The Koncast Episode 2: The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day, Dead Malls

The second episode of The Koncast is now live.

In this episode, I talk to Jessica Anshutz about the history of The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day, and dead malls of the midwest.

Here’s the direct link: http://koncast.libsyn.com/episode-2-the-same-picture-of-jon-konrath-every-day-dead-malls

Don’t forget to subscribe in iTunes here, and visit the podcast site at thekoncast.com. Also, go add us on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/koncast/

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Introducing: The Koncast

So, I’ve got a new project that’s been brewing for a little while, and the first episode just went live.

It is called THE KONCAST.

TL;DR: thekoncast.com

It is a podcast. Yes, everyone has a podcast now. It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time. Back when I used to commute into Silicon Valley every day, I would spend 2, 3, 4 hours a day in my car, and Audible books would put me to sleep. (This one is good, though.) I got started with podcasts back when they actually involved an iPod, when cell phones were still clam-shell things that involved pressing a key four times to get one letter in a text message. I spent a lot of time listening to Adam Carolla, then Joe Rogan, finally getting hooked on Marc Maron. I liked the comedy and the people interviewed, but most of all I liked the conversation. I liked hearing people talk for an hour, liked hearing something unfold in long format, in an interview that wasn’t just morning zoo three-jokes-plug-product-done.

That’s also the reason I liked blogging, and really got into reading personal blogs ten or fifteen years ago. You got a certain insight into people by hearing their stories. I would spend hours back in the day reading a person’s LiveJournal, their long posts about their drama, or old journal-style blogs about a person’s band or home town or whatever. That stuff was awesome. But now it’s gone. People post a meme or an emoji or a selfie and move on. Nothing wrong with memes, but the life isn’t there anymore.

So I don’t read any blogs anymore, because they are all dead. Hell, I barely talk to people anymore on the phone. Other than work and parental check-ins, I think I’ve had two or three conversations on the phone this year. I used to spend entire days talking to people long distance, burning through a new MCI card, catching up with people across the country. I don’t get to do that anymore, and I wish I could.

So, a few things clicked together recently. First, I was on Hangin’ With Old Lew, which is a podcast that an old writing buddy Joshua Citrak does. Even though we both live in the bay area, we’ve only been hanging out virtually, clicking ‘like’ on various posts or whatever, but his podcast pulled me into the studio so we could spend some time talking shit. And that was a lot of fun, something I wanted to do more.

Second, I saw the movie Uncle Howard. It’s by Aaron Brookner, about his uncle Howard Brookner, who shot a movie about William S. Burroughs back in the late 70s/early 80s. Howard Brookner died of AIDS in 1989, and Aaron barely knew him or his background, since he was just a kid then. So he went back a few years ago to restore this film (I did the Kickstarter for this, which was great) and in the course of this work, he found a treasure trove of old artifacts in the Burroughs bunker in New York: VHS tapes, audio recordings, pictures, reels of old film, notes. It contained tons of shots of the Lower East Side in the Seventies, video of Zappa and Warhol and everyone from the Beat movement, audio tapes of Ginsberg rambling on in restaurants, tons and tons of documentation.

And that is something I wish I had more of. I think about how I could have been taping ideas onto cassettes, how I have almost no pictures of the Nineties, how I owned a camcorder and never recorded my first reading in Boston. And I save emails, but nobody emails anymore. When it is 2027 and I’m thinking back to the then-to-be-dead Facebook era and the people I knew, how will I remember them? What will be left?

Also, I had a bunch of Amazon credits from my rewards Visa card burning a hole in my pocket, and really want to buy some expensive gear.

So, podcast. I will be talking to other writers, bloggers, musicians, whoever has a story or wants to ramble on with me about the past or about writing or anything else. I’ve got the gear to record two people in person, but I’ve also got a setup to record people remotely over the computer. Me and John Sheppard are going to belt out a bunch of these, and I’ve also recorded one with Jessica Anshutz, with more planned. A few people are in the pipeline. The plan is to go biweekly, the first and the fifteenth of the month. I don’t know how long I’ll do this or how much of a time sink it will become, but it has been fun so far.

