iTunes Rating Bankruptcy

Last night, I declared iTunes rating bankruptcy.  I did a Cmd-A Cmd-I, then set the ratings to just over 12,000 songs to zero stars.

I’ve been talking about this for a while.  Actually doing it gave me the combination of exhilaration and terror usually reserved for when you accidentally delete an entire hard drive.  It felt like I’d done a big thing in the war against clutter, but I suddenly realized I’d completely fucked my smart playlists, and would spend the next week or ten re-rating everything.

Email bankruptcy is a term usually attributed to Lawrence Lessig.  It’s when you have so many emails in your inbox that there’s no fucking way you’ll ever deal with them.  So, you do a select-all, hit the delete key, and maybe send out a mail to everyone in your address book explaining that if one was waiting for a reply to an email, they should resend it.  If something important needed a second mailing, it would show up, or the item wasn’t really that important.  This solves the clutter problem, and gives you a clean slate to practice one of those hipster productivity methodologies involving answering every single email in your inbox every day, and either filing or junking everything else.

(I also have the email problem.  But, I’m a packrat, so the bankruptcy thing’s not going to happen.  Well, never say never.)

This sudden iTunes scorched earth action addresses a slightly different problem.  I have these 12,000 songs staring at me every day.  I realize some of you hoarders have way more than that.  I should probably clarify that I actually paid for all of these songs.  I don’t download every single link I see in the off-chance that I may someday need to listen to the second demo by a proto-hardcore band from Jersey City called Jewish Karate.  A certain amount of curation occurs in that I only buy a limited amount of music, an album or two here and there, maybe a half-dozen a month.  That limits the amount of music that accumulates, but not entirely.

I regularly listen to music in shuffle mode. What bugs the hell out of me is I can’t listen to this entire collection in shuffle mode, because then every time some dumb-ass black metal band puts a 37-second intro track of ambient wind noises as the first thing on their album, it will randomly come up and piss me off.  So, I started rating those things with one star, and created a smart playlist that included every item that wasn’t a one-star.  And then, to avoid the stuff that had yet to be rated, I made that so the playlist was items greater than a star.

That’s fine, but sometimes, I’m just sick of a song.  I might want the entire Rush album Moving Pictures, but honestly, I was sick as hell of the song “The Camera Eye” twenty years ago.  So that would get one-starred.  But honestly, I’m not up for listening to the song “Witch Hunt” five times a week, so I gave that a three-star, and then changed around my playlist so it would only play stuff above a three.  I know, you’re saying “why not just trash that song?” but I still wanted the complete album, at least in that case.

I used to carry all of my music on an iPod, and by that, I meant my entire music library went on one of those hard drive-based classic iPods.  But a year ago, when I moved to the newest 64-gig version of the iPhone 4s, I decided to simplify things by only carrying a subset of my library on the phone.  (Prior to that, I carried no music on the phone.)  So, out came the playlists, and I created a byzantine set of rules dictating what got carried onto my phone.  I won’t even get into it, except to say it’s involved.

Here’s the problem.  I’m sick of so much of my music.  I’ve got all of this crap that has four stars that may have been important to me in 1988, but that I really don’t ever need to hear again.  Like, why the hell do I have all of these Grim Reaper and Helloween songs on here that are pure cheese?  And why the fuck should I ever care about Stuck Mojo again?  When I sit down to write, I will sometimes spend 15 or 20 minutes just trying to find music to play.

So, scorched earth.  I nuked every rating, then went back and started checking stuff that I purchased in 2012 and 2013, rating what’s good for me right now.  491 songs are now in the 4s and 5s, which is too few, but at least I’m not hearing music I should have put to rest decades ago.

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Journal mold

I keep reading John Sheppard’s tumblr, which lately has been chock full of awesome short little bits of not-fiction about his life, and it makes me wish I could spin up some yarns here, especially since I ran out of ideas for blog entries in about 2007.  One of my wise ideas was to pull out my old paper journals, and look up some of the wacky stories that happened back in like 2000 and expand those a bit here.  So I pulled out a big fat spiral, entitled “11/30/99 – 2/3/01”, cracked it open, and immediately had an allergic reaction from the dust mites.  (How should I be storing this shit?  Encased in acetate, in a room with all of the air pumped out and replaced with nitrogen?)  Then I looked at a few pages, and was somewhat dismayed at all of the entries.

