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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Rumored to Exist excerpt part 5

I’ve recently released my book Rumored to Exist as an eBook on the Kindle and other e-readers, for only $2.99.  I’ll be running some excerpts here to let you take a look.  For more info, see this post or go to http://rumored.com/rumored.

171

I was watching this lesbian chick stump-fuck her amputee girlfriend on the subway when I remembered I stole a stack of essay papers from a teacher’s desk to use as a jizz-rag later on. Out of boredom from the dyke’s up-and-down licking action, I started reading an essay to kill the time:

MY SUMMER VACATION By L. Rod Substein 7th Hour English Class

Cool wind gently bristled the hair on his skin, and broke the thin layer of semen that covered his bare, razor-scarred arms. A deep breath cooled his lungs, and after the pause he lifted the Tommy Chong two-barreled plexiglass bong to his lips, for another hit of hydroponically grown ganja. The screwdriver he drank this morning churned deep in his bowels, in the way that makes you hold back any stifled emissions from beyond the anal entry, for fear of ejecting gallons of hot shit down your leg.

I hit my sternum with a baseball bat and yelled “FUCKFACE!” the moist inner sponge and crunchy outside filling my stomach like mud. Along with the wheel of psilocybin the meal usually consists of a chunk of some sort of salted human flesh, two rotted baked potatoes from an Arby’s on the Indiana toll road, a handful of long-grained rice, a small block of twenty dollar bills and a medium-sized whale head. The meals seldom vary much in Catholic prison, but because there’s only one a day, and I don’t lie out on towels, darkening my already bronzed skin, they taste good. Better than Father Cohen’s anus, anyway. Perfect goddesses completely surround the small pond and line the footpaths crossing the green grass, the kind of temptation that makes you question the rampant homosexuality enforced by the elders. A few hippie dorks just back from the Taliban caught a glance of them, the THC in their system injecting enough estrogen to make them act “nice.” And I guess there probably could be people watching through some viewing window or X-10 mini camera in the ceiling, watching me like I’m an animal in a zoo, or a drunk in some alcohol study. I jerked off to Jennicam, and this is my penance. Her big, fat ass and tiny tits at $9.95 a minute, and I could’ve been going to medical school, studying some kind of orthoscopic joint reconstruction surgery that would buy me all the fat asses I’d ever need. Maybe this is some sort of Nazi interrogation center for deprogramming kids who played too much Nintendo. I did love Gauntlet on the N-64, and ECW Wrestling wasn’t too bad. Rogue Squadron kicked ass, though. One time I dated a psych major who used to work at a state ward, or maybe it was an Orange Julius. No, state psych ward. She had a preoccupation about mentioning people who were perfectly normal for years and then saw their brother die or took some bad acid or something and then just went full tilt schizophrenic. Maybe she secretly wanted me to go apeshit, so she had something in her desperate life to call her own.

Bubba Ray Dildo the shitpacker kicked the small truck on its side, the steel door biting the ground a hundred yards away, then throwing the thing on its roof with inertia. The heat seared the cab of the semi, then caught the tanks and billowed a second explosion. The diesel punched the trailer up and back, bending it into the ground at an unnatural angle.

Movement stirred the jeep and he had to stop it. Sprinting to the disabled flagman, he slammed the bolt of his rifle to fire. The metal chinged and ricocheted, bullets spraying the armor. His cock singed with desire from the new Gap ad where the chicks take the jeans on and off, on and off, zooming in on their skin-tight bikini underwear. The unstrapped empty rifle dropped behind him as a hand grabbed a flashlight, looking for survivors. A sudden snap jolted his eyes and a searing pain in that book about the Vietnam POW that he did this to try to keep his mental activity up, tried to figure out how to do calculus and economics and tried to write papers and poems and design an internal combustion engine that got 100 miles per gallon on cheese whiz. I’m getting to the point where I’ve remembered how to program in Fortran in my head, I can see lines of a program that does accounting for a death camp, calculates inmate torture and how many people a guard can rape and how much gas for the ovens. I’m going to sell it to Bob Dole when I get out. Then I’m gonna fuck him, and break that god damned gimp arm in half with my cock.