THE DETAILS:

Go to thekoncast.com (also known as http://koncast.libsyn.com)

The first episode is with John Sheppard, where we talk about zines, the early history of Paragraph Line Books, how we met, and the birth of self-publishing: http://koncast.libsyn.com/episode-1-zines-paragraph-line-and-why-we-write

You can listen to them in a player on those web pages, or click the download link to get an MP3 and then play it at your leisure with whatever program.

The easiest way to handle that automatically is to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. You can do that here.

If you’re on an Android phone, I’m told you can use Google Play to do this. (I don’t have one so I don’t know how it works.) It’s located in Google Play here.

There is also the Stitcher app, which has it available here.

Goes without saying that you should also rate and review on those respective stores and whatnot, and tell all your friends.

Also, go add us on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/koncast/

In the future, I’ll be auto-posting links to new shows here, so stay tuned for those. Let me know what you think. And yes, I’m looking for more people to interview, so drop a line.

 

 

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Donald Cried (2016)

Donald Cried is a film in the “you can never go back” camp, but it’s also more about the estranged relationship between two friends who were inseparable as teenagers, but took completely different paths into adulthood.

Originally a short by independent filmmaker Kris Avedisian, this was expanded to a feature-length affair with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign. The film starts with the protagonist Peter returning to his home town in Rhode Island to handle the affairs of his recently deceased grandmother. He left the small town a dozen years before, and went to New York City to reinvent himself, forget his past, and work on Wall Street. The problem with his quick overnight trip: he’s lost his wallet, so he’s stuck at his grandmother’s old house with no cash, no ID, and a to-do list of funeral home, nursing home, realtor, and everything else involved in closing the last of his involvement with his old life.

With no other options, he turns to his last lifeline, and meets up with his old pal Donald, who he hasn’t seen since high school. Donald is a stoner dropout who lives in his mom’s attic, works part-time at a bowling alley, and is the opposite of Peter, stuck at the same point he was back in the glory days of high school. We quickly find out that Peter was once cut from the same cloth, and had the same love of heavy metal and juvenile delinquency. Peter just needs a ride to pick up his grandma’s ashes and empty out her nursing home, plus a few bucks for bus fare back to the city. Donald is ecstatic about the triumphant return of his old friend. Antics ensue.

I always have a certain nervousness when returning back to Indiana, and that’s captured too well in this film. It’s a mixture of “this could have been me” and flashbacks of the past that bring out the “man, I was an idiot back then.” My nostalgia issues are a bit contrary to Peter’s in the film, though. He’s trying to remain unseen, and not get entangled in the past. For example, the realtor he gets is a woman he went to school with, and that he had some feelings for back in the day, but he initially acts as if he doesn’t remember who she is at all. I’m not saying I seek out people and reunite with them (I did have an ex-girlfriend sighting at a mall a few years ago, and I ducked in another store to escape) but I do seem to seek out old landmarks and get too mentally involved with the ghosts of the past.

The real star of this movie is Avedisian, who plays the character of Donald. He’s this lanky, bearded guy with an awkward Ray Romano-sounding voice and a Keith Moon haircut, and he’s completely cringe-worthy in his total lack of a filter. This starts as a truly hilarious character, like a Mark Borchardt from American Movie, except with no ambition to make films. At first, he’s just the funny guy to the straight guy, but then you become sympathetic to him, feel sorry for him. My feelings bounced between “wow, what is with this dude” to “wow, how could Peter help this dude get his shit together.” And the latter is a strong one for my personal experience, so it really got me.

