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The City of Lights and Massages

Your blackjack losses subsidize this art.

I got in the cab after no line at all in front of McCarran airport, a first, even when I came out to Vegas a few weeks after 9/11, when people in rural Arkansas thought the Taliban would probably fly an Airbus into their grain silo Any Day Now.  The roller bag and new camera backpack went in the back of the minivan, and we headed off to the Planet Ho.

“Long flight?” the cabbie asked me.  He was one of those guys that was all belly and no neck, probably transplanted out to Nevada to avoid an alimony lawsuit.

“No, a couple hours, but they really cram you in there.”

“What you need is a good rub and tug,” he said.  “I know just the place.”

Ah, Las Vegas.  A city of subtleties.  How can I go a whole year in the land of fruits and nuts without time in a city where the number one occupation is handing out flyers for prostitutes?

So I turned 40.  I spent the morning fucking around with a radio-controlled helicopter whose battery would not hold a charge, then went to Denny’s for the annual cholesterol boost, got an allergy shot (not at Denny’s), and drove out to the former Oakland Naval Air Station, now known for cheap Southwest flights to all sorts of mid-sized towns across the country (provided you weigh less than Kevin Smith.)  Not a single TSA problem happened to me, although I did see them putting a beat-down on a tourist who did not understand the complexities of “liquids in a ziplock bag, you motherfucker”.  (I realize it is difficult for some people to remember if shampoo is a liquid, solid, or gas.  Certainly a valid reason for every single media outlet in the United States to spend roughly twenty trillion dollars of TV time lamenting over those jackboot thugs that won’t let you bring a machete in your carry-on luggage anymore.)  Did you know Amelia Earhart’s first attempt at her final flight took off from Oakland airport?  Also, did you know that Purdue paid for that plane?  And did you know her plane was taken by aliens and will re-appear in the middle of the shitty remake of Close Encounters that will probably come out in the next few years?  Actually, I don’t know that they’re remaking it, but they’re remaking everything else, so expect Will Smith to be building a giant Devil’s Tower in his living room any time now.

I used to know a bit about Vegas.  It was my default vacation, and I even wrote a book about it. But since I published that thing in 2004, damn near every thing I mentioned there has been imploded and replaced by a chrome and glass tower.  A big chunk of the strip used to be crappy t-shirt shops and places you could rent a high-test sports car from an Armenian illegal for cash on the barrelhead; now the whole stretch looks like some kind of futuristic spaceport in a Tom Cruise summer blockbuster.  Back in the day, I used to write these trip reports, bulleted lists of all the neato things I paid money to see.  Now I’m not into reports as much; I prefer manifestos, scathing diatribes on the cold burn of a multinational real estate project for the rich masquerading as an entertainment option by selling a $16 cocktail, especially the ones that won’t let me post a million to one bet on an earthquake or tsunami during the upcoming superbowl. Fuck all of them and their stupid corporate house rules – I want some real action, the kind I need to drive to some beaten whore casino and hardware store in the middle of the desert, the kind of place that sells dollar hot dogs and not at a loss, because the meat is from Costco.

I got to the Planet Ho (aka the Planet Hollywood, which used to be the Aladdin, which went under a rename after they realized a giant arab with a sword between his teeth isn’t the best mascot for a casino when you need to pull in red-staters to make the nut) and Bill already checked in a dozen hours earlier, the victim of a horrible plane schedule that only left a crack-of-dawn flight or a near-redeye his only options for the long haul out from Indiana.  I usually bunk with him on these trips, partly to save us both money, and partly because when I stay by myself, I tend to do things like drink Singapore Slings with mezcal on the side until I black out and kick in a toilet in the middle of the night.  (You didn’t read the book, did you?)  We both turned 40 at the same time, or rather him about an hour before me, which is probably why he’s a foot taller than me.

