Paul Auster – 4 3 2 1

Paul Auster’s new book, 4 3 2 1, was a slog. It had a payoff in the last dozen pages, but it took some effort to stay with this for the other 850.

I’ve been reading a lot of Auster recently for some reason, and in the last six months have probably read at least six of his other works. So I threw his latest, still in hardcover, on my wish list for the holidays, and got a copy. I started wading through it a few weeks ago, and initially thought it was a heavy piece of dead tree, but the deckle edges and thick paper add to it, and it felt like it was maybe a 400-page book, but it’s really double that. And I remember twenty-odd years ago, a certain thousand-page book filled with footnotes made the news because of its absurd length and thickness and heft, but now it seems like 600+ page works are becoming pretty common.

Anyway, 4 3 2 1 is the story of a young man named Archie Fergusun, starting with his grandfather’s arrival at Ellis island. The big twist is that the story follows four different instantiations of Archie’s life, and detail how he would have grown, matured, and ended up if little circumstances had changed. It’s basically four parallel books, each with the common characters of parents and aunts and uncles and so forth, but as the back story changes, the four lives fork into much different directions. Each chapter is numbered 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and so forth. It’s like an extremely complex choose-your-own-adventure, where you are watching each branch of a tree unfold in completely different realities.

So, simple example, without too many spoilers, is that one Archie has a dad who struggles in the appliance business, has brothers who run the business into the ground, and he goes from job to job as the family lives in semi-poverty. Another has a dad who strikes it rich in the same family business, and the brothers go fuck off to different states as his kingdom flourishes, affording that Archie a much more lavish wife, but a mother who also is “encouraged” to close up her photography store and become a bored socialite drunk, and Archie is much more resentful toward his distant father who is always working. You end up with four very different Archies, all born in 1947, but heading into different versions of the turbulent Sixties, becoming involved in different angles with the youth movement of the era.

The style and stage of the writing is very familiar Auster. Like I said, I read Moon Palace and Invisible right before I read 4 3 2 1, and they all bled into each other. One thing I like about Auster is he has a familiar field he often works with, and I don’t know if the events are based on his own life, or just random things he keeps coming back to. I mean, it’s a known thing that he went to Columbia, and then moved to France, and both of those happen frequently in his stories. 4 3 2 1 has no shortage of these themes, and his modernist portrayal of New York in the Sixties is deep within his canon here.

Auster is also big on using a “gimmick” of some sort to frame his traditional writing about the city or his youth and bend it around into a meta, postmodern structure. This was a big thing in the four-part narrative of Invisible, and this one uses a different approach to take this even further. I don’t mean that a “gimmick” is a bad thing — it’s something I’m always searching for when I try to write something nonlinear or outside the narrative box like this. So it’s interesting to see what he used and how he extended it into such a big book.

Did it work? Yes and no. I didn’t read anything about the book going into it. I read 1.1, thought okay, it’s a story about this kid, his dad, his grandpa, etc etc. Then I read 1.2, and thought, “why the hell is he telling the same story but just changing one or two things?” It was like someone singing a song where the second verse is the first one with a few words changed. Then 1.3 came up, and I had to stop and go read the wikipedia article to see what the hell was going on. And I have to admit, for my no-attention-span brain, it was hard to keep the four stories straight. Like I’d be reading, and then think “wait a second, is this the rich Archie or the poor Archie? Is Amy the stepsister or the girlfriend in this one?” There are four casts of characters, all with similar names, but all different people. It’s a big investment. And I got about 200 pages into it and thought I needed to just quit and go read something else. But I stuck with it, just forcing myself to read 50 pages a night, or get to the end of the next chapter, and eventually, about 400 pages in, it caught me.

I really want to talk about the ending, but it’s such a huge spoiler, I can’t. I’ll just say that it’s enough of a payoff that I was happy with it, but I could also see that it would really piss off some people, especially those who invested so much time in the reading. Some reviewers were really unhappy with this; Michelle Dean from the Los Angeles Times also called it “a slog” and “a bad joke.” I had the opposite reaction, but yeah, some people didn’t like it.

I’ve often wondered about Auster’s end game, not to be morbid about it, because it took him seven years to write this book, and he’s recently talked about how he’s been out of ideas. At 70, I’d expect him to keep kicking for a while, but what does that mean — another book, maybe two? Like I said, this is a bit morbid, and maybe driven by my own birthday last week and the constant thoughts/fears about how much more I’ll get on the page, especially since I am tragically out of ideas and beating the same dead horse for the last few books.

