Hangin’ With Old Lew

15977822_846160905521724_2574961057935715107_nI recorded a podcast this weekend, with Jeffery Lewis and Joshua Citrak. It’s called Hangin’ With Old Lew, and I had a lot of fun with it. We hung out in the studio for a few hours and shot the shit about a wide range of topics, from publishing to politics to why the 49ers suck.

Check it out here: http://po.st/3ZKVnv

Ep. 022, “Botched Circumcision,” where we’re joined by author Jon Konrath, we talk about Women’s March on Washington, the WWE, Staph infections, Paula Poundstone, the unstoppable, perpetual motion of government, Al Qaeda, self-publishing, Canada, Steve Harvey, the Indianapolis Colts, baby names, David/Brenda Remier, ISBNs, Chevy Camaros, The Virginian and Whisper At Night does our intro!

Also subscribe on iTunes, and check out their page over at https://www.facebook.com/hwolpodcast/

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Dead Mall: Hilltop Mall, Richmond, CA

31950485390_0a8dc04787_kThere’s a cruel irony in the fact that I’m now at the age where I need to old-man walk every day as per doctor’s orders, and I’d go to a mall and do the mall walking thing every day, but malls are all dying or dead. That — and the weather — is what brought me to Richmond yesterday, to see if the Hilltop Mall is feasible for my indoor pacing and maybe casual shopping purposes.

Richmond is about twenty minutes north of me, in the corner between San Francisco Bay and San Pablo Bay. It was a town that quickly grew during World War 2 because of the shipbuilding industry, and then slowly died out due to lack of industry and racial tensions after the war. It’s in a state of flux right now, an up-and-coming bedroom community for the bay area that’s seeing lots of townhouses and condos suddenly appear. I’m not that familiar with the area at all, and probably should be. The outer areas on the water are beautiful, and I’ve hiked in Point Pinole and checked out the ship museum at Marina Bay. But I’ve never explored the mall at Hilltop.

Hilltop Mall was built in 1976 by redeveloping what used to be a Chevron oil tank farm. It is a beautiful location, a circular peak almost like a cupola in the hills. It’s a two-story mall with 1.1 million square feet of retail space. (Indiana folks: for reference, UP mall is 922Ksqft.) It’s another Taubman-designed mall, similar to Stoneridge in Pleasanton. Anchors include Sears, Macy’s, JC Penney, and Wal-Mart.

The first thing I saw when arriving, the true sign of a dead mall, was the police satellite station and many conspicuous “if you see something, say something,” “lock up your belongings,” and “private property – we reserve the right to kick you out” signs. The exterior or the mall is very 1976, with few updates. It’s very heavy brick and tan-painted stucco and concrete. It reminds me of Concord Mall in that aspect. There’s also a thick ring of parking lot lining the rim of the mall, with the asphalt tarmac largely barren of cars. The outer perimeter is built up with tons of newish townhouses. There are almost no outbuildings and absolutely no chain restaurants on the outer perimeter of the mall.

The interior of the mall is extremely dated, and has every trademark of a Taubman mall that was probably lightly updated around 1990 during those peak mall years. It was bought by Simon in 2007, and pretty much left to die after that. There are high arched ceilings with lots of skylights, but the narrow fingers reaching from the main mall atrium to the parking lots are all dimly lit and filled with vacant stores.

And yes, there are vacancies. There are about 150 spaces in the mall, and probably about 90-some occupied. But a lot of the stores are low-traffic, low-rent places, low-end clothing stores, cheap wireless places with basically no stock, empty military recruiting stations. There was some sparse foot traffic on a January Saturday afternoon, but not a lot. I’ve seen malls much worse, but this was fairly bad. Hilltop is tucked away from the highway a bit, and there’s zero foot traffic from nearby towns or residences. There are no grocery stores or external fast food or banking that would pull in crowds. And there are few stores that would attract any people. There were a couple of shoe places. Not much more.

The mall’s bones are interesting. I like the high arched ceilings, and the flow of the upper floor concourse, which is classic Taubman design. But it was incredibly dated and in dire need of a refresh, or even basic maintenance. White ceilings were yellow, with brown water stains from roof leaks. Trim was frayed and missing. Light bulbs were either turned off or dead. And the floors were a disaster, the tile looking like an outdoor bathroom in an Arco gas station. The entire mall had the faint smell of mildewed carpet that should have ben torn out and replaced in 1979. It was far beyond dated. One interesting point is that the center of the mall has a large, colorful merry-go-round, and a spiral ramp to get between the two levels that looks straight out of a 80s sci-fi movie. Good photo potential there.