Everyone asks me what the hell I do on these trips, and the simple answer is that instead of gambling, soliciting the service of whores, or drinking my body weight in grain alcohol, I usually eat.  And now that I have lost a ton of weight and spend all day and night obsessing over the stupid Weight Watchers online app, my only desire in a place like Vegas is to run train on thousands of calories of Oprah-sized portions of grub.  And there’s no shortage of it; every ten yards is yet another opportunity to get large vats of deep-fried everything to go with your huge tub of whatever drink you’re downing.  The best way to raise house advantage in any game of chance is by diabetic coma.  Ask anyone waddling down the strip, and they’ll tell you all about their fifth or sixth meal that day.

We did other stuff, too.  Marc came into town from Seattle a bit later that night, carrying a deck of loyalty cards, with complex arbitrage plans that I think involved somehow getting rated at casino play from dental work paid for at high altitude with a Costco Amex card and then refinanced through a platinum MasterCard and turned into airline miles then exchanged for mortgage-backed securities.  (I may have missed part of that procedure.  I barely manage to remember to use my Safeway Club Card four out of ten times.)  Tom also arrived much later from Chicago.  I ate an entire fish and chips at one Irish pub, swapping out the chips for beer-battered onion rings, and then we ended up at another Irish pub, where I ate a dozen different appetizers while Bill and Tom found a little game where if you drank a pint of beer in under seven seconds, you got the drink for free.  Now, I’ve seen Bill drink an entire yard of Guinness in under seven seconds after eating a five-gallon bucket full of shepherd’s pie, so it was no surprise they could easily do the limit of two beers each, each day we were in town.

Andrew got into town the next day.  We split a townhouse out at Colonial Crest back in 93-94, but I hadn’t seen him since.  Within twelve hours, we had him on a mechanical bull in an imitation rock bar, while Bill entered some kind of redneck regression and started drinking Bud Lite.  But before that, there was a many-hundred dollar brunch where I ate a progression of Kobe beef sliders and wedge salad, and I took a bunch of pictures of lions at the MGM, which is pretty boring, but it beats losing $300 at blackjack in fifteen minutes flat, which is what Bill managed to do.

That night, we all went to La Reve, which is hard to explain except it’s one of those freaky acrobat musical numbers, where people are contorting in weird ways and flying through the air on wires.  This particular one, up at the Wynn, involved a huge theater in the round, with the stage actually consisting of a deep swimming pool and a series of raising and lowering rings and platforms.  There was once a time when I worked at heights, hanging stage lights from catwalks dozens of feet in the air, taking long naps behind followspots while waiting for my cue to launch a few thousand watts and lumens at a performer.  Now, I sit through shows like this wondering what they used to generate snow these days, and how they always hit their marks on these flips and dives and swoops and twists, especially when we could never get three rehearsals and two performances of a school musical run without some idiot tripping on a cable and knocking over ten thousand 1980s dollars of lights.

Of course there was a Mexican dinner before the show, and another dinner after, along with another round of “let’s drink all of the beers at this pub for free”, of which I did not participate, but it’s always fun to watch the disbelief involved.

The waiter said “don’t worry, it’s all SlimFast food.”

On Saturday, we all went to the main event, calorie-wise: a giant dinner at Craftsteak.  I did this once before, but this time we got to meet up with Jeremy, who I also hadn’t seen for decades, since the UCS days of telling people that you spelled ezmail with a z, and god damn it, stop trying to telnet to easymail.  They sat us all down at a giant round table and brought out seven courses of Kobe steak, plus seven appetizers, and then finished it with nine different desserts.  Each of the 23 things I put on my plate (plus rolls) was easily a day’s worth of WW points.  Oh, and a diet Coke.

A last-second addition: we got tickets to Drew Carey’s improv thing, which was the cast of Who’s Line Is It Anyway, doing all of the usual improv exercises.  Our seats were pretty far back, plus they were taping the thing for TV, which involved these long camera booms randomly swooping across the line of sight, but it was a good comedy geek moment to see the now-obviously-does-not-eat-at-Craftsteak Carey leading the rest of the group.