The small town setting was also big for me. Warwick isn’t a “small” town — it’s the second-biggest city in Rhode Island. But, it’s only 80,000 people, and what is captured in the film is the small town feeling of cruising at night, bowling alleys and convenience stores, little houses, and that feeling that a lot of people never leave, never forget high school, never move on. The duo go, on Donald’s insistence, to visit another one of their high school buddies. When they get there, he’s sitting in bed, unmoving, watching cage fighting matches on TV, like he’s never left the house in fifteen years. Or there’s the bowling alley manager, a burly guy actually played by former WWF wrestler Ted Arcidi, who’s in his office showing a teenaged cashier his grainy VHS tapes of when he used to be a powerlifter back in the Eighties and could bench 700 pounds. It’s an interesting backdrop, and really sets up why Peter left, and why it is such a strange yet compelling place to visit.

Overall, I have only one big problem with this film: I wanted to write a book that was almost exactly this. I started outlining it two years ago, when I went back to Indiana for a weekend. I had the backdrop, and I thought I had the characters. But I never could quite break the story correctly. And Avedisian showed me that I really didn’t have the depth needed to get the characters down. I gave up on the idea a while ago, and now I’m stuck on the thought that I really should do something with it, but of course if I started working on it, I’d unconsciously ape exactly what he did.

Anyway, it’s on iTunes for rent right now. Not for everyone, but I found it pretty entertaining.

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Jesus’ Son

Denis Johnson died on Wednesday. The other night, I picked up a copy of Jesus’ Son and plowed through it before bed. I imagine a lot of other writers did the same this week. Some vague thoughts:

  • I have a tiny pocket-sized version of the book I bought at City Lights a year or two ago. It’s like a little Gideon bible, which works well for this book. I have this one oddball shelf next to my bed that’s too short for anything but pocket books, and so it’s always sitting in there and I’ll always pick it up and read a page or two when I’m bored of everything else.
  • I have another paperback of the book I bought in 2006. I’d never read it before, and John Sheppard urged me to, so I bought a copy and took it with me on a hot summer trip to Milwaukee, the first trip I took back there with my wife. Now, the eleven stories are twisted in my head with early memories of going to Wisconsin.
  • The eleven stories are about a guy only referred to by his nickname, Fuckhead. He is the main character of the book, but he seems like the guy that would be dumb sidekick in a group of friends, the one who is always made fun of and exploited by the group, but who still tags along and takes the abuse for whatever reason. And you’d normally never see his inner story in a piece of fiction about the others in the group, the ones who would call him Fuckhead, but in this book, you do see how he’s battling his inner demons and how he’s abused himself as the world abuses him. And that’s always been a strong reverberation for me, not only because Johnson writes about the forgotten character like this, but because I am always the Fuckhead of any group.
  • Johnson was a poet before he tackled prose, and it shows. This book is an almost perfect example of minimalism, in the efficiency of his writing. The 160-some pages of the volume seem short, but so much is packed within, so much emotion and depth.
  • The one criticism I have of the book is that it’s so commonly aped by a school of writing, and nobody can get to this level of craftsmanship. It looks like it would be deceptively easy to brain-dump stories of addiction, abortion, vagrancy, and failure in a similar fashion. But Johnson’s work isn’t about any of that, as much as it is about humanity that happens to have those things happening.
  • There are so many short bits in here that are stuck in my head, that pop up randomly. The guy in the bar who said he was Polish but he was really from Cleveland. The one-eyed guy who came to the ER with a knife stuck in the other eye. Stripping wiring from a vacant house, and the crowbar pried loose the drywall “with a noise like old men coughing.”
  • There are bits that also remind me of things in my past, and the two get twisted together. I remember driving home late at night from a party in South Bend, and being the first to arrive at a car crash on highway 33. A guy had been asleep in the back seat, no shirt on, the middle of winter, and woke up on the side of the road. I gave him my leather jacket until the ambulance showed up to cut out the driver, listened to him ramble about how he didn’t know what happened. When I read the first story, “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” it reminds me of that strange episode, where the feelings from one and the facts to the other meld together.
  • There’s also a run in the second half of the book that takes place in Seattle, in the dive bars of 1st Ave. He talks about crashing at the library, the long street going from  Pill Hill and the hospitals, down the hill to the old joints in Pioneer Square. This is where I used to live, in First Hill, and all of his landmarks line up with my old memories.
  • The connections between the eleven stories is random, dreamlike. No time is wasted interconnecting the prose in a linear fashion. The reader is left to reassemble the scenes into a narrative, and it gives it a fluidity most story collections would not have.
  • I can sit down and read the 160 pages of Jesus’ Son in an evening before bed, but it will continue to haunt me for a week or two. I think that’s what makes it so perfect.