I mean, it’s good I captured this stuff, especially because I lost all of my email from a big chunk of 1999-2000, when, like an idiot, I did an rsync backwards and cloned a copy of a blank laptop hard drive TO the hard drive on my PC.  (Backups?  Yes, that’s why I still have the stuff from 1999 and earlier.  I now back up every second instead of every year.)  But the problem is, so many of my days were similar back then.  Basically, pick and choose x items from the following list, and that’s my average day in 2000:

  • Work sucks.  (I worked at Juno at the time, and we were either hiring mass amounts of people from ivy league schools who had never worked in computers, or having massive layoffs, sometimes both at the same time.)
  • I skipped work today because I was up all night last night and can’t sleep for shit.  Sleeping all day today sure will fix this.
  • Ray just called and spent two hours complaining about some inconsistency in a Godzilla film that was produced on a budget of about $7.
  • I’m on my way into Manhattan to spend some money on books or DVDs that will make my empty life feel complete, except the piece of shit N train is broken and I’ve been stuck for the last 45 minutes.
  • I just finished eating 6,000 calories of cased meats and fried pirogues at Kiev.  I wonder if I should get in shape.
  • I just wrote someone on an online personals ad and she wrote back and asked to see five years of W-2 forms.
  • I should buy a drum set.
  • I should buy some land in Montana.
  • I should buy an abandoned loft.
  • I should buy a car.
  • I should buy an air conditioner.
  • I should buy more books and DVDs.
  • I need to write.
  • I need to edit what I wrote.
  • I need to go to Kiev and get some pirogues and edit/write.

One of the thing that surprised me the most about catching up with 2000 was the general level of my depression.  I know I was depressed back then, but I found some entries from that summer that were damn near suicidal, long digressive essays about trying to come to peace with myself, how to find what the fuck I should be doing with my life.  I was on the verge of 30 then, and moved across the country to be with someone, and when that didn’t work out, I couldn’t really get into the swing of dating, but also couldn’t be alone.  I’d spend long periods of time talking to nobody, except maybe to phone in a delivery order at the diner across the street.  I spent that entire year in therapy, taking various medications, seeing doctors and shrinks and buying self-help books, and the closest I came to resolution was deciding I could be happy if I bought a stereo receiver that decoded both Dolby Digital and DTS movies.  I often feel like I need to someday write a book that details these feelings, then I remember that every book I’ve written already covers it.

The other thing that I did enjoy while digging through these dead trees was the editing work on both Summer Rain and Rumored.  SR came out in 2000, and I spent most of the first half of the year doing the final edits, getting everything ready to send off to iUniverse, and it’s fun to see the daily notes about what chapters I finished or how many pages I had left to red-pen and correct.  Once that went to print, I toiled on Rumored, which took almost two more years to complete.  I was obsessed with word count at that point, and every thousand words I poured into the manuscript was a major triumph.

The one strange disconnect to this whole process is that this online journal was actually running for a good chunk of 2000, and there are some decent entries there.  Granted, what I wrote publicly and what went in the private paper edition was often very different, but there’s some good stuff there.  Check out Extreme olfactory triggers and strange nostalgia for a good example.

Okay, speaking of, gotta go write.  No Ukrainian food is on the horizon (weight watchers) but I do need to get this next book going.


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Generation whatever

On Saturday, I went to the big Barnes and Noble at the Third Street promenade in Santa Monica, which I guess is just a Barnes and Noble like the one by my house, but it’s got the weird art deco letters on the outside, and I always go there when I’m at the promenade, which is about as stupid as making a special trip to a specific McDonald’s as part of an OCD ritual, when there are a million other locations putting out the same shit.  I also had a $25 gift card to use.  Anyway, I ended up leaving with a couple of books, one of which was Douglas Coupland’s Generation A, which I proceeded to read over the rest of the short trip this weekend.

The book wasn’t bad, a quick read.  I think every review said it mirrors Generation X, but I found it to be a much different type of book.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t read the former book in forever, but I seem to remember it as more of a series of transgressive vignettes that mostly bitch about how the hyper-accelerated culture of the post-boomer generation is… whatever.  This book seemed to have more of a story behind it, a thriller about five people who get stung by bees after bees are extinct, and how everyone is addicted to this new psych med.  The plot got a little stupid by the end, but it really made me miss Coupland’s writing style.  He’s an observationalist, and can really nail these little asides about life, in the way a comedian can in their material.  I don’t have any huge examples of this, but that’s the point; he dials in these little beats about the things his characters observe, and I always like how he can do that.