I didn’t gamble much.  I blew about a hundred bucks on a Casino War table in the Pleasure Pit, which is Planet Ho’s evil little trick which involves distracting gamblers with  300cc bags of saline or silicone strategically placed at eye level. Very bad odds, very stingy on the drinks. That was the worst hundred dollar glass of ice and diet Coke you could possibly find, but at least I didn’t do as much damage as my colleagues.

Cap it all off with a run at the breakfast buffet: giant vats of bacon, pancakes, french toast, waffles, and 197 different desserts.  I got back on the plane as fast as I arrived, and bailed out the Toyota on a sunny Oakland Sunday afternoon that required no jacket.  We did not steal any of Mike Tyson’s tigers, and nobody got tazered, but it was still a pretty okay weekend. And by some god damned miracle, I ended up down a half pound at this week’s weigh-in.  A birthday miracle!

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40

This is what North Dakota looks like. In July.

I am 40 today.  Actually, at the very minute this blog post is made (10:53 CST), 40 years ago, I was born at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. 40 years.  40 god damned years.  I don’t believe that. I mean, my body feels like I’m 80 most mornings, but I feel like I should be writing this from the surface of Mars after a long morning of jet-packing around with my cybernetic mind reading robot.  Instead, I’m typing away on a keyboard that’s pretty much the same damn keyboard as they used in 1811, except this one has a bunch of stupid buttons to control my music, and it is split in half to maybe prevent my carpal tunnels from fusing together or apart or whatever it is your carpal tunnels do when you type too much.

I’m actually writing this before the 20th, and WordPress will automagically post it at 10:53, which is really 8:53 here.  I don’t remember my flight schedule, but I will either be preparing for the TSA grab-ass or be en route to Las Vegas for my 11th year of going to Vegas to do whatever the hell I do in Vegas.  Not gamble, not drink.  Not eat.  Come to think of it, I think I would have been an ideal employee for Howard Hughes.

So over here, one of my readers gave us a nice 30th birthday list of assorted trivia, and at the time, I thought that was a damn great idea.  And I have no idea how I managed to remember this, but I did.  So here is my somewhat random list of 40 things about me.  I will attempt to make the list as truthful as possible, and avoid all of the things that my long-term readers probably already know about me, which will be hard after a thousand some posts to this blog.  Here goes.

1) I was born and spent my first few months at an air force base that contained 150 Minuteman II missile silos, an ABM facility, and some untold number of B-52 bombers bristling with nukes.  All of this is gone now; the silos have all been dismantled and imploded, and the B-52s were most likely taken to Arizona and cut into pieces. The history of the billions of dollars of hardware installed underground in the middle of nowhere has always fascinated me.  Here’s a good link to get you started on this obsession: http://asuwlink.uwyo.edu/~jimkirk/gf.html

2) When I was in kindergarten, one of my parents asked me if my teacher had died, after reading about this in the newspaper.  They must have read the name wrong, but I spent the rest of the school year wondering if this teacher had somehow been covertly replaced with a clone or android.

3) The most famous person I ever met as a young child was a man who, according to his promotional material, had the largest feet in the world.  This was at the Elkhart County Fair.  His feet looked like large potatoes that had sat in a drawer too long, gnarly and covered with what looked like tumors or growths.  I bought an autographed picture of him.

4) When I was maybe 13, I went to a car show at the Notre Dame ACC with the sole purpose of meeting KITT, the car from Knight Rider.  I wasn’t really into cars at all back then, but I loved me some Knight Rider.  We got there and the line was insanely long, so I did not go up to get a photo or anything.  David Hasselhoff was not there.  I did look into the car from a distance, and a guy standing next to me proclaimed, “that’s nothing but a Trans Am with a bunch of shit bolted onto it.”