The anchors were all in rough shape. Sears is obviously on life support, but this one seemed even worse than normal. The Sears was added in 1990, and looks as if it was never updated. Macy’s was Macy’s. I used to think of the Federated-owned store as being top-of-the-heap high-end department store, but their merchandising looks cheap these days. JC Penney was okay, but it had a large vacant furniture store that looked as if it hadn’t sold a couch since the Reagan years.

The oddest thing was the Wal-Mart anchor. It used to be a Capwell’s back in the day, which morphed into Emporium, then was bought by Federated. Instead of running two Macy’s stores (like they do at other locations, like Stoneridge), they consolidated everything into the one Macy’s, and left the old anchor empty for years. Wal-Mart then took it over about ten years ago. It’s a really odd jury-rigged store, which looks like an old two-story LS Ayres from the seventies, with WMT signs hastily nailed onto the beige exterior. The upper floor mall entrance was blocked with painted plywood. It’s unusual to see a two-story Wal-Mart, or one that faces into a mall. I’m also used to seeing them in purpose-built structures that are all identical, and not crammed into a repurposed department store. The Wal-Mart had a fair amount of traffic, which was the good news. The bad news was it was the most randomly laid-out and sketchy looking store of theirs I’d ever seen. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, and I’m not that familiar with the stores, but this one was a parade of sadness.

The food situation was pretty bad. There was not a real food court, just a few piecemeal non-chain restaurants, like a Mongolian grill and a teriyaki place. Subway and BK, of course. I was starving, but left without eating, because I didn’t want to catch bacterial meningitis.

High point of the mall was their large 24-hour Fitness, which was practically full. Lots of new machines, every one in use. Thirty bucks a month.

Hilltop was bought by Simon in 2007 as a package deal, who bought every area mall from The Mills Corporation. Simon later defaulted on their loans in like 2012, and Jones Lang Lasalle manages it now. (I think it’s still owned by US Bank, representing the financiers of the original 2007 buyout.) Last year, they listed the mall for sale, and it will almost certainly get demolished for some mixed-use development. It’s the perfect place, close to the I-80, for a planned community with a fake town center and some light retail.

Anyway, got a good 30 minutes of walking in, and of course by the time I was done, the weather cleared and it was beautiful out. Here’s a quick Flickr album of a dozen pics snapped with my phone: https://flic.kr/s/aHskQsQ4P1

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LiveJournal

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-10-09-35-amIn the quest to find some better way of doing all of this, I started thinking about LiveJournal. (I actually have been thinking about a lot of the mid-00s web stuff I used to use, because sitting on FaceBook all day is probably a dead end, or I feel that I’m not reading or writing enough. Like, did reading Slashdot, Fark, and an armada of blogs in Google Reader help entertain me any better than seeing the same four news stories posted a hundred times a day?)

I wasn’t a heavy LiveJournal writer; I had a fake account (username: unabomber) I started in 2000 just to comment on other peoples’ stuff, then started one as jkonrath in 2004. I’d post updates, but I had an earlier pre-WordPress iteration of this blog as my main home. But I would hit my friends feed constantly, and comment a lot.

LJ seemed to be “the place” to go to be social online for a while, like pre-MySpace, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter. I was trying to think of exactly why though. The site’s still there, as is my account, so I poked around a bit and tried to remember. What did it offer that my blog did not? What was the draw?