Anyway. Interesting book, good stuff, but obviously, a heavy investment. If you haven’t read Invisible, you might want to start there, but maybe put some space between the two books, so you don’t get hopelessly confused like I did.

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Oculus Rift Impressions

I stopped in Best Buy on Saturday, because I’ve been meaning to check out the Oculus Rift, and the demo people are only there a few days a week, and I keep missing them. Usual thoughts on the death of the Best Buy I used to know, although they did seem to be semi-busy. Anyway, I tried out the Rift. Impressions:

  • I was worried that the thing would not work with glasses. My glasses fit fine inside the headset, so no problems there. I had to take off my glasses, put them in the headset, then flip the whole assembly onto my head. It was a slightly tight fit, but worked fine for me. The focus was decent, but did make me think maybe it would work better with my reading glasses and not my dailies, which aren’t that great for close-up work.
  • I did not notice the headset weight, and did not experience any fogging.
  • The controllers are interesting. They each have a joystick and a few buttons on the top, but then you also have a trigger and a squeeze button. They are also tracked, so your hand movement goes into the system. The result is that you have a set of virtual hands in the game, which move around and can point at various things and tap around. There’s also a bit of haptic feedback in the controllers, which was nice.
  • You start in a room in a house. Your head movement tracks, so you can look around. You can even turn around, and then see there’s a Koi pond behind you, which makes it very immersive and cool. In front of you is a wall containing tiles or pictures of each available game or program.
  • The immersive feeling of head tracking is something overwhelmingly cool. Just the subtle movements of your head moving around inside this virtual room is amazing.
  • I tried a few things. One was the basic tutorial, how to move your hands and look at things. Then I went into a climbing game, where you put hand over hand as you moved up a rock wall. Once I got the hand of moving and gripping, I was able to move fast and I quickly forgot I was wearing a headset, and felt like I was inside the game.
  • The freaky part of the climbing game was that I was focused on finding the handholds, studying the rock face. At a certain point, the Oculus person told me to stop and look behind me. When I turned, I could see the full display of the terrain behind me. And below me – I looked down and saw how far up I was and had a sudden feeling of depth, from the height. It was amazing.
  • I also did some weird video thing, which was not interactive except for head tracking. It was basically a 360-degree movie, with some African tribe, various scenes where you are surrounded by tribespeople, throwing spears and talking and whatnot. It was a bit boring, but also showed off the video well.
  • The video – it depends on what you are doing. On the tribe thing, I could really discern the pixelation – it was like standing with your face right up to the surface of a standard-definition monitor, or looking through a screen door. For video game or cartoonish things, it was not as noticeable. I do not think I could watch a movie in it.
  • Surround sound was very good too. I noticed that in the circle of tribesmen, how I could hear one to my right, then swing around to look at him and he’d be in the center of the sound stage.
  • I did not have any issues with nausea or fatigue from having the thing on my head, but I was only in it for ten minutes or so.
  • The Rift is now about $400 with a set of controllers, which is pretty amazing for what you get. The real kicker is you absolutely need an all-out machine, a newer-gen i5 or i7, lots of RAM, and a high-end video card. And the video card is the real problem, because Bitcoin mining has created a GPU apocalypse right now. Since Christmas, most GPUs are running about double MSRP, sometimes more for the higher-end ones. And that’s if you can find one, which you cannot. They are sold out everywhere. And you absolutely can’t get it to work on a Mac. My MBP meets all specs by far, except for the video card. I can run an external video card, and an enclosure is maybe $250, but getting the card is the hard part.
  • There probably won’t be an update to the Rift this year, but the Vive has a Pro model with more resolution. (Pricing and availability unknown.) The rub here is that a higher resolution would probably drive back up the pricing, and would require a rig with much more video horsepower.

So, mostly good impressions, but probably not enough to dive in right now. I think I could probably buy a prebuilt that would be on the low end of usable for about $750, slap in some more memory and an SSD I have from my old machine that’s just sitting here. But then I’d just want to upgrade to an all-out gaming rig, and I couldn’t buy an affordable GPU, and ten minutes later, the Rift Pro would be announced. So I guess I’ll wait a minute on this one.