Lots of stuff about Denis Johnson on the web this weekend. Probably my favorite quote I ran across is how he would never read his reviews. He said, “A bad review is like one of those worms in the Amazon that swims up your penis. If you read it, you can’t get it out, somehow.” I need to keep that in mind.

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Hangin’ With Old Lew Episode 30: “Alleged Pullout Game”

I made my return to the Hangin’ With Old Lew podcast this week! I am on episode 30, “Alleged Pullout Game”

In this episode we talked a bunch about the audiobook version of Atmospheres. We also talked about the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders, growing up in Elkhart, Indiana, Shawn Kemp, Fast and the Furious, Ludacris as a multi-dimensional time rapper, alternate John Conner, so real vs. surreal, and why Marvel movies suck.

There’s also one of the segments from the Atmospheres audio book — about a five-minute chunk — in there for your listening pleasure. You can hear that an actual pro recorded it, and not my stupid voice with a PlayStation headset or whatever.

Check it out here:

iTunes; http://buff.ly/2pqwqrT

Google Play: http://buff.ly/2qjX4Qw

DO IT

 

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This site is now twenty years old.

What were you doing twenty years ago?

I was living in Seattle. Working on the west shore of Lake Union. Working on two different books, but years from finishing either. I’d done a paper zine that had petered out after a half-dozen issues, and had a personal web site I’d been running for three or four years, but it was mostly just links and had no real content.

That was one of my gripes in the early days of the web: there were very few sites with actual content. Most personal web sites were just a list of links elsewhere, and maybe a person’s resume. There were a few sites focused on content, but there were no real go-to places for people generating their own content. This was obviously long before Facebook or Twitter, but it was also before Blogger or LiveJournal. It was years before the concept of blogs was even born.

In that mid/late-90s time, there were online diaries. People would hack together their own diaries online, on services like GeoCities or Angelfire, and write daily about their life. It was very much the wild west, and you had to do the heavy lifting yourself, getting an index to work, links and other things. This was before CSS was practical, before PHP was really used (PHP 2.0 wouldn’t ship for another six months) and when tables and frames had just become standardized enough to use regularly across all browsers. But, some people did it. Just to give you an idea of volume: Open Pages ran a web ring for diarists, and was by far the most popular. In 1998, they had 537 members. In 1997, there were just over a million web pages on the entire web, with about 120 million users. Now, there are about 1.2 billion web pages, and 3.2 billion users. The web was a much smaller place then.

I kept a paper diary every day, and had for a few years. I didn’t want to put this online, but I did want to have a place to talk about whatever. I did this a bit with my zine, but it took some work to put out each issue. I figured I could do something where I could write every day, and immediately put it live. I ate lunch in my office by myself every day, and I wanted something to do besides work on these books which would not see the light of day for years.

At the time, I had a site running from my account at the Speakeasy internet cafe, which was at speakeasy.org/~jkonrath. With the help of my friend Bill Perry, I wrote a little scrap of emacs code so I could fire up the emacs editor, hit Control-X Control-J, and be dumped into a new file with today’s date plus .html as the filename. I could then write in it, save it, and it would be live on the web site. I then wrote a little C program that would crawl through the files and create an HTML index, which I put in a left-side frame. (Yes, frames. Does anyone even remember that evil shit?)