Plusses:

  • It was dead simple (and free) to open an account. It was invite-only until 2003, but after that, anyone could get in.
  • Posting was not hard. It gave you a box and a subject line, and you typed and clicked “Post” and that was it.
  • There were fun little things you could add to posts, like what you were listening to, and what your mood was.
  • You had a certain number of profile pictures, and it was always fun finding new little pictures, or swapping to a different one based on your mood that day.
  • You could theme your page to some extent, changing colors and styles. Some people got really into the design of their pages, although when you’re reading your friends feed, you don’t see those customizations, and I basically didn’t give a shit about having flaming red text on a black background with pictures of wolves and fire and ninjas and shit all over.
  • Basic privacy settings could lock posts and accounts to be friends-only.
  • Communities, where permitted users could post to a feed. These were great for interests (I was in a baseball one for a while) or areas (lots of people had groups for their towns or home towns.)
  • You could (if you had a paid account) host a feed to your external blog, so the posts would show up on LJ.
  • It was locked in. You could sit and spin on your friends feed, and read all the posts (in chronological order, too) and in the mid-00s, a lot of people were posting, so there was some good conversation to be had.
  • There weren’t ads during the heyday, although that changed later.
  • It encouraged long-form posts. Or maybe people just typed more back then, before we were all programmed with horrible ADHD.
  • The feed was chronological only. No Fuckerberging of the order and appearance weighting of posts.
  • There was post commenting, and that got used a fair amount. Commenting was more streamlined than other blogs, because you had the single system for everyone, whereas it seems like every free-standing blog has a different commenting system, or they use something like Disqus, and people get all pissy about having to sign up for it. If you were using LJ, you were signed up for commenting, so it was a no-brainer.

Minuses:

  • The UX is horrible. Log in to livejournal.com and then try to find anything, and it takes ten clicks. It also started to look a bit dated and clunky going into the late 00s.
  • There was no “like.” I think that was the big killer versus Facebook. When you post on FB, there’s this little micro-validation you get in your brain when other people like your post. LJ didn’t have this, so the motivation wasn’t there. I think the little crack hit of likes is one of the main drivers for FB, and it’s also its downfall. The discovery of this gamification around the end of the 00s is the reason casual gaming now exists (well, that plus touchscreen devices with good graphics) but it’s also a big part of our dumbing-down as a culture.
  • The long-form thing meant good content, but it also may have been a reason people dropped out.
  • Images and image hosting were always an issue. You could add external links to flickr or elsewhere for your images, but the two-step process was messy. They now offer image hosting for paid accounts, but it’s a limited amount, and mostly a feature to entice people to pay. It’s nowhere near as nice as the FB interface for photo uploading.
  • No fine-grained security. You could not be friends with someone and not see their content. You could not hide a single post from your friends feed, like when you got sick of seeing the same thing pop up on every time. (I use the FB hide post constantly these days.)
  • No post sharing. This was a plus, though. Imagine FB without the ability to share stupid political posts or mom memes.
  • No (real) mobile stuff. I think they have an app, but it’s a piece of shit. So many people post on-the-go now in FB/Twitter, and LJ never had any of that. That may have been one of the reasons it focused more on long-form stuff, because everyone was sitting on a PC while composing their stuff.
  • Various business decisions slowly sank the ship. The company was sold in 2005, and then Brad Fitzpatrick left in 2007, and it was sold to some crazy Russians, who continued to run it into the ground.

Other:

  • I remember a lot of shit-storms over privacy issues, like people having to lock out exes and then said exes getting a different fake account to read their stuff, etc. Now, blocking and banning is simple in FB, but there was a lot of drama back in the day.
  • I also vaguely remember some moderation issues, with people or posts getting censored, and a bunch of outrage.

I always wonder if something could replace LJ and FB. Would some technical balance between the two work, or would some perfect storm have to happen to lure enough people to the community to make it viable? I think the biggest feature of LJ was that it had a community, and it had a critical mass of enough users to make it interesting and fun. But when that went away, so did its usefulness.

How do you create that again? I guess that’s the question every attempt at community tries to answer. I futz around with posting here, but it’s an isolated island in the middle of nowhere, with no community, no connection to the outside world. I post on Facebook, but it’s Facebook, and it is becoming a dead end. As I find Facebook more and more intolerable, I try to think of a replacement, but that lack of critical mass, of community, is the huge problem.

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V/A

Various items of note:

First, I made the last payment on my car. Toyota sent me a bunch of paperwork, and then a free-and-clear title came from the state. This is a 2014 Prius C that I got almost exactly three years ago. I stretched out the three-year loan because they gave me 0% financing, so no reason to pay it off early. That leaves my house as my only debt, and that won’t be paid off any time soon, although we did just round a corner on the number in the leftmost column of the balance, if that makes any sense.