 

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Tank, Oculus, food, more food

Pretty good birthday yesterday. After a bit of writing, I headed to the float tank place for a superfloat, which is what I did last year. A normal session there is 70 minutes, and this is like three sessions back-to-back. Last year, I had a float chamber, which is sort of like a big bathtub with a door on it; this time, I was back in an old-school tank.

The problem with a superfloat is there are logical considerations that prevent one from sitting in the tank for almost four hours, mainly dehydration, the need for mass amounts of drinking water, and then the disposal thereof. I took a quick lukewarm shower before the float, to trick my internal thermostat to settle in on the tank temperature – if you take a hot shower and then get in the hot tank, your body will think it’s cold, for some reason. (You also have to shower to get all the chemicals and perfumes and deodorants and whatnot off your skin.)

(And yeah, I should pee in the tank, haw haw. Enough. I’ve heard the joke too many times, it isn’t funny.)

Last time, the superfloat basically ended up being three back-to-back floats with bathroom/drink breaks. This time, I settled in fast during the first float, and went deep within a few minutes. A tank is more claustrophobic than a chamber, because the ceiling is much lower, and the temperature keeps at a constant body temperature a bit more. I mean, you’re senseless, so it doesn’t matter if you’re in a coffin or the middle of a limitless empty universe, but I feel like I can tell the difference. But I like small spaces like that. I don’t know if claustrophilia is a thing, but if it is, I probably have it.

When I got to the point where I thought I had to take a break, I thought about 45 minutes had gone by. I got out, dried, drank a liter of water, and checked the watch – it had been about two hours and fifteen minutes. Got back in, couldn’t really settle in that deep, but I got partly there, and the next hour and fifteen went past. But the first segment was deep enough that it made the whole experience worth it.

Then came the task of washing off the salt. I brought my own soap this time, and did a two-pass shower, since last time, I spent all day with that feeling like when you wear a pair of stone-washed jeans without washing them first. They have some special hippy disinfectant soap, so I used that head-to-toe first, then used real shower gel and scrub, and that seemed to be the trick.

Like last time, I was fucking ravenous when I got out. I walked over a block or so to this place called Clove and Hoof, which is a neighborhood butcher that does whole-animal butchering on local livestock, but also has a small cafe with really off-the-hook food. It’s always restaurant week on my birthday, and they had a special with four courses of stuff, but I just went in on a burger and fries. Their burgers are insanely good, a double patty with pimento cheese and pickle mayo, and I added bacon. The fries are also incredible, beef tallow fries with more of the pickle mayo. A total mess, and expensive, but totally worth it.

It was suddenly a beautiful day out, sunny and in the sixties, so I walked up and down 40th. It has suddenly become a weird hipster mecca on that street, lots of kids with chunky glasses and ironic hair packed onto the sidewalk, waiting in line for two hours for vegan macaroni and cheese. I went to check out Broken Guitars, which is a shop opened by Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day, who still lives in the area. It’s a little place, but the focus is guitar for players, not collectors. Went through the stuff on the wall, and they had some decent-priced strats and teles, some older stuff, but a good mix of daily drivers, and good value players. I need a new guitar like I need a hole in the head – I’ve got two perfectly good Strats, and I’m not even playing much these days. So I went and walked around a bit more, then headed back.

On the way home, I stopped to try out an Oculus Rift, which was cool. I started writing about this and realized it really needs its own post, so I’ll do that separately.

Home, nap, then Sarah took me to a new place called Copper Spoon, coincidentally a few doors down from where I ate lunch. It is in the same space as an old classic called Art’s Crab Shack, which I never tried, but it has a cool old-school sign outside, which they fortunately kept. (This was just in an episode of Modern Family, which I hate to admit I still watch, but they did a joke about a gentrified bad neighborhood where cupcake stores and poetry collectives kept the same names and signs as body shops and welding fabricators or whatever.) Got the restaurant week menu, which was a good mix of stuff, plus dessert, plus cupcakes when I got home.

A good haul of books and a new hooded sweatshirt in the mails – I still have a ton of Christmas gift reading to do, and I’ve been stuck on that new Paul Auster monstrosity since the holidays. Anyway, overall, a good birthday this year.

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47

Me, 46 years ago

So, today I turn 47.