I think I try to devise these little games to take away the fact that I keep hearing things. The voices of every guest star on The Twilight Zone (the old ones, and not the full-hour color ones, which SUCKED) are there, they seem to show up when I’m just drifting to sleep, in the ethereal state between this world and the next. The sounds of people walking around me start to come for Paxil and Lithium, along with his wallet and a small stack of cassettes. Finally a hand snared the wire-rimmed spectacles and wrapped them around his piss-drenched face. The shitburger apartment came into focus, and he screamed like a baby drowning in his own muck. He didn’t return to his incredible dream about the big-tittied machine bitch, shoving a Jello pudding pop in her eye socket and laughing and snuggling and beating the shit out of her with his shoes. He woke back up to a floor of empty puke bowls, a dresser covered with dead sheep, empty boxes and wrappers from Star Crunch cookies, huffed cans of “VCR Head Cleaner” bought at a porno store, and a cracked mirror outlined with small white appointment cards and unfilled prescriptions from psychiatrists and parole officers taped to the chipped wood frame.

The street’s painful orchestra of horns, sirens, crack whores, apeshit Italians losing it on their kids with a strap, and loud traffic made me want to spray an MP-5 out of the window. Two men are tearing back the thin blue-green robe over the bitch’s body and trying to tape down an additional harness over her giant monster tits as an orderly wheels in another cart of computer equipment. Two technicians wielding soldering irons and penlights tear open the doors of the first computer and start jerking off into the metal rack, throwing the green rectangles covered with chips and copper on the floor with the power of jizz. They frantically yell like Indians and try to enact some sort of emergency masturbation plan, but it didn’t work. Fox TV owned everything, you cocksuckers.

Within the chaos, doctors are frantically wrestling with vital signs, jabbing needles into anal cavities and arms, plunging synthetic adrenalin and saline into their own veins, playing with industrial-strength marital aids and feeling up hot coeds’ size-D melons. The computer is chiming its own Microsoft death toll, as noxious ozone smoke bellows from the cabinet’s power supply and a technician tries to isolate it from the filtered wall socket. As I closed in on the monitor, just before I woke up, I looked at the graphics of the desktop and the usual conversation started about why I wouldn’t move. I made a modest amount of money at my job as a gay prostitute, but it all went into re-investment or expensive toys or hard drugs. I was never home anyway, so moving into a small unit was reasonable. Of course when you have company over, they notice the slave dungeon, the stench of human flesh, the pieces of skulls used for bowls of fruit-loops. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.

Sam started with the will as I grabbed some brews for everyone. Jesse had already started on some whore he picked up, and ate her pussy as Sammy went through the paperwork and whacked his fucking bag. Mark just sat and nervously went through Camels, wanting to get the average person run in fear when the thought of having a few ounces of their precious crimson fluid pulled from their arm. I never really fight it like most do, and my apathy toward the entire procedure is most likely a strange departure to the bitch nurses who have to hold down people to look for a vein.

When I arrive at the sperm lab, I produce a form on a prescription pad from my shrink that has a few boxes checked off for the various tests I’ll need done. I’m glad it is a preprinted thing, because I can never read his handwriting, and I’d always like to know exactly what new malady they might be checking me up for. I don’t know how I knocked up that bitch with no uterus, but the judge was real curious to see my sperm count.

As I stare into the fire, I think about the dead hitchhikers in my trunk. The light dissolves to a day over a year ago, and the room changes to a Kentucky Fried Chicken just outside of Colorado Springs. The scene dissolves away from the bedroom I am typing this in, to a table with the trademark red enamel finish. I’m furiously eating flaky biscuits while my friend Nick pours hot gravy in my ear with a funnel. “This will totally get rid of your cold dude, and the extra gravy goes right in your stomach!” I felt like I was going to puke, but two cute high school chicks were at the counter, and I wanted to impress them with my impeccable knowledge of the 50 states and capitals. Then I passed out.

I continue to hit the windshield with a severed leg, over and over. Maybe someone will enter the jumble of chaos and make me jump, a cat at the sound of a can opener, waking from a slumber for my Pavlovian reminder of one of three things I live for: zombies, puke, vagina. A perfect way to go because, for once in my life, I was free. There was no external life, no thought of good and bad, no need to think about when to eat next or how great it would be to have sex with the dead when is the mortgage due or how will I get to the hardware store to pick up some ammonium nitrate to blow up a federal building. The mind was free, and at peace. I was alone and could do whatever I wanted, for the next three or 4 minutes, until the cops showed up.