This car still feels mostly new to me, because I barely drive it. It’s three years old, and I have not cracked 9000 miles yet. Aside from work (50 miles) and a trip to Davis (70 miles), the only long trip it’s taken is the 120-mile drive I took to Castle AFB last year. There’s a door ding and a few scratches on the driver side, and it could use a detail, but it’s otherwise in newish condition. I will probably keep it as long as possible, or until I have to start commuting to work again. If I had to go back to driving a hundred miles a day again, I’d probably upgrade to a model with more adjustable seats, and a backup camera. Otherwise, I’ll keep going on this one, especially since the new Prius looks pretty stupid.

I also don’t want to upgrade my laptop, and the 500GB drive was getting full, so I got an external from Santa and moved all of my photos off my machine. That gave me back about 150GB, so I’ve got some breathing room. I really don’t want to go to the new touchbar Mac, and I don’t want to pay four grand for the pleasure of doing it. Sarah just had to upgrade her 2009 MBP and take the hit price-wise. I’m curious how that works out, as far as the lack of ports and so forth.

I do need to upgrade my iPad at some point — it is the 2012-era iPad 4, which still gets the latest OS, but is getting flaky. Also my smart cover is disintegrating, and I can’t justify hunting down a new one just to use until the actual hardware croaks. It’s a bad time to upgrade, though; there are rumors that March will see an entirely new line.

And there’s the question about whether or not it’s even worth it to stay in the Apple ecosystem or jump ship. But I interact with Windows enough at the day job to know I can’t go there. And I would have to ditch Scrivener and find a new writing workflow, and that isn’t happening. I do hope Apple gets their shit straight though.

The weather here is still horrible. Cold, rainy, dark. Walking every day has been a real challenge. The weather also has been reminding me heavily of when I was in Seattle, especially the last winter or so. Seattle was beautiful from April-October, and I somehow powered through the first winter without major problems. But the second year was brutal. I don’t know how I managed to survive four winters there without taking a vacation or investing in a full-spectrum light.

So for whatever reason, there’s a weird nostalgia callback from the gray skies overhead. It makes me think of Seattle, which makes me think about people from Seattle, and jobs in Seattle, and all the various things I fucked up while I lived there. So that’s not good.

(Grammar tip: gray versus grey. GrAy with an A for America; GrEy with an E for England.)

 

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asides

Aside

There used to be the concept in WordPress of an “aside” post, which was a small post with no title and a slightly different format. I guess the guts of it are still there, but there’s no formatting for it in my theme, and I’m sure if I used it, it would break something.

I think B used to use them all the time, in the heyday of mid-00s blogging. The concept of an aside is that it’s not a long, titled post. It’s just a quick status update apropos of nothing.

From the Apple dictionary:

a remark or passage by a character in a play that is intended to be heard by the audience but unheard by the other characters in the play.

• a remark not intended to be heard by everyone present: “Does that makehim a murderer?” whispered Alice in an aside to Fred.

a remark that is not directly related to the main topic of discussion: the recipe book has little asides about the importance of home and family.

I like the concept of asides, because I can never think of what to blog, as far as starting some giant essay about and important topic. Most days, it’s just the weather, etc. And I used to write only about that stuff, like during my lunch hour, twenty years ago when this all started. But then it evolved into having to write these huge essays, which leads to performance anxiety and self-censorship, which leads to me not blogging for months.

Also, I think asides were a thing when twitter and facebook were not. I could deposit my bitching about how UPS fucked me over again on my social media account. But then it is disconnected and forgotten, not part of this repository.

OK I’ll post this and then figure out if I need to format them differently, and maybe keep posting more of them.

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2016

I hate these posts. I hate January 1 and everything about it: the new year/new me shit, the pressure to change yourself into something else overnight, and the fear of taking a brand new, unscratched and unblemished year and driving it into the ditch by eating 16,000 calories of Burger King for lunch.

I did a few things in 2016, so here’s the list:

I released three things in 2016: a zine (Mandatory Laxative #14), a book (Vol. 13), and a joke picture book for The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day.

I had two interviews published last year (here and here) and had parts of Vol.13 appear in Horror Sleaze Trash and Tall Tales With Short Cocks Vol 5. Paragraph Line was mostly dormant in 2016, but aside from my book, we also released John Sheppard’s Explosive Decompression, which is definitely worth a read.