5) I spent a good deal of time after Empire Strikes Back convinced I could build my own light saber if I could just get the right lenses.

6) I really dislike salmon, because I had a cat as a kid that would only eat canned salmon food, so I associate the smell of salmon with cat food.  This was probably a bad quirk to have when I lived in Seattle.

7) My school used to have these book fairs where some group would show up and unload all of these racks of new books that you could dig through and buy.  One year, they were going to have the book that taught you how to solve the Rubik’s cube, but when they arrived, there were only two copies.  All of my classmates tore through the books trying to find the two books like Wal-Mart shoppers trying to get a $39 BluRay player on Black Friday.  This one kid ended up getting it, and then could not figure out how to actually do the instructions, which were somewhat involved and used some cryptic notation to tell you what part of the cube to turn.  I later went to a Walden Books and memorized the part that taught you how to get the side pieces in place, but had to wait another year or so to actually get the book out of a library and solve the whole thing.

8) The two periodicals from my childhood that shaped me the most as an adult were probably The National Enquirer and Mad magazine.  My grandmother used to get all of the tabloids, and I would pore over them when we went there on Sundays.  I liked all of the weird UFO/alien stuff the most, so I found the Weekly World News to be much better.  I ended up getting into Cracked only when Mad was not available.

9) When I first got my own place on Mitchell Street in 1991, I went through a long run of thinking that if I cooked a woman dinner, she would like me or something.  I knew how to cook maybe three things at the time (tacos, spaghetti, fake Chinese food with some kind of spices in a packet.)  I wish I could find all of the people I had cooked dinner for, interview them, and splice it all together into a short film showing my stupidity.

10) I am apt to use the numbers 768 and 863 semi-randomly to indicate a large quantity.  Those are the number of shades that were available in Montgomery Ward 10-year and 15-year interior latex paint, which I sold back in high school, and those numbers are now somehow fused in my head.

11) The oldest thing in my Amazon account is an order for Hunter S. Thompson’s Generation of Swine, which I ordered on September 26, 1999.  That is not the oldest order I’ve ever placed with them though; it’s just the oldest in their system.  I think the oldest thing I ordered there was in something like 1997 or maybe 1998 and it was an old out-of-print book on the history of Indiana University.  I remember when I got it and first opened it, I was sick for a week because it was filled with invisible dust mites, and I have a horrible allergy to them.  I put the book in the freezer for ten days and then was able to read it.

12) The first thing I ever published was in 1990 or 1991.  I wrote this huge screed to the IUSB student newspaper editor about how I was sick of everyone talking about tying yellow ribbons on things about the tropps going to Iraq.  I expected that at the most, they would publish it in the letters to the editor, but they made it an article, and I got a ton of shit for it.

13) I tried joining the Air Force Reserve when I was 17, thinking I’d be able to get some cool job either working on planes or computers.  When I went to the recruiter to talk to him and schedule the physical, I unknowingly wore the Megadeth shirt for “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying”.  I’m not sure he noticed.  He looked at my ASFAB scores and offered me any job I wanted from a binder, but all of them looked somewhat stupid and none of them said “Top-secret F-117 Stealth Fighter mechanic” or “MX Missile Nuclear Warhead Arming Technician”; I think the closest was the guy who rotated the tires on Patriot missile launchers, so I never took the physical, which I probably would have failed anyway.

14) Other foods I refuse to eat: olives, mushrooms, beets, cauliflower.

15) Of the first five cars I owned, four ended up getting sold to junkyards, inoperational in some major way. My first car (the Camaro) was the only car I sold to someone in functional condition until I returned my lease car in 1998.

16) I went to computer camp, I think the year before 6th grade.  It was a day camp held at the junior high, and we typed BASIC programs into Apple II computers and then played that pioneer game where you always died of dysentery.  I remember it was the summer that ET came out, and when my dad took us to see it, it was sold out and we saw Wrath of Khan instead, which is of course where I got the name for this blog, because every damn smart-ass in the world has made the same joke, so I decided to run with it.