I think I got into Coupland’s stuff right around the time I left Bloomington, at the apex of the whole Generation X marketing movement.  It was a weird time, when grunge was alive (or was it dead by then?) and heavy metal was dead and everyone who was into heavy metal told the same stupid joke-slash-observation about how “alternative” wasn’t an “alternative” if it was mainstream.  I used to read Details magazine, I think because I bought a copy with an article by Henry Rollins, and I used to scan their various marketing manifestos of what items you were required to buy or consume if you were Generation X.  I used to think a lot of it was stupid, like that I’d spend $700 on a watch that did the same thing as a $19 casio from the drug store, but they also had some author interviews and book reviews that led me to stuff like David Foster Wallace.

I got into writing in part because of Rollins and his spoken word, but that led me to Henry Miller, and then Bukowski and Kerouac, and all of that made me feel like I needed to find some lifestyle or youth movement or culture, and I knew it wasn’t listening to John Mellencamp and getting blackout drunk on cheap domestics, so I knew it involved leaving Indiana.  So I fell into reading Coupland’s stuff, and I think I read all of his books within a week.  I remember the exact week, because it was right after Larry left Bloomington for Texas.  He left behind an apartment with a month of rent on it, and told me to use it for writing or whatever the hell, and I was trying to pick at my first book, along with filling up the spiral notebooks with whatever came to my head.  And right after that, I was driving over to his place on a Saturday morning, and my car died – it threw the timing belt, and I had to tow it to this repair place out by College Mall.  I walked to Morgenstern’s books, bought all three of his books, then walked to Larry’s place and sat on the floor to read.

For a good chunk of my college experience, I walked everywhere.  But then I got this car in 1994, and spent all year driving everywhere, or sometimes driving nowhere, doing lazy loops around the campus while listening to whatever death metal album I was into that week.  Not having the car made me feel like I was regressing, because I had to pound the pavement with the Reeboks, except now I was out of shape, and didn’t have a nice walkman anymore, and hoofed it in silence.  Plus I now lived way the hell west of campus, which meant a long day of walking.  I really absorbed those books, and they made me want to leave Indiana more than ever.  I didn’t know that a month later, I’d be in Seattle, interviewing for a job that I would get, that would relocate me 2400 miles away and into this world not far removed from the fictional places in his novels.

I should probably re-read Generation X now.  I am guessing it has not aged well, but to be fair, neither have I.

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Angel City and the Circle of Life

It’s Friday, and in about an hour, I’m off to OAK to catch a flight to LAX and spend a weekend celebrating my birthday.  No real plans, except for a quick trip, and probably a lot of nostalgia for the time five years ago when I lived down there.  I really do love LA, even if it’s trendy to hate it; I probably like it more than any of the other places I’ve lived, which makes it seem silly that I own a house in the dreary north part of the state, but that’s another discussion.

I was thinking about the first time I’d ever visited LA, and then realized that I wrote about it in the early days of this site, as one of my very first entries ever.  It’s funny to read it after having lived there, and it seems like it happened a million years and several lifetimes ago.  Like, I remember having to stop and fill up the car near LAX, and pulling into a neighborhood that at the time seemed like some kind of Tarantino-esque inner city gang nightmare.  Now, I realize I was probably in Hawthorne or something, which isn’t far from where I lived in 2008 and is a fairly sedate place to be.

I always divide my life into these discrete eras, like my Seattle era, or my K era when I dated her, or whatever.  And all of the eras are very compartmentalized from each other.  So it’s always interesting to me when different eras have these hyperlinks to each other, like when we visited the place where, ten eras later, I’d live.  Or another example: I lived in New York, and went to this conference in San Diego for a week, back when big companies actually paid for tech writers to go to conferences.  And one night, I drove up to LA to see a friend of mine.  And on the way, I swung through Anaheim, and stopped to eat a late lunch.  There was this McDonald’s right off the main drag by the Disney property, and it was a huge version, designed for giant lunch rushes of tourist busses dumping off scores of kids.  I remember eating there once in 1997, only because at that time, they had the McPizza, and only the highest-volume stores had the pizza, because the prep time of the pizza was longer than the holding time, so you had to move serious units to get it on the menu.  I didn’t get one, and for whatever stupid reason, went back to that specific McDonald’s in 2000 to see if I could get one, but by then, the McPizza was McHistory.

So that one visit for a Quarter Pounder meal deal knitted together at least three eras:  The Seattle/K era, the New York era, and the future 2008 living in LA era.  I did not visit the same McDonald’s in 2008, although I did go to Anaheim and see it when I went to an Angels game.  I was on Weight Watchers and off McDonald’s by then, though.