I bought a new guitar as a birthday gift to myself, a Fender FSR Strat. I started taking lessons this fall, but I’m still a total beginner. No real goals here, just keeping at it until I can play barre chords without 4 of 6 strings buzzing.

I took an Arduino class at The Crucible this spring, and it was fun trying to remember electronics stuff from 30 years ago. I didn’t build anything substantial or keep with it and do more research, but it was interesting to do that.

I went to London in May, and took a short trip to Nashville and Memphis in August. Both were decent. I got a new camera before London, and feel like I’m not using it enough. I was also supposed to go to Nicaragua, but ended up cancelling because of work.

The exercise slashline:

  • 3,031,167 steps
  • 5900 floors
  • 1,430.72 miles
  • 915,742 calories

 

It was a frustrating year with writing, with politics, and with my mood in general. The midlife crisis stuff that hit hard in 2015 hasn’t gone away. I need to do something about that. Until then, I’ll waste more time on memes, and try to figure out this guitar thing.

You?

 

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The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day – The Book

8234262-2e6aa8cc0e194e7cb5540813cdd813e0This is stupid. But I have made a book for The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day. It is an 88-page book of pretty much every meme I’ve made over the last year or two associated with this page.

I thought about writing a huge explanation about how this picture was taken, how the meme page started (it wasn’t me), and other stupid side notes about the phenomenon, like how we started one-upping each other with garbage #KultofKonrath merchandise. But I am lazy, and if you explain it too much, it ruins it. So figure it out yourself. Or ask me in person. Or drink a bunch of cough medicine and make up your own story.

The book is available on Blurb and is prohibitively expensive because it is color printed. It’s also slow to produce and costs too much to ship. Blame Blurb. Don’t buy this, but if you’re a completist, knock yourself out. I would print a bunch and give them away, but my cost is the same as yours.

You can go to the book site and preview every page for free, so there’s that.

The book is on Blurb here: http://www.blurb.com/b/7632244-the-same-picture-of-jon-konrath-every-day-the-book

Also for any of my books that actually have writing and that you should be buying and giving to your family for the holiday, go to My Books and Stories.

Happy Firestorm! (Or whatever holiday you celebrate.)

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11/20

  • It is winter here now, so it is 50-something, raining, and the sky is dark at noon. It will be like this until February. I know it sounds wonderful if you’re in freezing temps and a foot of snow, but this is when the SAD kicks in full-time. I dug out the verilux light and am hoping for the best.
  • I am still trying to walk every day and keep the Apple Watch streak going, but this is hard now with the weather. Yesterday I walked up and down the length of our parking garage for 45 minutes, which was depressing.
  • For whatever reason, I bought a Zoom H1 recorder the other day. I have been listening to a lot of ambient music using field sound, so I wanted to start recording more stuff while I was on walks or traveling. I do this to some extent with my iPhone, but it’s always too quiet with the built-in microphones. Also, iTunes changes where it syncs voice memos like every other week, so all of mine are scattered across like 17 folders now.
  • Speaking of Apple, I tried out the new MacBook Pro the other day at the mall, and wasn’t entirely impressed. The new keyboard is okay for typing, but it looks really cheap. So does the touchbar, honestly. I think the previous MBPs had a very sleek, minimalist appearance, and the larger keys and the random things appearing on the touchbar make it look like a cheap plastic Compaq laptop you’d buy at Best Buy and half the keys would fall off in six months. I’m not terribly butt-hurt over the port situation — I’d just buy an external dock for everything. I am mostly concerned about how long I can wait for an upgrade, and what my options will be. (Buying a Windows laptop is not an option.)
  • My current 2014 MBP is still problem-free, more or less, with no repairs or issues yet, knock wood. The battery is down to 91% of its engineered life, and that’s the main concern, because battery replacement is almost impossible on these things. I also wouldn’t mind an upgrade in storage size, because I have the 500Gb and it is almost full. I can go up to a 1TB, but that’s $600. I could also clean up my computer and move some crap to an external, but, lazy.
  • I have been taking guitar lessons — not bass guitar, but guitar guitar. I am still horrible at it, and feel like I’m not learning very fast. I wish I would have done this when I was 16, so it was burned in now.
  • I’m reading Gringos by Charles Portis right now. I’ve read every other book of his this year, aside from that collection of short stuff, which I have but couldn’t get into. Gringos is not his best work (that would be Masters of Atlantis) and it’s a little too similar to Dog of the South for me, but it’s still good, and has some great moments in it. Portis has this incredible ability to efficiently describe a person showing only their peculiarities in a minimalist way, and it’s always incredible to read. I’ll be sad when I’m done with this last book. He’s 82 and his last book was in 1991. I’m hoping he can knock one more out before taking off.
  • Also fell down a brief k-hole on photographer Charles Gatewood. Re/Search has a mini-book with various interviews and profiles of him, which was a great read. (There were only 300 printed, so you might want to get on that.) Gatewood is an interesting guy who ran to Sweden in the 60s and learned his craft, then spent time in NY for a while before coming out to SF. You’ve probably seen his work, because he took a ton of the WS Burroughs photos in circulation. (They did a book together called Sidetripping.) I just got a used copy of his book People in Focus, which I’ll get into after the Portis.
  • The Gatewood book made me really want to break out the new camera and do some street photography, but the Canon is not waterproof, and see earlier note on weather. I’m also always very itchy about bringing out gear and getting it stolen, so there’s that.
  • I need to walk another 13 minutes, so off to the parking garage.
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Stoneridge