17) I dated someone in my freshman year of college that had the same first and middle name as my youngest sister.  (I did not do this intentionally.)  She was obsessed with Billy Joel and we used to fight constantly, until my shrink helped me write a script to use to break up with her over the phone.

18) My current computer is 1520 times faster than my first computer, and contains 2,000,000 times more RAM.  I guess that’s not a fact about me, but it tells you something about how computers have aged in my lifespan.

19) One winter, I think in 1992, I had a few days before school started, so I went to the main library and looked up every book and article on two random things that I knew nothing about: the Jonestown massacre and the movie Deep Throat.  I spent an entire day in the stacks of the library, sitting on the floor reading about both of those things.  I think if that happened now, I’d probably just read about them on wikipedia or google them, but there was something comforting about being buried in the eleven floors of books on a cold winter day, reading about events from the distant seventies.

20) I had some obsession as a teenager with sitting down and listening to all of Rush’s albums in order, which I never did, although I tried a few times and usually got bored around mid-Caress of Steel.

21) I have a scar on my right hand from when I fell on a nail and it went through my hand.

22) I go through, on average, a keyboard a year.  I’d like to brag that it’s because I type so damn much, but the truth is, I eat a lot of meals at the computer and spills are a constant problem.  My current keyboard of choice is the Microsoft Ergo 4000, but I wish I could find a good ergo keyboard with less sloppy keys that were not as spongy as these ones.

23) I spent most of the late 90s revisiting hobbies from my youth, mostly because of eBay.  This included buying an Atari 2600 and a fully loaded Commodore 64 setup.  I also spent a lot of time and money building model rockets and then losing them at this rugby field north of Seattle.

24) I also spent a lot of cycles in Seattle wanting to become a filmmaker.  I read everything I could find about Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez, bought a camcorder, and wrote this script that was a parody of Apocalypse Now that had to do with finding a parking space in Seattle.

25) I drove from Elkhart to Seattle in 1995 and it took me just 48 hours.  I drove from Seattle to New York in 1999 and it took me 14 days.

26) I was obsessed with model airplanes for probably too long, well into high school.  I mostly focused on 1/48 scale jets, although my favorite model was a 1/35 scale F-15.  I think after I got a car, I stopped building models.  I blame this all on my friend Derik Rinehart, who was even more obsessed with planes and ended up joining the Air Force and working on actual F-15s.

27) When I got my first paycheck from my first real job, I went straight to Elliot Bay Books and bought every Bukowski book I didn’t have.

28) The three things that influenced me to start writing in 1993 were the Henry Rollins spoken word album Boxed Life, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions.

29) I used to get on these kicks about learning a foreign language, and would buy a book or a tape or enroll in a class and then never follow through.  Languages I’ve tried to learn: Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, Swedish, Russian.

30) My lack of Spanish got tested in 2009 when I was in rural Mexico, had a crown fall out, and had to negotiate with a dentist that spoke less English than I speak Spanish.

31) When I was a kid, I won a Huffy BMX bike from Honeycomb cereal. This was not the promotion you probably remember, where they gave away small metal mini-license plates, and if you got some special gold plate or something, you won; it was some kind of stupid activity book where you scratched off various things to solve a puzzle.  I solved the puzzle and my mom did not believe me – she thought it was some thing where you solved the puzzle, sent in the thing, and you’d enter for a one in a billion shot at a bike.  But it was real, and we mailed it in, and after a wait of what seemed like 47 years, a giant box showed up from UPS.  It was a red 20″ bike with gold rims, knobby red tires, gold handlebars, and those snap-on pads that were supposed to protect your junk when you hit the bar, but how much testicular protection do you get from 1/8″ of neoprene?  It also had a coaster brake but also a rear hand brake.  I rode the shit out of that bike, until I eventually got a ten speed in my freshman year of high school.