I was trying to think of what numerological or nostalgic significance this number has, and I can’t think of any, really. 47 is such a weird number. It’s slightly dreadful to me, because it’s in the “almost 50” range, and I’m really not ready to go there yet. I still think of myself as a bit over 40, and I’m closing in on the half-century mark.

47 reminds me of 17, which is that oddball birthday of your teens, the one of least significance. When you’re 16, you can drive; when you’re 18, you can vote and get married and join the Army and whatever else. At 17, you can… see NC-17 movies, I guess, although we didn’t have them back then. (They were added for the Henry and June movie, which came out when I was 19.) I don’t even remember what I did on my 17th birthday, if anything.

My birthday, even more than New Year’s, makes me look back at the last year and think about what I need to do in the next year. I can’t say much, good or bad, about year #46. I wrote a lot but didn’t get much published. I walked and hiked a lot, but didn’t lose any weight. I worked a lot, but don’t feel like I got a lot accomplished. Stasis, I guess. I didn’t have a bad year, but it has me thinking a lot about what I should be doing.

I’m actually cheating, writing this a few days before the actual day of my birthday. It’s a Saturday this year, so I don’t have to fight to get the day off work. I was going to do another superfloat in the sensory deprivation tank, but had to cancel, so it’s probably just another Saturday of writing and walking. No Vegas this year, unfortunately. No Denny’s, probably. No hospitals, no layoffs, no funerals. (I hope…)

So, I’ve outlived JFK. David Foster Wallace. Fatty Arbuckle. HP Lovecraft. It’s good to be alive, but then I also look at what I’ve done so far, and think there needs to be more. So I need to get to work on that.

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The Awl

So it looks like The Awl is no more. Another blog bites the dust.

The Awl started in 2009, originally some folks who left The Gawker and decided to do their own thing from their apartment in Brooklyn or whatever. It was a general culture blog, with emphasis on New York City, and a bit more about new media, comedy, and technology or online life, with a wry and sarcastic sense of humor, and less of an emphasis on the usual celebrity stuff that drags down a lifestyle blog.

I don’t remember how I got hooked on it — maybe some cross-posting from Boing-Boing or Wired or something. But I started following it religiously in 2010 or 2011, reading every day, commenting frequently, sometimes deep-drilling on research when I read a story that interested me. And I always kept it on my distant radar that I’d try to write something to publish there, some nonfiction or memoir piece, maybe a smarmy cultural analysis thing, I don’t know.

I think one thing that did come out of that was that in that 2011, 2012 timeframe, I blogged a lot more here, and was probably influenced by The Awl to write more article-like things. That always happens, through osmosis or kleptomania, maybe a mix of both. I was writing a lot in general then, trying to find a way to restart a mostly-dormant writing career that hadn’t released a real book since 2002. I didn’t want to be a journalist, didn’t want to fall into that “new media” category or anything, but it shows in a lot of my writing here that I was influenced heavily by that. (Go read an old post like The Death of Death and tell me I wasn’t reading The Awl when I wrote that.)

Another big takeaway for me as I think back over the last ten years of The Awl is how it fed some need to be a New York expatriate, in a weird way. I left Manhattan four or five years before that, which is six lifetimes in New York time, but I had some distant nostalgia for the city then. Magnify this even further by the fact that I started remotely working for a New York company in 2010, and would occasionally find myself in town again, but would also virtually be in the city every day. Reading stories about the hyper-gentrification and strange politics and book gossip and the struggles of living on The Big Smear partly satisfied that need for me, at least a little.

Like all online properties, The Awl got stupid at one point a few years ago, either flipped ownership or editors or something, and the ensuing reboot just wasn’t as interesting to me. I stuck with it when I could, but it no longer became a daily read. Some of this was just the way blogs changed over time: long reads became one-page reads; articles became listicles; opinion pieces became link-bait topics. Things slowly morphed as ads dominated page layout, comment sections vanished, and it went from being a bunch of cool kids exchanging smarmy jokes to a… well, whatever it became. Not really a blog anymore.

I’ve been in my head a lot lately about what’s going to happen when Facebook dies – that’s another article I’ve been meaning to write for a bit. And it makes me think a lot about the cycle of life of these web properties, like SomethingAwful or Fark or Digg or whatever. I know there are things that I used to use daily and then somehow abandoned, and I always wonder why they lost critical mass with me, and with everybody. When did everyone make a conscious decision to stop using MySpace? Was it because Facebook was so much better, or was it because everyone else stopped using it?