Another thing I remember from 2000: I was sitting there, reading a newspaper and picking at my fries, when this lady was mopping the floor.  It was an off hour, like maybe 2 or 3, so nobody was in the dining room but me.  This was a redneck woman, maybe someone who was working there either because it was all she could get or it was part of the terms of her parole or rehab.  And she started talking to me about the nomination of George W. Bush as the Republican candidate.  She told me “well, I’ll probably vote for him.  He probably knows the most about the job, since he already was President.”  I did not correct her.  This was the beginning of the next era.

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Print Obsessions

I’ve been obsessed with print lately, which is a real kick in the ass, because I sell almost no print books these days.  I can sometimes get a few people to kick in a buck to look at my stuff on the kindle, but sales of the dead tree counterparts have been absolutely abysmal.  If it wasn’t for the kindle, I’d probably be learning to crochet instead of still picking at this, so that’s a good thing, and I really do like it when people read my books regardless of price or format.  But there’s something about print books that really pulls at me.

I just read this book the other day, by RE/Search, which was essentially a two-hour phone interview of Henry Rollins by V. Vale.  Rollins had some good stuff to say, and it’s always fun to catch up with his projects.  But one of the things that made me really love this project was that it was a pocket book, a little 4×6 inch book, maybe 125 pages, but a little thing that felt good in your hands and just screamed “collectible” even if it was not an ultra-rare numbered limited edition.  There’s a certain tactile pleasure in having a book like this, and I don’t know what it is.  It’s small, and an odd size, not like the usual trade paperback.  Maybe it’s because it reminds me of a diary or a little book you’d get as a kid.  Maybe it’s the fact that it could go in a pocket easily, although I didn’t take it out of the house or bring it on the go with me.  But something about it made me appreciate it more than if it was an industry standard 5.06×7.81″ book.  It’s the reason I made the print version of Fistful of Pizza the size it is, although only a couple of you actually have a print version.  (The kindle strikes again!)

There are some issues with doing a perfect little book like this.  Lulu has a pocket size, which is 4.25×6.87.  The problem is that it’s Lulu, which means fulfillment is just a little bit off, and price is higher.  Createspace supposedly does custom trim sizes as small as 4×6″, although custom sizes are only available from (which is fine – it’s not like a brick and mortar shop is custom-ordering my books.)  The only issue with that is POD books are always priced per page, regardless of their size.  So if you had a 40,000-word manuscript and you put it in a pocket book, it’s going to cost way more per copy than a 6×9″ book with the same font size, since there are going to be more pages in the pocket book due to fewer words per page.

Another thing I wish you could do is have some pages color, and some black and white.  You can make a whole book color, but for a hundred-page book, you’d have to make it $13.99 to break even.  (You can make a hundred-page black and white book $3.99 and you’d still make a quarter per book.)  I would love to have a book that had eight color plates in the middle, but the rest black and white, but that’s not possible with print on demand.

I don’t even have ideas or projects for this crap; I just think of sizes and colors and formats and wish I could do something with them.  Like, I’d love to do either a DVD or a CD that was encased in a book.  I don’t know what I’d put on them — maybe some kind of spoken word experimental garbage.  Createspace has POD CD and DVD offerings, but they don’t have books or booklets.  It doesn’t matter, because I don’t know how to record a book on tape that doesn’t sound like hell, and I don’t know what I’d add to a book in color, other than pictures of my cat or something.  But it always has me thinking.


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The Next Big Thing

So, this thing has been going around called The Next Big Thing, where authors talk about their next book, and then tag other authors who keep the chain going, much like that Make Money Fast thing, except you don’t have to mail anybody money, and you don’t wake up in a bathtub full of ice in a Vegas motel with no kidneys and “welcome to the world of AIDS” written in Richard Gere’s lipstick on a mirror.  (Maybe I’m getting my urban legends mixed up.)

Anyway, Arthur Graham tagged me to do this.  Normally, I don’t like to talk about works in progress, and there’s usually a nondisclosure agreement stopping me, anyway.  But I conferred with my legal team, and they said I could talk about my next project, so here goes.

1. What is your working title of your book (or story)?What We Talk About When We Talk About Analingus (A Novel)

2. Where did the idea come from for the book? When I was 9 years old, I had the opportunity to visit Uganda, on a scholarship from General Motors Institute (which was renamed Kettering University in 1998) with the intention to study the effect of the coup and deposing of Milton Obote on the authorship of science fiction related to industrial-scale fucking machines.  (Prior to his involvement with the Kenyan independence movement, Obote worked at an engineering firm, and there was great speculation in this timeframe that had he stayed in power, his regime would have promoted fucking machines at an unprecedented rate, leading to greater trade relations with other fuck-machine pioneers such as the Japanese.)