I wrote for a few years, with a few breaks here and there, and the idea was just a simple diary, of day-to-day stuff. There was no central theme, and maybe this was lack of ambition, or that I already had these books as my main project, and all I was doing was documenting my thought process. Some people started larger projects, like writing a series of essays and stories so their diary was more of a lit journal, or keeping on a theme and creating something that was more akin to a TV show or a “real” web site, like actual journalism. I didn’t want to do that.

This reminded me of the zine world, and how it got huge and then fell apart in the Nineties. A lot of people made zines because it was all they could do in their pre-internet small town: go to the photocopy shop and xerox a bunch of stuff to mail to people. But some people wanted to compete with the larger publications, and tried to make their zines look more like the glossy mags. So they spent thousands of dollars on offset printing, and getting office space, and getting distribution into book stores, and it went from becoming a zine to becoming a business. It killed the spirit of DIY zines.

This is what happened when the word “blog” was invented, and some heat was applied to the market. People went from this DIY ethic to doing it for the money. Blog-to-book deals happened. People started political blogs to compete with (or be ahead of) sites like CNN. Movie rights were sold. People became celebrities. Ads were everywhere. Blogs became A Thing.

And, I kept puttering away. I moved to New York. I started publishing books. And my entries became longer and more focused, but they were still about memories and nostalgia and gripes and travel and whatever else.

LiveJournal was invented. And Blogger, and Blogspot, and WordPress, and Friendster, and MySpace, and Facebook, and Twitter. A flood of new content happened, but the bar was greatly lowered. It went from long essay writing to short update writing to very short link sharing to 140 characters to nothing but a picture or an emoji. Writing writing vanished.

I kept plugging away, although my other projects took up more and more of my time. I should look up the exact metrics – there are just over 1200 published posts now, which over 20 years, is something like once every six days. But, it’s going a bit slower now – I think we’re going on 100 days in 2017, and I’ve only got 17 entries so far. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I never know what to write here anymore. I feel like writing about the day-to-day seems dumb, and people don’t want to hear about it. There’s some heavy self-censorship going on there, because of the general change in what we do online, and that feeling of futility that nobody is reading this anyway. But, I’ve kept going.

The rumored.com web domain started late in 1998. This was moved to Pair.com around then. I slowly made improvements to my duct tape infrastructure, but in 2009, gave up and moved everything to WordPress. Originally, the site was just called my journal, no real name. Then it got the name Tell Me a Story About the Devil. Then, around the beginning of 2011, I started calling it The Wrath of Kon. And here we are.

As I mentioned, there’s about 1200 entries, for a word count of just over a million, something like War and Peace plus Infinite Jest.

So, twenty years. There’s no reason for me to stop at this point, so let’s see what happens in the future.

BTW: if you want to read my favorite entries from over the years, go here: http://rumored.com/tag/favorites/

 

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Death of an office

I found out about this a bit ago, but my old Samsung office was bulldozed and replaced recently, which is strangely nostalgic. I took an electronics class last year with a guy who worked at the architecture firm that did the new building, and heard all about the grand scrape and replacement.

I started working there in the fall of 2008, when Silicon Valley was very different. It was only a few years ago, but it was after the crash, and nobody was hiring. Traffic has nearly doubled in the last five years, and this was before that boom started. I was living in LA when I got hired at Samsung — I’d been spamming out resumes for months, and it was one of the few pings I hit. Tech writers are usually last in/first out, so it wasn’t easy landing something then. But I did, and I moved to South San Francisco, and started the 101 commute every day to San Jose.

Prior to moving here, I had specific mental images of Silicon Valley, mostly formed by living far away from it, romanticizing the idea of working in the heart of the technology world. Twenty years before, I idolized these Bay Area companies like Apple and Sun and NeXT and Silicon Graphics, and thought about what it would have been like to work in one of those office parks in Palo Alto or Mountain View. And I’d been in the Bay Area twice for work related things, once in 1996, and again in 2006. Both times, I remember driving on the 101 and seeing the big headquarters of these tech giants and wondering what it must be like in those buildings, hacking code or plugging wires into servers in an air-conditioned machine room.

