I don’t know; I know I don’t even buy CDs or DVDs anymore, and either get stuff through iTunes or stream it from NetFlix.  I still buy paper books, but I also buy stuff for the Kindle.  So I’m sure the anti-digital luddites can scold me about how it’s my own damn fault that Borders filed Chapter 11.  Except for the part where Borders has lost money every year since 2006, or how they thought back in 2001 it would be genius to hand over their online retail operations to Amazon.com, or how in early 2008 (when about 7 people owned a Kindle) they announced they were so in debt, they were going to sell out to Barnes and Noble, a misstep that plummeted their stock price through the floor.

You can armchair quarterback this one in a million different ways, and the same holds true for any big retail collapse.  Blame it on Wal-Mart, or online sales, or poor holiday seasons, or the cost of gas, but it’s really this perfect storm of different things that makes it too complicated to predict or correct.  I mean, I always bemoan the shuttering of Montgomery Ward, where I did my time as a teenager and did a couple of summer moonlighting stints in college.  Most blame a bad 2000 Christmas season as the reason for their bankruptcy, but there were so many other factors: the debt from their leveraged buyout; the two-front war against discounters and other department stores; the failed attempts at re-marketing themselves; the expense of facelifting a bunch of their stores; the hundred million dollars they threw at IBM to overhaul their computer back-end.  Some even say the problems go back to just after the end of World War II, when the company focused all of its energy into building stores in the heart of metropolis areas and resisted expanding into the suburbs.  But it’s one of those things where you can’t just say “the internet killed it” and leave it at that.  And I think Borders is the same way; I think their mistakes at running a business go back much further than the advent of an e-ink screen or even the HTML shopping cart era.

And there’s all of these other things that have changed since I was in high school that alter the game.  People used to buy stuff from mail-order houses, or from catalogs; then they switched to malls; then big-box stores; then discount stores. Indoor malls have been “de-malled”; outdoor malls have shifted from low-end to boutique and probably back again.  People “don’t read anymore”.  The middle class is gone.  Gas costs as much as uranium did when I was in high school.  Book stores only sell clip-on lights and picture books of cats dressed as movie stars.  Everyone is an obese hoarder that never leaves the house.  Kids keep playing these god damned video games and Angry Pac Bird Mans.  Focus groups and religious nitwits and crowds of “what about the children” whiners have killed off anything more controversial than a loaf of Wonder bread.  All of this is true.  None of this is true.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Things never change.  Things work in cycles.  People never forget failures.  People don’t remember what happened five minutes ago.  I don’t even remember what I was talking about.

I was trying to remember the last time I’ve been to a mall, and I can’t.  We have a “mall” just up the road from us, one of those new urban bullshit outdoor mall things that has apartments in the top tier of it, and an Apple Store and some movie theaters, and a bunch of stores I’d never shop at, and a parking garage that is always a total clusterfuck.  But I can’t think of when I was last in an indoor mall.  I think I went to the Concord Mall during a visit to Indiana in like 2007, and was amazed at how totaled it was, how the old Wards store got cut into three or four pieces and turned into a discount car stereo place and some kind of hillbilly craft store where post-menopausal women buy glitter to paste on their angel centerpieces.  No wait – we had an indoor mall, Tanforan, by our old place in South San Francisco.  It was more or less the no-man’s-land between a Target, Penny’s, and Sears, with a big movie theater, and two floors of places selling clothing I’d never, ever wear.  It’s the kind of mall that made Pierre Moran mall in Elkhart (aka the “other mall”, where “other” means “not white”) look big, and they de-malled Pierre Moran about five years ago.

Must stop writing about this, because every paragraph I write involves about 200 web pages of nostalgic searches for old department store catalogs, and I’ve got other crap to do.

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Rumored to Exist eBook Now Available

“One day in 1971, Ozzy and Tony Iommi took 47 hits of acid and just outside of Newark, New Jersey accidentally found the giant tablets of gold from which the Mormon religion was founded.  They decided it would be wise to melt it into a giant bong and take it on the road with them in a converted tractor-trailer.  With the aid of an early prototype of the first Apple computer, they hired several technicians and wrote a text-based video game based on the works and philosophy of John Locke, where you used the paddle controller to navigate corpuscles through a maze drawn with *’s and %’s.  However, in the course of developing the first video game, they sold all of the gold plates to fund the venture.  And after another acid bender, Ozzy had a vision of Locke arisen from the dead.  He sold his Apple computer to buy thousands of gallons of pure, artesian water for the mammoth bong that did not exist.  Ozzy went insane, and in a few years, Ronnie James Dio was trying to sing ‘Iron Man’ to clubs full of disgruntled Sabbath fans.”

-from section 99 of Rumored to Exist

I’m proud to announce that my second novel Rumored to Exist has been released as an eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and via Smashwords.  It’s now available for only $2.99, in a new revised edition.  This is the latest release from Paragraph Line Books, publishers of fine outsider and absurdist literature.

Rumored to Exist is a collection of 201 vignettes or flash fiction pieces, loosely tied together into a non-linear narrative about a protagonist attempting to find meaning in a bizarre near-future world. It’s a densely packed stew of ideas flashed together, morphing between dreams, emails, conversations, and action. It’s a novel in the style of Naked Lunch, written for today’s short-attention-span hypertextual world.

Influenced heavily by Burroughs, Mark Leyner, Raymond Federman, and Hunter S. Thompson, I knitted together the dense patchwork of fiction over a seven-year period in a half-dozen cities across the US.

It’s also still available in its original print edition from iUniverse, but why spend $15.95 and wait a week to kill another tree, when you can spend under three bucks and check this out now?  There’s also a free preview available on both Amazon and Smashwords, so check out the first part for free.