Due to some technical issues with using my computer equipment abroad and a khat-related substance abuse problem, I did little fucking machine research while in Uganda, but in a sheer coincidence, met Idi Amin at a local Dungeons and Dragons tournament.  We talked at great length about alien abduction and dissociative anesthesia, two closely related subjects which we both had a keen interest. Now, I disagreed with Amin strongly about most of his policies, his ruling, the persecution of ethnic minorities, his support of international terrorism, and by no means do I condone any of his actions.  I did, however, form a strong bond with him.  Every Thursday night, we’d get together at one of the royal palaces and watch Mork and Mindy off the ABC satellite feed, staying up all night, smoking hashish, and discussing the possibility that Garry Marshall was in on the alien abduction movement and hiding secret messages within the Robin Williams sitcom.  Just prior to the outbreak of the Uganda-Tanzania war (which caused me to return to Michigan and lose my scholarship) Amin conferred a doctorate of medicine on me from Makerere University, which was later invalidated. But this sparked my interest in medical science, and gave me the first ideas for this book.

3. What genre does your book fall under? Speculative Satanic paranormal nonfictional pseudo-pharmacological erotica how-to.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? The obvious choice for Amin would be Lindsay Lohan.  Many of the characters based on living persons — Ben Bernanke, R. Kelly, Slavoj Žižek, Paula Deen, Andrew Dice Clay, Gloria Steinem — would play themselves.  There are characters that obviously aren’t available — Osama bin Ladin, Macaulay Culkin, Andrea Dworkin, Randy Jackson — and casting would have to be more creative.  Henry Rollins has already indicated an interest in playing the Robin Williams role, and of course Johnny Depp is on board to reprise the role of Hunter S. Thompson in the Ibogaine dream sequence.

5.What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? In an alternate reality where anarchist and Presidential assassin Leon Czolgosz is the executive producer of a successful HBO game show where lactating housewives battle each other to the death with food items from the Taco Bell breakfast menu in order to use a time machine to go back in time to pleasure themselves sexually with period-correct surgical tools (bone saws, trepanation awls, bloodletting lances), failed pharmaceutical technical writer Jon Konrath has discovered he has been abducted by aliens interested in learning the exact cause of the US recall of the acne treatment drug Accutane by Hoffman-Laroche, which is used by the aliens to power their damaged five-dimensional retinoic-parasynthetic warp drive enabling them to return to their planet, but of course caused rampant irritable bowel disease in some users (most notably actor James Marshall, who played James Hurley, in the cult classic Twin Peaks, and later sued Roche after the surgical removal of his colon) and they ultimately force Konrath to blackmail German director Uwe Boll to obtain money for sexual reassignment surgery in order to compete on Czolgosz’s game show, go back in time to 1982 to kidnap Dr. Gary Peck, who developed Isotretinoin, to find a way to mass-produce retinoic acid derivative isotretinoin (13-cis-retinoic acid), and get the aliens home.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Rooster Republic Press has first-look rights to my next novel, but I have an intellectual property agent who is currently querying several large global food processing corporations (ConAgra, Archer Daniels Midland, Unilever, Smithfield) for a possible hybrid book/frozen prepared food delivery system.  I know all of the talk right now is self-publishing e-books, but the real money involves manufactured food products, especially ones involving the value-add boutique prepared meal segment.  Authors who aren’t actively looking at methods of marketing their work within the industrial food marketplace are only hurting themselves.  Also, the screenplay has already been sold, although it isn’t written; I’m not allowed to talk about that yet, due to the non-disclosure agreement I had to sign with the studio.

7.How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 37 hours, give or take. My first drafts happen fast, but I usually go through several hundred iterations of edits before the completed manuscript. For example, the first draft of my book Rumored to Exist was written entirely during a direct flight from Boston to Seattle, but took from 1995 to 2002 to edit.