When you spend time in San Jose, you see the obvious new construction, the giant glass and steel buildings that have popped up everywhere. It seems like half of them belong to Cisco, and the other half belong to companies you’ve never even heard of. Because a company like Fujitsu might make the hard drive, but a dozen other companies made the little pieces or sensors or wrote the patents for the storage technology. I eventually learned a little more about these companies, either because I had coworkers who came from them, or because everyone had this ubiquitous cartoon map of Silicon Valley with icons of every big tech firm on it.

What fascinated me more was the layer under that layer, the old San Jose, the scraps and remains of the city from the Seventies and earlier. You’d occasionally see little bits of it peeking through: a Chinese restaurant that never remodeled; an apartment building that never got gentrified into condos; a back side of a building that never got repainted. I had a strange nostalgia for this era I never saw, like when Atari was still king and still had factories in Sunnyvale cranking out 2600 consoles. Or there used to be plenty of computer stores, back when people wire-wrapped and hand-built their 8-bit machines from bare chips and boards. I’d see vestigial pieces of that, like when I’d go to Fry’s Electronics and see more than just shrink-wrapped Dell Laptops for sale.

So Samsung, or at least the division I worked for, was in this series of brick buildings on First and Tasman that looked like every generic two-story medical office building built in 1974 you’d find in a Chicagoland suburb. There were three near-identical buildings: a big one with a lunch room, conference areas, and a reception hall full of display cases of new technology Samsung invented or whatever. Then there were two other buildings, totally identical, of just offices. I worked in one of those.

My building was shot. It looked like this old Seventies Silicon Valley, with wood trim and bright red brick and a vibe that screamed 1978. And I don’t think anything had been updated since then. No two acoustic ceiling tiles were the same shade of yellow, and the desks looked like they had been hauled out of a storage facility from the Mad Men era. I later found that management of the various Samsung labs took great pride in how little they spent per employee, each one trying to get as low of a per-seat investment as possible to maximize profits.

I basically lived in that office for the year and a half I worked there. I’d go in early to beat the traffic, and often end up stuck at my desk until well after dinner, or later. I was close to the dozen or so people on my team, because we went to war together. We ate every meal together, went to endless meetings, worked on our projects for hundreds and thousands of hours, and spent forever in that dreary, fluorescent-lit cube farm.

And then I left. I got another job, which I wrote about here a long time ago. Then I started working from home, and never spent any time on the peninsula or in the South Bay anymore. And I didn’t think much about that place until I’d heard about it being demolished.

The new building is very typical — I feel like Samsung saw the new Apple spaceship campus going up, and said “Oh yeah? Well, check this shit out…” and threw together their own monstrosity of a headquarters. It’s supposed to be a hip new open-concept thing, and it looks like an East German propaganda headquarters. The building takes up every square inch of the footprint of the old place. I always think of SV campuses as having a laid-back look with landscaping and thick green lawns and big parking lots and trees, then the building, a hundred or two feet from the road. But this is like inches from the sidewalk. And the last thing you’d want there is an open plan, because everyone spends all day screaming in Korean on their speaker phones.

And it’s weird, but some of the strongest memories I have of that place are pacing around that parking lot on my cell phone. I could never take calls at my desk, so any time anything important happened, I went downstairs and walked around the lot with my phone in hand. Like I remember talking to my dad when my uncle Mike died, and I have vivid memories of that conversation, walking back and forth among the sea of identical Hyundai cars. I also remember sneaking out to have phone interviews with other companies when I was planning my escape. The parking lot is now gone, but every other building on the street has the old layout, which makes the new building look even more strange.

I was also talking to a coworker about the fate of our team. We worked on a developer program for a phone OS that does not exist anymore. The site is gone, the team is gone, and every trace of every thing we shipped has vanished from the web. I don’t think anything of consequence was ever developed from our SDK. The entire division is technically gone, since Samsung Telecommunications America merged into Samsung Electronics America. Ultimately, this happens with everything in life. But it happened so fast here, and that’s par for the course.