And it makes me think a lot about what the next thing will be. I am trying to make more of a conscious effort to blog here, because I will always have this blog, and can always keep going. But I’m shouting into the darkness here, and there’s no network around this, no way for me to follow others, draw in new readers, find like minds, or whatever. This is a single silo, connected to nothing. That’s fine by me, but it’s not the solution for others. Other people won’t blog. They aren’t idiots like me.

And I don’t know shit about how to make money on this, and I never run ads here or strategize some grand scheme, like picking focused topics and trending keywords and how to flip these posts into a book proposal that will get me a deal, blah blah blah. This also is not a way for me to sell books — my writing here is much different than the writing in my books, and I’m a horrible marketer, so who knows what works. So I can’t pull the “I made a million dollars blogging and you can too!” scheme to get the rest of you creative and interesting folks to entertain me by writing your own blogs.

But yeah — the death of a blog like The Awl makes me think the trend is going in the wrong direction, and that’s frustrating. I feel like I have the lifelong dream of opening an indoor shopping mall in the Midwest, then getting in the car and cruising around the dying remains of the malls of Indiana and Ohio and Pennsylvania. It’s depressing. It makes me wonder what is next.

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An extended shitpost about how I am too old to play video games

I have been wasting an inordinate amount of time playing X-Plane 11 on my Mac. I’m not very good at it. It’s a flight simulator and not an arcade game, so it’s much more about trying to flip every switch in a ten-page long takeoff checklist for a 737-800 and less about stick-and-rudder type antics. It’s honestly very boring and unrewarding. I still play it, though.

Probably the most boring thing I do is put a Cessna at the South Bend airport, then go through every air traffic step to take off, setting a flight plan to fly to Elkhart Municipal airport. This is an 18-mile drive if you’re in a car, and Google says it is a 31-minute trip, but if you speed and don’t run into an asshole Elkhart County sheriff trying to make quota, it’s like twenty, twenty-five.

It takes like an hour to fly this at 120 knots. Part of that is that you have to taxi across the entire 9R/27L runway, a mile and a half, and then sit around while three other planes in front of you take off. Then, instead of flying eighteen miles straight east to the Elkhart airport, ATC will route you about five miles east of Elkhart and sixteen miles south, then you swing around the city in a big sixteen-mile box, waiting for everyone else to land. And I know for a fact that three planes have never landed in a row at KEKM since the airplane has been invented, but you still have to wait. When it’s clear, you can then do another big box to approach from the south and land on the north-south runway. (This runway doesn’t have ILS though, or maybe I keep missing it, so I always have landed manually, which sort of defeats the purpose of the ILS flight in the first place.) This all on autopilot, so all you’re doing is adjusting one knob every fifteen minutes and listening to the radio.

The real challenge with X-Plane is that even with the highest-end MacBook Pro currently available, it still looks like shit. I see pictures from people with decked-out Windows machines, with thousand-dollar video cards and terabytes of photorealistic scenery, and it almost looks real. And then I start thinking, maybe I need to build another machine, a Windows machine with all gaming hardware, and then I realize I would waste hours and hours of time fucking with NVidia driver updates and blow three or four grand and still be flying from one regional airport to another. (And never mind that it’s currently impossible to buy a high-end GPU, because everyone is hoarding them to mine bitcoin. Seriously, a video card that cost $200 around Thanksgiving would probably fetch a grand on eBay, if you could even find one.)

I really want to play DCS World, which looks impressive in the trailers, but once again, it would require a PC I do not have and do not want to build. And keep in mind, I’m talking about spending thousands of dollars to build a machine that would prevent me from writing, so this is especially stupid.

Yesterday, I went on Steam because I heard about some new game that’s free to play where you fly planes, called War Thunder or War Kill or War Fucker or something, I forget what. It looked interesting, ran on the Mac, and it was free, so I clicked play, and it proceeded to download twenty gigs of installer to my machine. Twenty or forty minutes later, it started asking me to map 47 different buttons and axes on my joystick, which was overwhelming. Then it started me in a training thing, which was semi-impossible for me. Then it threw me into a battle.