More info

Buy it now

Details

  • 264 pages (print)
  • ISBN: 978-0595234769 (print, iUniverse)
  • ISBN: 978-0-9844223-1-9 (eBook, Kindle)
  • ISBN: 978-1-4581-0977-4 (eBook, Smashwords)
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The Death of Death

I was in the allergy clinic last week, waiting for my arm to swell up until it looked like it took a Justin Verlander fastball, and I saw some magazine with a cover story about man reaching immortality. I didn’t read the article, because I know there are exactly two types of articles in magazines: 1) “Everything is fucked and we’re all going to die”, and 2) “You really need to buy this shit, or you’re worthless”. (I guess there is a third type, which is 1+2.)

It’s not an unfamiliar concept, especially if you read a lot of SciFi: eventually, we’ll get to the point where all of the diseases and maladies that currently kill off people will be treatable or curable, and the only way to die will involve motor vehicles with a fast 0-60. That’s not to say all people will live forever; everyone who can afford it will be able to.  Also, maybe there will be some kind of Logan’s Run cutoff date or death lottery or other optional euthanasia scenario which will prevent infinite population growth.  But what I find interesting is that immortality is already available to the ultra-infamous, and we just saw an example of it this week.

So Osama Bin Laden found himself on the wrong side of a SEAL team last Sunday. They installed some additional ventilation to his brain, which had the side effect of stopping his pulse for an indefinite period.  Half the world took the opportunity to get drunk, scream “USA! USA!”, wave flags, and thank the wrong president for a job well done; the other half of the country posted quotes incorrectly attributed to the wrong civil rights leader.  I’m not here to condemn or condone either reaction, except to say that I had a different one, which is to acknowledge that Bin Laden did not die, because at this point in time, nobody of his stature can die.

Before anyone flies off the handle, I don’t mean that OBL was a great guy or anything like that.  What I mean, is that in today’s world, when you get to a level of infamy like he had, there will always be people who insist you are alive, regardless of your body temperature or lack thereof.  Governments are corrupt, and media is worse; we see constant examples of that.  Things get covered up, and conspiracies occur, so any time anything happens in the world, a plurality of people will insist that it didn’t.  People so carefully cherry-pick their news from partisan sources, any time they hear something they don’t want to believe, they move on to another news source until they find the one they agree with.

Case in point: how many people believe Bin Laden really got killed?  I’m not saying the number is down there with the percentage of people who think the Washington Nationals are an awesome baseball team, but it’s not 100%, either.  The government didn’t drop fifty tons of Mk.82 love from 40,000 feet and turn the entire village into jelly, so there was a body, and there was DNA testing done.  But there weren’t rotten.com-style photos released, and the body was quickly buried at sea.  That’s fine by me, but it means that there will forever be doubt in some peoples’ minds about whether or not this really happened.

And there’s a whole list of reasons why people don’t want to believe.  Some think there’s no way that the current president could have pulled off such a coup when the last one spent 7 years burning calories on a quest to do the same thing, but failed.  Some people think the whole thing is an October Surprise situation, a Wag the Dog scheme to bump up poll numbers.  There’s a group who think 9/11 was engineered by the government in the first place, and this dude had little to nothing to do with it, so a scripted end to him brings a false closure to that whole operation.  And who knows what other motives are there for a lack of trust.  But some folks on both sides of the spectrum will insist that OBL did not die on 5/1/11.

This sort of reaction isn’t limited to high-ranking terror suspects.  Did Tupac die?  You’re a google search away from his autopsy photo, but “tupac alive” also gives you four and a half million results.  What about Michael Jackson?  JFK?  Elvis?  People elevate superstars in their mind, making them larger than life.  When that life happens to end, the legend continues, and that dovetails nicely with a media that prints anything for money and a political system that does the same.

So now the White House wrings hands over whether or not to release some death photos.  But peoples’ minds are decided.  They could cart out that corpse during sweeps week on Dancing with the Stars and it would get a twenty share and people still wouldn’t believe it.  The Navy could personally bring his dead body to your doorstep like Ed McMahon with the Publisher’s Clearing House cardboard check, and you’d still say, “I dunno – looks fake / you could put that beard on any homeless dude”.  I know the dude’s probably dead, and to me, that’s not a bad thing, but the speculation will continue forever.

And I can see why they did a burial at sea.  I was in Berlin a few years ago, and I did not seek it out, but I walked past the spot where Hitler’s bunker once existed on my way to Potsdamer Platz.  They’ve since put up a sign, but at that point, the Fuhrerbunker was underneath a Chinese restaurant, and nobody was in a hurry to mention it to anybody, for fear that every skinhead with a passport would show up to turn the place into a Neo-Nazi Graceland.  People get weird about stuff like that.  When I lived in Seattle, people still cruised past Kurt Cobain’s old house, looking to get a glimpse of the garden house where he offed himself.  (It’s gone now, BTW.)  And I just recently wasted too much time on Google Maps, trying to find the spot in my neighborhood where Black Panther Huey Newton got gunned down in 1989.  (The exact spot on the sidewalk where he died now has a sign warning you of the speed bumps on the street.)  I could see the reluctance to having a burial which would become a monument to whatever followers might still be knocking around decades from now.

At any rate, this all shows we’re at a weird time in history.  It used to be you remembered where you were when you heard about things like this. Now, when something monumental goes down, chances are you’ll first get the news on the computer, which will make all of these events blend together.  And when it happens, people will flock to Google Maps to find the death site; they’ll reload their twitter feeds over and over to get the latest distorted quotes and unvetted news.  Back when I was a kid and a space shuttle exploded or a president got capped, even the pre-emption of all three TV channels brought little information.  Now, there’s too much, and we only believe pieces of it.  Not sure which one’s worse.

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