Above all, I’m mad I didn’t find out about the demolition. I would have loved to take a few swings at that place with a sledge hammer. Oh well.

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v/a

  • JC Penney announced they are closing like 140 stores, which sounds like a lot, but they have over a thousand locations, and looking at the list, a bunch of these are rural locations, like where they have a few thousand feet of a store in a town of 800 people and it’s been there a hundred years. So, duh. They do, like every other retail store, have serious problems going down, though.
  • The store at Hilltop mall in Richmond is closing. I went the other day to check it out, and the store itself is not in that bad of shape. The rest of that mall is utter desolation, though. And once JCP closes, I have no idea how they will keep going.
  • That mall vaguely reminds me of Scottsdale mall, which used to be in South Bend, which I used to visit a lot in the year I went to school there. The interior looks a little more elaborate, in shape. But the entrances have the same heavy wood trim around them. It’s enough to launch me into a huge nostalgia k-hole for 1990-1991, which I do not want to do.
  • The store in Pleasanton is not closing. And the ones at University Park and Concord malls back in Indiana are not closing, either.
  • Concord’s construction hasn’t been happening yet – they have been focused on replacing the Martin’s grocery store with a new one (which has happened) and replacing the one outbuilding store with a new big box JoAnn fabric store. So the mall itself may exist for the 2017 holiday season (if you call the current state existing.)
  • The parking lot of that Martin’s is where my Plymouth Turismo blew up in 1991. Random fact: both Rumored to Exist and Atmospheres end in that parking lot, in a fictionalized way.
  • I feel bad for JC Penney in a strange way. When I worked at Ward’s, I used to hate Sears, although that was stupid Pepsi/Coke, Apple/Android sort of hate, which is useless. But I was oddly neutral to JCP, maybe because we were in the same mall, or because there was less overlap in what they sold. (I.e. they didn’t have a paint department.)
  • It’s odd to think that department stores will most likely completely vanish within my lifetime. I never anticipated that when I was a kid. I would have taken a lot more photos.
  • It’s also odd to think my nephews (who are five) will probably never know what a phone booth is.
  • Also odd how much I used pay phones in college. Our dorms had some half-ass IU long distance plan that was like 1-900 prices, so it was way cheaper to get a Sprint card and call from a phone booth. It was more private, too. The dorms and places like the Student Union had sit-down phone booths. Ours were this ornate wood from the beginning of last century, and I remember many important/stupid phone calls that took place in them.
  • I should probably sneak in another fitness update, but not much is going on. I’m about the same weight, although I dip up and down a pound or two. Still logging all food, still on a streak with daily walks.
  • I drank a couple of cans of the Surge, and they taste about the same as I remember, although they are large cans (16oz) so it throws off the whole heft and weight thing in some stupid way. Yes, I could pour it into a glass, but that’s not the point.
  • I drank a can of the stuff last week, and it gave me a very specific caffeine/sugar buzz that reminded me of when I was writing Rumored back in 1998. I don’t know why, because I already drink an inhuman amount of caffeine on a daily basis.
  • In a few weeks, this journal (blog, site, whatever) will be twenty years old. Twenty. Fuck.
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15 main influences on my writing

1) Project Blue Book Special Report 14
2) Corex codeine cough syrup
3) GG Allin
4) The movie Eraserhead 
5) The JG Ballard pamphlet “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan”
6) The Mir Hardware Heritage manual, NASA RP 1357
7) A letter from the head of the Nevada Gaming Commission explaining how to make a low-calorie Thousand Island dressing from brake fluid.
8) Those flat sheets made out of cadavers sliced into pieces at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
9) 2-oxo-1-pyrrolidineacetamide
10) The deleted scene from Apocalypse Now where Marlon Brando eats five canned hams raw in the jungle
11) The band Sleep
12) The David Lee Roth book Crazy From the Heat
13) Mark Leyner
14) The NTSB Aviation Database Query Page
15) NyQuil

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Surge Redux

They relaunched Surge!