8.What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? – At first glance, a lot of people mention either the Voynich manuscript or the Codex Seraphinianus, which are both illustrated glossaries written in artificially constructed languages.  But this isn’t just some stream-of-consciousness glossolalia; it utilizes a language system I developed back in the 90s to communicate with house pets in a virtual reality environment.  Aside from that, I’d probably say Steinbeck’s East of Eden, or maybe the unpublished G.G. Allin autobiography/pain medication administration primer Freaks, Faggots, Drunks, Junkies, and Me: My Struggle With Early 20th Century Theories on Intrathecal Immunoglobulin Production’s Effects on Selective N-type Voltage-gated Calcium Channel Blockers.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book? My editor at Rooster Republic Press is this syphilitic little man named Jean-Paul, who, when not working as a publisher, has a moribund fascination with being on the receiving end of acts of brutal sodomy in men’s restrooms at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. (Jean-Paul isn’t his real name.  He asked me to change it because he was afraid that having me mention his preoccupation with anonymous anal sex in public bathrooms would make him sound gay.) The guy bought an AirTran unlimited annual ticket just so he could cruise the restrooms in the E concourse, because he claims that terminal — which services flights from AirTran Airways, Alaska Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways — has the lowest-rent passengers, and therefore the highest number of redneck closet homosexuals willing to anally penetrate him anonymously in a toilet stall.  He’s a big fan of my previous work, and will frequently call me from the restroom across from the E Terminal’s Dickey’s Barbecue pit, simultaneously eating an XL family pack of their fall-off-the-bone pork ribs and applying Preparation H to his bleeding rectum, urging me to write more books about man-alien acts of sodomy.

I’d originally planned on writing something stupid, just for the money — you know, detective stories, police procedurals, maybe some kind of Tolkein ripoff stuff.  Because I’ve been writing my last few books just for the sake of art, they haven’t sold well, and most of the reviews were negative.  (Vanity Fair: “[…]nothing more than a nonsensical jumble of fight scenes, decapitations, and high-speed car collisions involving a wide range of low-end import vehicles filled with medical cadavers in clown makeup and butchered cattle launched with NHTSA high speed frontal crash test sleds into concrete walls in slow motion.”; The New Yorker: “We cannot condone the purchase of a book that urges readers with erectile dysfunction to crash a passenger jet into a Wal-Mart in order to alleviate their medical disorder and obtain an erection.”; Salman Rushdie, for The Observer: “Two words: shit sandwich.”) Plus there was that whole business with the German ban of Sleep Has No Master, the Iranian fatwah, and the cancelled exhibition at the Tate Modern in London of all of my fecal matter collected during the writing of the book, all of which was insanely stressful.  I basically wanted out of the absurdist fiction gig, and was ready to write lesbian vampire young adult whatever-the-hell.  But Jean-Paul kept calling, saying “fuck that Hunger Games bullshit! Write another book with lots of ass-fucking and violence.”  And here we are.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I realize a thousand-page nonlinear fiction book with eight different nested narratives might scare away more readers than it would interest, but one of the things I’ve experimented with is adding QR codes within the text which link to relevant online streaming pornography that helped influence that particular passage.  For example, in the section where Squeaky Fromme opens a dental practice and pain management clinic in the new World Trade Center with former Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens, there’s a link that you can open in your smartphone that will take you to a 16-minute clip on YouPorn of a Japanese tentacle porn parody of the book Flowers for Algernon.  Also, every food item mentioned in the book is cross-linked to a low-fat recipe in an appendix in the back, and each recipe lists nutritional information, including Weight Watchers points, which should be helpful to readers who are concerned about weight loss.

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What I did on my birthday


  • Went to Las Vegas
  • Rented a Corvette
  • Stayed up until 4:34AM playing casino war at the Circus Circus, won $250
  • Front row seat to see George Carlin at the MGM
  • Went to take a piss at a urinal, and standing next to me was Charles Barkley (no, I did not look)
  • Went to Las Vegas
  • Saw Mitch Hedberg, Dave Attell, and Lewis Black
  • Rented a gigantic suite at the Stardust
  • Shot 100 rounds of belt-fed ammunition through a full-auto M-249 machine gun
  • Jumped out of a plane at 16,000 feet.
  • Night before: got takeout from P.F. Chang’s.  Rented I Love You, Man.
  • Drank NyQuil.
  • Went to a Weight Watchers meeting.  Gained 1.4 pounds.
  • Got a six egg white omelet and fruit salad for lunch.
  • Went grocery shopping.
  • Practiced bass 90 minutes.
  • Slept through the football game.
  • Made vegetarian tacos for dinner.

Disclaimer: I will actually be going to LA next weekend for my birthday.  I hope I am not sick by then.

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Me, throwing Rumored to Exist into the Grand Canyon on my birthday in 2003.

I am 42 today.  Don’t feel a day over 72.

I’ve been going to Denny’s every year for my birthday, since I don’t know when.  I think it must have started when they used to give you free lunch for your birthday, but when I started hanging out with Bill and Scott, who both share the 1/20 birthday, they’d stopped the free meal deal, and we continued to go out of habit.  There must have been years that I didn’t do this, although it’s hard to remember when.  I think in 1994, I was deathly ill with pneumonia and didn’t go.  In 2007, I was in New York (which didn’t have Denny’s); I usually went to Vegas, but went in February that year, so I missed it.