I enjoyed myself, and drifted, drifted until the cerebellum grew cold and stopped working. As I sat there, the unsung soldier, the wind beneath their wings, the snow buried my corpse, buried my bong, and kept me hidden for what could be forever.

After that, I hung out in front of the drug store.

I finished reading and the lesbians were gone. I hit an elderly woman with a short piece of 2×4 I keep in my pants and ran off with her purse.

Rumored to Exist excerpt part 4

I’ve recently released my book Rumored to Exist as an eBook on the Kindle and other e-readers, for only $2.99.  I’ll be running some excerpts here to let you take a look.  For more info, see this post or go to http://rumored.com/rumored.

32

I am God. I drank a fifth of Jack Daniel’s, saw Richard Nixon eat an entire canned ham with his bare hands, and bought every single piece of PVC pipe in the United States. I paid Van Halen to play at my birthday party, when they still had Diamond Dave in the band. I could beat any of the great chess masters—human or fucking IBM computer, even without my queen. I can read minds and tell the future, with a 99% certainty. (I thought Dukakis would win for some insane reason.) You’ll die in an auto accident when a crazed Canadian fan goes spastic and forces the car off the road, but don’t expect me to hide you any clues.

I wandered the streets in my state of invulnerability, and met this chick at The International House of Pam, a clinic that genetically modifies peoples’ bodies to look like Pamela Anderson. Not only did it give you huge tits and a tight ass, but it modified your mutated DNA so you wouldn’t age as fast. (They could also change your nationality, like if you wanted to be the Asian Pam Anderson.) She found my phone number encoded in somebody’s genetic code, something I used to do to random females in nightclubs when I was too bored to think of pickup lines. We met, went bowling, ate at Waffle House, and went on a bender that later resulted in a plummet of Argentina’s currency value. She had round hips, nice smile, five years of C++ development under her belt, and a decent rack—not a bad catch, but she never returned my calls

I did see her again years later at a K-Mart in Lynnwood, Washington, but didn’t have the nerve to tell her I wrote a screenplay about the tryst and optioned it to Terry Gilliam (who got stuck trying to clear the trademark issues on the whole International House of Pam thing, and ended up rewriting the script extensively to have this weird Breakfast at Tiffany’s meets The Thin Red Line thing going on, which I was never into, except for this part where she wakes up 143 minutes into the dream to find herself getting savagely raped by a pack of Puerto Rican glue-huffers with tire chains and flaming swords, and then the production ran over budget and Universal wanted to cut all of that and glue in a happy ending and Gilliam had a shit-fit and killed 23 Paramount executives with his bare hands.)

The blue light special sent everyone into a all-out violence frenzy, and the store manager started firing a Crossman BB gun into the ceiling and screaming about how his numerologist predicted the end of the world. It took 14 men to beat the shit out of him, and convince him that astrology was not a science you could get a degree in. He kept telling us that you could get a Masters of Science in tarot reading, so we brought him next door in the strip mall to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, strapped him to a side-impact airbag test rack and shot him at a metal barrier at 35 miles an hour. A group of physician assistant interns came in with dissecting kits and studied pieces of his spleen, and the rest of us headed to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Rumored to Exist excerpt part 3

I’ve recently released my book Rumored to Exist as an eBook on the Kindle and other e-readers, for only $2.99.  I’ll be running some excerpts here to let you take a look.  For more info, see this post or go to http://rumored.com/rumored.

159

I went to Lane’s and met up with his cokehead friends and a bunch of random sluts to celebrate The Firestorm, a Satanic holiday of death and torture. We killed two of every animal we could possibly find in a giant black antithesis to Noah’s ark, and snorted meth from a full-length mirror laid across a kitchen counter. The Satanic Pope of West Virginia pissed in a chalice of wine, we picked lottery numbers out of a prostitute’s vagina, and then everyone listened to King Diamond and jerked off to roller derby tapes from the Swedish version of the USA Network. All hail Satan, yes hail Satan!

Lane and I go back a ways. It started when I ordered the new Windham Hell CD off the Internet. It’s great instrumental Satanic experimental metal, but someone hacked the site’s database, stole my credit card number, and bought thousands of dollars of collectible Barbie stuff at a flea market in Sturgis, Michigan. Why do these things always happen to me? Is it some chemical imbalance, or maybe something bad I did when I was a kid? I know you’re thinking it’s because I don’t follow the ten commandments, because I leave the toilet seat up, or because I killed my family at age seven and blamed it on drug-addled hippies, but I’m certain it’s more involved than that.