fullsizerender-3I had yesterday and today off, and I was bored of walking in my neighborhood, so I drove to the nearest mall, like an honest-to-satan mall mall, and not a bunch of stores next to each other with a fake city square in the middle of it.

The closest mall to me is in Pleasanton, about thirty minutes south/southeast of here. There’s a Westbrook mall in San Francisco, probably technically the same distance away, but it’s tucked into the city and not the same experience as being in a suburban freestanding mall.

Stoneridge Shopping Center is the perfect example of a healthy and well-operating Simon mall. It’s got about 160 stores and four anchors (JCPenney, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sears), with almost no vacancies. It was originally designed by A. Alfred Taubman, and it has the same look and feel as some of his other malls. I’ve been to Short Hills mall in New Jersey and Cherry Creek mall in Denver, and the interior has the same feeling and flow to it.

Walking around this place is a real mindfuck for me. First, it resembles University Park mall’s exterior, the way JC Penney and its champagne-colored brick juts out from the mall proper and Macy’s is around the corner. The mall sits on an uneven parking area, the north side a level higher than the south, with stairsteps going down the evergreen-covered ridges. The mall sits in a bowl created by the Pleasanton ridge on the west horizon, and the 580 and 680 highways to the north and west. The exterior is decidedly Californian, and far more suburban than the rest of the Bay Area.

But walking the concourse inside — it’s very easy for me to get lost in the nostalgia of the place. It feels like a direct time machine to being in the late 90s in the Seattle area, shopping at Northgate, or Lloyd Center in Portland. And being there in the late morning, right before the Christmas holiday season, brings back old and strange memories for me, of stocking up new shipments when I worked at Wards, hauling out the lawn tractors for storage and setting up the Christmas trees.

There’s something hypnotic about the dead lull at about 11:00 on a weekday in a mall. It reminds me of the times I spent at IUSB, when I would skip class and drive to Scottsdale or University Park to hit the record stores and arcades. The only people there would be the career mall workers, the day shift people, along with a few geriatrics walking the loop, and maybe a mom or two with strollered kids. Everyone else was at work, at their jobs in the factories, and I would have the place to myself, like a post-apocalyptic movie. I like seeing a mall busy at night with holiday traffic, but having the place to myself always felt great.

Malls have a secret life few people see, like the hour before they open, when you see all the assistant managers walking to the bank with their locked up money pouches and drop boxes, stopping to get coffee, talking to the other lifers about the coming onslaught. I liked when I worked the 6AM truck unloading shift, and after unfucking 45 feet of furniture from the Franklin Park warehouse, I’d get a few minutes to go to the pretzel stand and get enough caffeine to finish the next trailer full of stereos and mattresses. Working in a mall paid nothing, even back in those peak mall days of the late 80s/early 90s, but it was a nice routine.