I guess I wrote about this years ago (see Surge, Vault) when they half-ass relaunched Surge as Vault about ten years ago.

I used to be extremely obsessed with different sodas. I also used to weigh 250 pounds and need thousands of dollars of dental work a year. Surge was like the apex of this addiction. Seattle was a test market for Surge back in the late 90s, and I got onboard in early 1997. Then I quit soda and caffeine entirely for most of that year, and stopped drinking it. But about a year later, I fell off the wagon, starting with the occasional soda during writing sessions.

In 1998, I was going hard on the Rumored to Exist manuscript, and trying to figure out exactly what rituals would put me in the right frame of mind to finish this insane book. Like I used to write starting exactly at 9 PM, and then stop at midnight and go to the 7-Eleven on the corner of 16th and Madison to get a Coke Slurpee. And I started chipping in on the Surge during writing sessions, and managed to get a decent (although disorganized) second draft of that book done before I left for New York.

There was no Surge in New York, and no 7-Elevens at that point in time, either. I would have occasional Surge sightings – one time I had rented a car for some reason, and drove on the Long Island Expressway way the hell out to Syosset or something, and stopped at a two-pump gas station with one cooler of sodas, and they had four cans, which I hoarded. And once when I was visiting my then-girlfriend at Cornell, I went to a Wendy’s that had it on tap. But by 2001 or so, it had entirely vanished from the region. And my writing dried up after I published Rumored in 2002, although one probably doesn’t have to do with the other, except in my head. Case in point: Vault came back in 2006, and I still didn’t get shit done.

So Surge is back now, although the distribution is still spotty and weird. I haven’t seen it in stores, but it popped up on Amazon Pantry while I was shopping for other stuff, so I bought a case. It was ridiculously expensive — $14 for a dozen 16-ounce cans — and I don’t know that I can even drink all of this. Back in the old days, I’d plow through it in a few nights. But now I’m logging every calorie I consume, and 230 empty calories is a pretty big hit. I also haven’t drank soda with sugar in it for almost ten years now, aside from a few odd occasions where nothing else was available. (Like I remember stopping at a beach cafe in rural Mexico a few years ago and buying a glass-bottled Pepsi, which was miraculous after spending a few hours off-roading on ATVs.) I haven’t drank any yet, and maybe I’ll only try a can or two.

The whole episode is a strange hit of nostalgia for me. It reminds me of Seattle, of the start of New York, and I’ve been thinking a lot about Rumored lately, how it was the perfect storm of weird writing and chaos. It also makes me think about the cyclical nature of these things, how Coca-Cola seems to be hitting these things every ten years on the dot, how they have these limited markets and test runs and special windows of time. There are times I’m heavily affected by how these things from recent history just vanish, how I can never go to Garcia’s Pizza again, or go to the University Park Mall Bally’s and play Smash TV. And then I’m thrown little bits of the stuff back, like a web page about a nostalgic item, an eBay auction for a Mattel Aquarius, a ROM so I can play a long-lost game on my Mac. They just rebooted New York Seltzer, which I thought for sure was long gone, and now I see the little squat glass bottles every time I go to my neighborhood diner.

I always wonder if we’re now in a hyper-accelerated version of a wayback machine, constant pings back to these limited-time-only items that are relaunched like a McRib as a cash grab. Or is this the same as when Fifties nostalgia hit hard in the Seventies? Will there be any satisfaction in a relaunch of an old product I missed, or will it be a pyrrhic victory, never bringing any real satisfaction? Maybe it even causes more distress, because I’ll get one little hint of a past that I think would make me happy (even though I know I wasn’t happy then) and it will give me a brief hit of dopamine and nothing else, making me want even more. We’ll see, I guess.

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