Denny’s used to have a certain power over me, like it was a strange touchstone in my life.  I’d go there to write, scribbling in the notebooks late at night while a high-calorie breakfast for dinner congealed on the plate, lubricated with copious amounts of Coca-Cola caffeinated beverages.  I don’t know that I ever got much quality writing done there, other than journal entries bitching about the day or talking about the weirdo waitstaff and regulars.  Maybe I got some editing done, scanning over printouts of books with red pen in hand.  But it was mostly a ritual, like going to church or something.

I suppose there were enough late-night hijinks there when I was in college.  Whenever Ray was in town, that’s where we’d end up, or when me and Larry needed a place to eat at two in the morning.  Elkhart didn’t have a Denny’s, and Perkins was the 24-hour place of record.  But in Bloomington, Denny’s pulled me in.  I never went there to study, or read, but many a conversation started on a VAX computer was finished at one of the booths at that place over a cup of what purported to be coffee.

Denny’s also had a certain allure when I lived in New York because they didn’t have them. There are a thousand 24-hour diners in The Big Smear, not all of them the usual pancakes and bacon places.  There are Greek diners and places with Italian food and Falafel joints and Mexican diners and who knows what else.  (Every possible cuisine is available in New York, all cooked by Mexicans and Guatemalans in the back.  That fine Italian restaurant in Little Italy featuring the fine food they could only make in Italy?  Cooked by Guatemalans.)  But that strong association as being part of my writing culture, tempered by my time in Seattle hacking out these books over an All-American Slam, plus the grass-is-greener effect of the distance, made my pilgrimages to other cities that contained Denny’s seem that much more powerful to me.

Now, all of the old routines are dead.  I force myself to write when I write, and not when the rabbit’s foot is properly balanced next to the lucky pen and track 7 of the magic CD is playing and it’s exactly 9:12 at night.  And I don’t eat Denny’s anymore.  The healthiest thing on the menu there is like 47 weight watchers points.  And it doesn’t help that their owners are assholes.  The dream is dead.  I’ll skip Denny’s from now on.

But yeah, 42.  My head’s a mix of “you’ve got to be more than halfway through this by now” and “you need to put the past behind you and get shit done.”  I think the latter voice is what I need to listen to right now.

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Seattle sketches

I always used to explore on Saturday mornings, driving around Seattle to find some new magical diner to eat that would cause my writing output to double or make me run into the perfect woman, except I’d always end up at Denny’s or at the movie theater at Mountlake Terrace, because I didn’t own a TV and would just go there and watch three movies back-to-back. But I was somewhere in the middle of the peninsula, not sure where, and I went to this weird little used bookstore/antique shop/cafe, in this creaky white victorian house. There are essentially three kinds of antique stores: one is where the owner is a hoarder, with fifty years of inventory and has totally maximized their space so there’s junk on top of junk on top of junk. The newest thing in the store is older than you, and it might be interesting to look in there, if the dust mite infestation wouldn’t kill you. Then there’s the Pawn Star type of places, where they know the value of everything and only have the most profit-margin-friendly stuff out there. They know exactly how much everything costs, so there’s never a surprise and almost never a bargain. And then there’s these ones by sort of far-left revisionists, the etsy arts and craft sorts, who label everything in that weird sorority font and it’s all fun and neato. And this place was definitely in the latter category.

The place smelled like my grandmother’s place, sort of equal parts of flea market, rosewater, and old people farts. I was starving, probably from driving for hours trying to make up my mind, and I ordered the only real thing on the menu, a panini sandwich. The only cooking apparatus in the place, other than a coffee machine, was the panini iron, a glorified Foreman grill. The thing I remember most is that the girl working was an absolutely beautiful redhead, pale skin, wearing a tight but proper dress. I couldn’t tell if she was a teenager or not, if she was a freshman in college or a junior in high school. This was about the time in my life when I could no longer tell the difference. Now, it’s completely splayed, and I can’t tell if someone is in college or 30 of 15. Last night at the movies, I saw a girl and could not tell if she was 22 or 15. She was with a friend who looked 15, but I just couldn’t tell.

I was so desperate at the time, the thought of dating a teenager wasn’t far-fetched. I had a hard line at 18 of course, but I was 25 and going on three years of absolute celibacy, nothing past a failed first date, and every woman I met was in her thirties with chronic complications and high expectations.  The idea of finding some girl who was 18 and would be impressed with a college degree and my own place and a new car had some merit. But it made me think of when I knew girls in high school that dated “older guys.” I did not get that at the time, because I could see the upside to the girl, in a Fast Times sort of way, but I didn’t know why the guy would date a 14-year-old. And then later, I realized it was a combination of statuatory rape and the pure townieism of Indiana.  And none of this mattered, because I’m sure that I was giving off the serial killer vibe and she probably dialed 91 and was waiting to dial 1 while she nervously made my shitty panini sandwich and I looked at all of the garage sale pieces of junk on shelves.