I guess with this game, you can play as a plane or a tank, and there are these massive online battles where tanks mass at a border and shoot at each other, and then planes fly overhead, dogfighting. And I think tanks can shoot overhead, and planes can strafe ground objects. Because I was level 0, the game basically gave me a Wright Brothers biplane from 1903 with a pellet gun under the wing. I flew around slowly, in big turns, and there were tiny dots on the horizon, people barrel rolling and flying at almost the speed of sound in Mustangs and Messerschmitts. I fired my pellet gun at some microscopic things on the ground, and was immediately shot down.

I was then given opportunities to spam my Facebook friends to get coins or gold or bucks or something, which if I collected like a thousand and got some daily bonus, I could upgrade my pellet gun from .177 caliber to .22 caliber. I think if I did this seven days in a row, it moved up to a ten-pump BB gun. I would basically have to quit my job and play full time to get up to the worst US fighter from the beginning of the war with no guns, maybe by the end of 2018. And I’d have to buy some loot boxes or gold chests or whatever else.

After a minute, I got thrown into the game. I think my pellet gun hit a tank once, then I was immediately shot down. A fourteen-year-old popped open a chat window and offered several slurs related to my possible choice of a sexual partner, in which I would assume the role of the woman. I got back in long enough to run out of pellet gun ammunition and then crash into a tree. I was then returned to a hanger, which offered more opportunities to buy doubloons or upgrades or something, at which point I disconnected and deleted the game. My carpal tunnel wrist is still killing me, and I still have books to write. I’ll probably reinstall it next weekend.

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Sears

Yeah, so that Sears in Marin I posted about? It’s on the new closing list. I think it has until April. I should probably go take more pictures, but the last trip was so depressing, it’s probably not worth it.

One of the other Sears store on the new closing list is the one in Shoreline, WA. I have a specific history with that one. In 1996, I was talking to this woman who lived in Southwest Washington, and she was going to be in Seattle to stay with some friends, in Shoreline. We agreed to meet for lunch, and for some reason, the meeting place was that Sears. I think it was the only public landmark I could think of in that area. Anyway, yada yada, and I ended up dating her for the next year and a half.

I really shopped at that store — it was sort of dumpy, and in a weird part of town. The part of Shoreline that is on the water is very affluent, with a golf course and lots of multimillion dollar houses looking out at the water. But the row of stores on Aurora — I think there used to be an outdoor mall in the area, and it was gone, and sort of isolated. The one thing I remember is that the inside of that store vaguely reminded me of the Sears in University Park Mall, in Mishawaka, Indiana.

The UP Sears is not closing. The thing I remember about that one — in my senior year of high school, someone called in a bomb threat right before first hour. When I was driving into the parking lot, firemen were waving people away, telling us to go home. So I drove to the mall in South Bend. It wasn’t open, so I slept in my car for a few hours, and then cut through Sears to go to the record store, because the Joe Satriani EP Dreaming #11 came out that day, and I had to buy it. I don’t know why I so clearly remember walking through that Sears, or why it looked different to me, but it’s a very vivid memory, thirty years later.

The Sears I would have compared that one to would be the one in Pierre Moran mall, in Elkhart, which closed last year. The entire mall was de-malled a dozen years ago, but the Sears remained. Ray’s girlfriend (now wife) worked there forever. I was also friends with someone who worked in the design department there, and used to go visit her, so I was somewhat familiar with the insides of the store, although it was enemy territory for me, being a Wards employee.

The Sears in Bloomington is completely gone, which is weird. The mall lives on, but the Sears was completely leveled, and a grocery store is going in there. That would be a sad thing for me to see, because I always parked in front of that Sears when I went to the mall. I think I parked in front of it the first time I went there, in the summer of 1989. I remember going there with a then-girlfriend in a cab so she could pick up one of those Brother word processors she ordered from their catalog, which really dates me.

Another closing last year was the Sears in Lynwood, WA, at the Alderwood mall. That was a frequent stop for me, because the aforementioned girlfriend moved to an apartment not too far away. I had a car at her place once that needed some work done, and it was a long weekend of wrenching on it, then realizing I didn’t have a good breaker bar or a metric socket, driving to that Sears, buying tools, going back and breaking a socket, returning to Sears to exchange it on that wonderful Craftsman unlimited warranty, repeat a few more times.