So I met Lane when I spent months calling customer service phone numbers to get my money back, and some secret extension rang through to his mom’s basement where he did a chargeback and invited me to The Firestorm. Before he ran a cult record label, Lane spent his time cutting noses off of garden gnomes and arranging them in a circle like Stonehenge in an Ohio Turnpike men’s room. Although several psychiatrists lobbied to get this behavior added to the DSM-IV, he claimed it was his higher power. After listening to the Nuclear Winter album For Those About to Puke, We Salute You backwards during a shroom trip, he shaved his head and sent a money order for $100 to the Church of Satan on June 6, 1996. He seems pretty together now, except for a weird nervous tick whenever someone mentions the movie Spinal Tap.

“Hey bro, can you chunk up another brick?” Lane appeared from the bathroom with blood and crumbs of meth hanging out of his nose, dripping down his stupid elf goatee. One of his bitches, a goth-looking vampire, dropped a five-pound block of methamphetamine into a Juiceman juicer, grinding it into pellet-sized grains of dust. “Fuckin’ killer, bro!” Lane snorted a fistful of white and sodomized a 450-pound beast of a woman with greasy, mottled hair, with a glazed over look from having the halves of her brain surgically separated. “Holy shit!” he yelled, sodomizing the huge bitch. “Fucking hail Satan! This is fucking old-school shit!” I hid behind a crate of T-shirts and read a week-old Goldmine.

Rumored to Exist excerpt part 2

I’ve recently released my book Rumored to Exist as an eBook on the Kindle and other e-readers, for only $2.99.  I’ll be running some excerpts here to let you take a look.  For more info, see this post or go to http://rumored.com/rumored.

23

“The Wind Beneath my Wings” blared into my ears as they pulled out my teeth, one by one. I felt like screaming, but the dentist wedged two blocks of rubber in my mouth to keep it jammed open. Besides, he shot me full of Novocaine, slipped me a Demerol, and gave me more than a few tugs of nitrous before he started. And this was on top of the six buttons of peyote I dropped in the car, chased with a fifth of Absolut and a few hits of ether. I still broke the assistant’s arm in three places while they were trying to fit me with a dental dam. Those things taste horrible—I don’t know how lesbians can stand to practice safe sex. It would be like trying to copulate an inflatable raft, except hopefully smaller.

I went home, took all of the codeine he prescribed me, loaded the first six Black Sabbath albums in the player, and had my first major religious epiphany when the painkillers kicked in, somewhere during “Behind the Wall of Sleep”. I went into this whole dental thing thinking that some cosmetic work would make life complete, make chicks swarm around me and make me the kind of person you see in a toothpaste commercial. Instead, I realized that not only was I nothing in a great universe, but I’d have trouble eating about 20% of the food out there, and the bills would be rolling in for years. Pissed, desperate, and alone, I drank a couple of beers, threw a dead body out of my 19th floor apartment window, and sent down my neighbor to look for any secondary casualties.

Killing was on everyone’s mind—Kevorkian was doing his first web simulcast of an assisted suicide, sponsored by Domino’s pizza. In addition to their pies, breadsticks, garlic bread, chicken wings, buffalo wings, ostrich wings, calzones, french fries, salads, electrical supplies, and DNA replication equipment, they now added assisted suicide to their menus. You called Domino’s, placed your order, and a delivery person would arrive at your house with your food and a suicide machine, which would asphyxiate you with carbon dioxide within 30 minutes—guaranteed!

My dentist kept calling me to make sure the new prosthetic teeth were doing fine. They weren’t just cosmetic—I implanted a new smartcard technology, so I could make purchases and withdraw cash from my checking account at any ATM or cash register with the Novus symbol. I also opted for the hollow tooth with the cyanide capsule, although I typically kept it filled with a cinnamon tic-tac, for those weird moments you order an Italian salad and it turns out to be 65% spices and heavy oil by weight. Anyway, I shouldn’t have called the dentist a cocksucker the ninth time he rang, but I guess drugs make you do funny things. At least that’s what I told the cop who pulled me over for going 95 miles an hour on two flat tires down the express lanes in the wrong direction.