But I remember that book store, because it was the type of “book store with no books.” Like the used books were just the dregs of what wouldn’t be bought at any other store. There were some good used book stores — some great ones in the U district — but this place either had an owner out of touch with reality, or didn’t get in the good stuff, or couldn’t afford it. And I think maybe it was the former, like a person who only stocked poetry books by DH Lawrence rip-offs, and dust mite-infested penguin classics that were probably bought at estate sales by the pound.

I can’t remember the neighborhood, which bugs me.  I know if I visited Seattle again, I’d start driving instinctively, and go from my old apartment to some random Vietnamese restaurant without thinking.  But where was that book store?  What happened to it?  Is the redheaded teenager-or-not still in Seattle, or did she have ten kids and move to Kelso and become a professional hoarder?  Is the old victorian house now a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, or the parking lot for a Qdoba?  I can drive myself crazy thinking about stuff like this.

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It’s oddly quiet here today.  I guess it’s always this quiet, but I usually have music going.  I’m sick today, not as sick as when I had a fever of 103 a couple of weeks ago and was wondering aloud if cats believed in angels and if we should go to the Hallmark store and buy a bunch of angel pictures and glue cat hair on them and give them to our cats as christmas gifts, but sick enough that I didn’t feel like I could write about cloud computing for eight hours, and would rather drink heroic doses of nyquil and sit in bed and read Jack Kerouac books for the millionth time.

Now I’m on the couch, which is my usual writing place, although I still don’t have my computer back from the shop, so I’m writing on my old computer, which is proving to me the difference between the Macbook and the Macbook pro.  The keys in this keyboard feel more sloppy, and having my hands rest on yellowing white plastic instead of industrial anodized aluminum is giving me a real You Get What You Pay For lesson.  Even if it isn’t ergonomic, and I don’t have my big monitor and my freaky Kinesis keyboard that doubles my typing speed, I like sitting out here where I can get some sunlight and relax in the all-white loft and try to think about this book, although not much thinking happens when I’m sick.  (And no, this isn’t the same flu I had a month ago.  I had a bullshit appointment the other day at the hospital, and I’m sure I ingested some new virus there.  I also saw some really cool DANGER:RADIATION signs in a hallway and didn’t get to take a picture, so I’m also pissed about that.)

I have to go to New York in March, and the quiet and the sunlight made me think of my old apartment.  It was almost never quiet in New York, although I guess I learned to tune it out, because now when I go back, and it’s three in the morning and I hear taxis honking and trash trucks doing that reversing beep-beep-beep shit and the car alarms and sirens and whatever else.  I never really had this kind of quiet in that apartment except right after a good snow.  A few times, I’d wake up early in the morning after it would snow a foot overnight, usually to stumble to the bodega and get another gallon or two of coke.  There would be almost no cars on the road, few people walking, and the usual gang of Jersey Shore wannabe idiots would not be standing outside in the snow.  But also, all of that snow became a huge sound baffle, absorbing the echos and ambient noise, like a giant thick blanket on the ground.  All I would hear would be the crunching of my feet through the thick layers of white.

I never had this kind of sunlight in my old apartment either, but I never wrote during the day, so that didn’t matter.  Back then, I only wrote at night, after work, after falling asleep for a few hours and then eating dinner.  I never wrote in the mornings, always woke up late and hurried off the work late.  I read something about Bukowski writing at night, maybe something he mentioned in Women or a short story, about always writing at the same time at night, just like his old night shift at the Post Office.  I did my best work at night, so when I was single, that’s when I did all my typing.  I used to try to keep regular hours, from nine to midnight, although I think in practice that didn’t always happen.  But when it went good, it would go much longer than that.  In Seattle, with no cable and no TV and no VCR and only a crappy 14.4 modem to the world, I’d keep at it late into the night, and on Friday nights, I knew I had it good when the sprinklers down on the ground floor, seven floors below me, would kick in and start spraying the grass at 4:15 on Saturday morning.

The schedule’s different now: married, in bed early, working east coast hours, and I’m now writing in early afternoon.  But not when I’m in the NyQuil zone.  I think I’m going back to bed, to read more Kerouac and avoid the facebooks for a bit.


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