Also, Alderwood has strange memories for me because I used to shop there all the time, and the day before I left Seattle, I went there in my one-way rental car to buy some last-minute stuff, and ate one of my last Seattle meals there at the Uno pizza in the food court, which is so revolting and horrible and last-minute, but there you go. (The Uno is now gone, too. Probably a good thing.)

I feel dumb for obsessing over dead malls and retail, and nostalgia in general is such a high-carb k-hole for me to stumble down, with little reward and a lot of depression. But I keep doing it. I’m looking forward to the weather improving so I don’t have to walk indoors anymore.

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The Other Northgate

Had the day off yesterday, and I’m still trying to keep this walking thing going, but the weather’s a bit off here. (Not as bad as it is in the Midwest, but still.) I’m getting bored of the usual malls, so I decided to head to a new one out in Marin, which is oddly named Northgate.

Why “oddly?” Well, Seattle’s big mall is named Northgate. It’s one of the oldest indoor malls in the country. Now owned by Simon, it has had several major expansions and remodels, plus the area surrounding it has grown considerably. I spent a lot of time there during my Seattle years, and it was more or less my default mall.

The Northgate mall in San Rafael is a little different. It’s actually pretty close to my place, maybe a thirty-minute burn across the bridge in Richmond, and on into Marin. It’s nestled in the hills about a dozen miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, an area filled with trees, very quiet and secluded.

The mall itself is not huge: a single floor, about 700,000 square feet, a lot of that being in the three anchors. It’s a corridor mall, a single straight shot, with a few dozen stores. It’s clear this used to be two rows of stores, with a hasty roof thrown over the middle to enclose the center. The interior still feels a bit exterior, with concrete floors, monstrously high ceilings, and an “open” climate to it. It’s not exactly comforting, and the concourse is not that big. It’s got two cavernous food court/common areas on the east side, each the size of an aircraft hanger, both largely empty. The interior food court is maybe four booths, and very sedate.

The anchors include a Kohl’s in a neighboring building (which I didn’t see; Kohl’s is Kohl’s), a Sears, and a Macy’s. The Sears is interesting on the outside; it looks like it was built with the original mall in 1965, and has that early Sixties light brick look, plus old-school old Sears logos in red. The interior of the two-story looked very run down, like it hadn’t been touched since 1987. It reminded me of the downtown Oakland Sears that was shuttered, gutted, and turned into office space for Uber (who have since flipped it, and it hasn’t opened, but that’s another story.) The Macy’s was okay. The rest of the stores inside were pretty uneventful.

The mall was gutted and redone in 2008, which is probably when it was given its current livery. It looks like they tried to make it look upscale, like a ski lodge, to attract high-end luxury tenants. If you read the Yelp reviews, people are nostalgic for the 90s look and population of the mall, when it had a book store, an arcade, and better fast food. The only pictures I could find of the old version of the mall look very Peak Mall, like it had been designed in 1993 or so.

One odd feature of this mall is the Century Movies theater. It is plopped down in the middle of the concourse, right before Sears. It’s almost as if they took an existing movie theater, split it in half, and kit-bashed the two pieces on either side of the hall. I was walking down the bare concrete and abandoned stores, then was suddenly on the red carpet of a movie theater, with the smell of popcorn in the air, posters for the new Star Wars all around me. Then, twenty feet later, back to concrete.

There’s also a bunch of food of the 2008 era of mall-building, perched on the west side, facing outwards. There’s all the usual suspects: Panera, Chipotle, BJ’s, Applebee’s, etc. These all seem to be doing well.

The mall was a bit of a bust for walking, although the weather was nice and sunny, so I walked outside, and that worked fine. The mall doesn’t feel like a dead mall per se, like one filled with brown tile from 1974 and a non-functional brick fountain in the middle. But it has a strange, vacant, surreal feeling to it. And who knows what will happen to it, once the Sears shutters. It’s not on the latest list, but it doesn’t look great.

Anyway. The trip was interesting, but it made me think too much about the other Northgate, which was a bit of a bummer. I haven’t been back to Seattle since 1999, and keep thinking I should visit, but I’m a bit scared to see what I will find.

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New Book:  Help Me Find My Car Keys And We Can Drive Out!

I have a new book out. It got released in the last few hours of 2017, which I now realize is the worst possible time to launch a book.