Now, finding a mall like this is a huge nostalgia trigger. I don’t really have anything I want to buy at a mall (other than pretzel dogs, which I really can’t have) but I really enjoy the walking, the people-watching, and the general atmosphere. And like I said, it’s a huge time machine that sends me back twenty years. It’s unfortunate, because malls are dead and dying, but when I get a change to spent an hour in one, it’s almost restorative to me. I know this isn’t very edgy and absurd and punk rock, but it’s a thing. I wish we had a place like this closer to my house. I should probably take more pictures before this one goes away.

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Boxes

I recently found this excellent Jon Ronson documentary about going through the boxes that Stanley Kubrick left behind. Check it out on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/78314194. The basic gist of it is Ronson was contacted by Kubrick’s assistant for a copy of a documentary of his, and before he got a chance to catch up with him, he passed away. Later, his estate let Ronson poke around, and he found thousands and thousands of archive boxes filled with notes and photos, raw research for most of his films after 2001.

This doc is forty-five minutes of mind-blowing thing after thing, and you expect it to top out, and it gets even better. Like there’s a scene where Kubrick is going back and forth with a box company to get a better storage box with the perfect lid. A few minutes later, Ronson finds film cans containing 18 hours of behind-the-scenes footage shot during Full Metal Jacket. This is after a series of memos instructing his assistant to find a cat collar with a bell to scare away with birds, but with a breakaway feature to prevent the felines from getting stuck in a tree. (This eventually had to be specifically fabricated by his team.)

And then the stationery. Stanley used to hoard it. Paper, notebooks, pens, inks, drafting supplies. His assistant said he could probably start a stationery nostalgia museum. He would spend hours at a shop, always paying in cash so nobody would ask questions.

I have a huge stationery problem now. For years, I’ve been buying these Moleskine notebooks and go through one every year or so, writing a page or two a day. Last winter, I got some Field Notes notebooks, at a shop in the Public Market in Milwaukee. They were the ones for the state fair series, for Wisconsin, which had a certain kitsch value to me, and I’ve been keeping one in my pocket when I go to lunch, so I can jot down ideas.

Because I heard Draplin do his sphiel on Maron’s podcast, I decided to subscribe to Field Notes. You pay a lump sum and get a package four times a year, with whatever cool limited edition books they just came out with. They’re also good about shoving a bunch of extra stuff in there, discontinued booklets and pens and stickers and whatnot. It’s all made in Chicago, well-designed, and has a weird addictive quality to it.

The only problem is, I’m now sitting on two dozen blank notebooks, and only using a few of them a year. And I still have the urge to buy more every time I see their web site. There’s something so collectible about them, and there’s also this feeling of “I’m a writer, I need to write, this is justifiable” and it isn’t, but I will keep subscribing and buying the shit.

I had this problem when I was a kid. There was this store called Stationer’s in downtown Elkhart, and they sold absolutely every kind of pen, pencil, paper, and business supply. It obviously doesn’t exist anymore – big-box office supply stores barely operate anymore. But back when I was 12 or 13 and playing D&D, they had every kind of graph and hex paper imaginable, along with special erasers and felt-tip markers and anything else you needed as a dungeon master.

And I studied drafting earnestly as a teenager, thinking I would go to college and become a draftsman or architect. These were the days of actual paper-based drafting: t-squares, big tables, protractors and scale rulers. That meant supplies galore: wooden 6H and 2H and HB pencils with points you carefully filed down by hand; kneaded erasers; dust-it powder; metal erasing shields; fine-tipped ink pens; translucent sheets of paper. We got the first CAD systems toward the end of my high school drafting career, PS/2s with digital tablets, running VersaCAD. But those tactile supplies — I hoarded that shit, bought as much as I could, somehow holding some psychological connection between having the most stuff versus being able to do a good job.

The Kubrick thing makes me wish I had more space to collect this garbage, a thought that would freak out my wife. But now that we’re in a digital age, the hoarding has gone to my hard drive. I have sets of folders filled with old PDFs, scanned photos, saved web pages, text files. I like the idea that Kubrick spent every day, hours and hours sifting through this stuff assembled by assistants, looking for the next idea, doing pre-production on films that never got shot. As I fret over what’s next, I often think I need to do this, forget about rushing out the next book that nobody will read, and spend a decade looking at photos and researching things out.

Anyway, great documentary – go check it out on Vimeo, before it vanishes.

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