TL;DR: out now on print or kindle.

The book is titled Help Me Find My Car Keys And We Can Drive Out! If you read my zine Mandatory Laxative, this book is similar in style and structure, only it’s five times as long (and doesn’t have any artwork inside, unfortunately.) It’s a hundred pages, thirty things that range from micro-short pieces to flash to lists to almost short story length. Same absurdism as ever, and I can’t really describe it other than to say it is Konrathian.

This book was a last-second idea, because I’ve been struggling for all of 2017 to get a much larger book done, that’s sort of a sequel to Atmospheres. I wrote something like 350,000 words last year, and could not get it to click, could not get it done by December. I was really beating myself up last month, because I’ve put out at least a book a year for the last six years, and I really wanted to get something done in 2017. On the plane ride home from Milwaukee, I got the idea that I should just do another zine, but slightly longer. I throw aside super-short bits that might work for a zine, so I dug around and put together thirty pieces, and here you go. 350,000 words edited down to something like 16,000.

The odds were really against me finishing this in time. I was editing the first draft of the completed ms, and my new computer 100% died. I luckily had a backup in Crashplan, and was able to keep working on my old machine while I got the new one running again.

The cover sucks, and is supposed to suck. The editing is rough, but you get what you pay for. I’ve made this as cheap as possible, so enjoy.

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End of 2017

Just got back from Milwaukee on Thursday. This seemed like a quick trip — we were gone from Saturday to Thursday, but the whole process seemed much shorter this year, with Christmas on a Monday. Stayed at the Iron Horse hotel again, and not much to say except it was brutally cold all week, weather hovering right around the zero mark. Most of the trip was going from freezing weather to blazing and dry indoor weather. I, miraculously, did not get sick this year, maybe a first. Sarah got very sick, though. And I did not sleep all week. It was the opposite of Hawaii, where I could easily sleep twelve hours. It’s the humidity. Just got a humidifier, we’ll see how that goes.

John Sheppard did come up the day before I left, and we got to hang out for the afternoon. We went to Miller Park and ate at the TGI Friday there, ironically. The concourse was *freezing* but the restaurant itself was 90 degrees. The field was tarped off, and looked sort of like they were going to freeze it down for ice skating, but maybe it was some landscaping trick to keep the sod alive. We hit a few small book stores, and walked around Southridge Mall, which is a thriving Simon mall, albeit with a Sears that died recently. I really wish I could see the inside of Northridge, which is a similar-sized mall that went downhill and has been hermetically sealed for fifteen years. It’s supposedly getting turned into light industrial now, after a failed attempt at redevelopment by Chinese investors. Anyway.

One of the things about Milwaukee is that, like Indiana, when I’m there, it’s always freezing, and I’m on a heavy schedule of family stuff, which always involves being inside and overheated and eating. Milwaukee’s probably an interesting city, but I’ve never really seen much of it. I think I’ve been there twice when it wasn’t frozen, and once was my wedding, which was the definition of overbooked obligations. Not complaining, but I wouldn’t mind spending some time there off-schedule when it’s nice out. I did that for the first time in a long time in South Bend a few years ago, and it reminded me how much different it is than obligatory Christmas visits.

On that new MacBook Pro: had it on the road, wrote all week, no problems. The day after I got home, it shut down overnight, and when I went to restart it, it was 100% bricked. No battery, no power, tried multiple adaptors, reset the SMC, nothing, nothing, nothing. Completely dead. I had, thankfully, backed it up to a bootable clone when we got home, and the two files I’d been using for writing were on Crashplan, so no data loss. Apple swapped me out with another brand new machine, and three hours of copying later, I’m back up and running.

So, hate to sound like a broken record: BACK UP YOUR MACHINE.

Anyway, end of 2017. Didn’t blog enough. Didn’t finish that big book. I did manage to exercise every day, and I’m proud of that. 4512 floors and 1,266.79 miles this year. I also tried to log everything I ate, and did that until Thanksgiving, then had some technical issues and decided to take the rest of the year off. No real weight loss this year, but no weight gain either, and I think it helped me to stay a little bit sane.

My only real resolutions this year are to pay less attention to the news, blog more, and write more.

No plans tonight. Something is slipping in just under the radar, so stay tuned. (Some of you know what I’m talking about.)

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