32) I have an obsession with planes and flying.  I always wanted to get a pilot’s license, but I either have the money or the time, but not both.  I’ve taken flight lessons and have landed a plane (which is supposed to be the hard part) but for both financial and logistical reasons, I’ll probably stick to radio controlled helicopters for now.

33) I took a COBOL class in college. The textbook had instructions on how to use punchcards, but I actually did the work on a VAX using the EDT editor.

34) I usually order eggs over medium, although egg whites scrambled hard has been coming up more lately.

35) I generally avoid reading the news, because I think it’s all bullshit, but also so people who read the news far too much flip out and think I’m some kind of heathen because I don’t read as many ads disguised as news as they do.

36) I’ve never had a problem reading in a car (as a passenger, not while driving), although I keep meeting people who find this amazing because they get horribly carsick when they do it.

37) Calculus II was the demise of my computer science degree in college.  I blame it on a lack of trig knowledge – I think I was asleep that semester in high school.

38) I’m starting to see the occasional grey hair, which means it’s all going downhill from here.  At least I have hair.  I’ve had a receded hairline since, well, ever, but it hasn’t changed at all.  Everyone that used to give me shit about “losing my hair” when I was 20 is now bald.

39) I’ve lived in 7 states and 10 cities (11 if you consider Manhattan and Astoria to be two different cities, which from a tax perspective they aren’t, but if you go by ZIP codes, they are.) I’d like to stay in California, although there are a lot of things about LA I like.  And that stupid House Hunters International show has me thinking I should buy a castle in Estonia for $48,000, but I’m a big fan of indoor plumbing.

40) I can’t believe I could make a list of 40 things, but I can’t believe I have hit 40, either.

So there you have it. 40. Happy birthday to me, and also happy birthday to Bill Perry and all of the others that share 1/20 with us.  Congratulations to everyone who read this far, and thanks for reading this thing in general. And now, I am off to the desert to eat too much and lose a few bucks at the tables.

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Vegas, Again

Okay, I have been back a week, but it has been a crazy week.  First off, here are the pictures from Vegas:

IMG_0242.JPG

These are the first pictures with my new DSLR.  I took roughly 500 shots over the trip, but I still have no idea what I’m doing, so this is the best 20% of that.  I do love taking pictures with the new camera, but there is a certain amount of overhead, mostly in the amount of stuff I have to haul around.  I’m convinced there is a better bag than Canon’s stock one, though.  And also, I could use a better lens, maybe something with a bit more length and speed.  There were a few shots where I simply didn’t have the right lens, and couldn’t get it to work.  It’s also possible that I had to set any of the 17,583 settings on the camera differently.

And yes, I am switching back to flickr.  I think.  My frustrations with online photo hosting is the topic of another post.

Anyway, the trip to Vegas was good, but short.  We stayed at the Flamingo, saw Kathleen Madigan at the South Point casino, hung out at the Venetian quite a bit, and hit a bunch of touristy stuff (pinball hall of fame, atomic testing museum, the reef aquarium at Mandalay Bay.)  I also saw quite a bit of the ‘new’ strip, which I have mixed feelings about.  The new City Center is pretty phenomenal, even though it looks a lot more like an airport in a European country than a casino.   I’m not saying the stylings of the old Boardwalk were much better, but I do miss our old cheapo place to stay on the strip.

Anyway, good trip.  It was, of course, too short, and I feel like I didn’t spend enough money or gamble enough, but I guess those are both good…

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39

I am a year older today.  I had a rainy day off of work today, hanging out here in Oakland and listening to the sound of gravel-like downpours smashing against the skylight.  I will be getting on a plane tomorrow morning and heading to Vegas, for a long weekend with Bill Perry, Marc, and Tom.  No immediate plans, other than gambling, eating, and maybe some comedy.  (I don’t think we’ll be trying to steal anything from Mike Tyson’s house, for example.)

This birthday has been pretty mellow.  It’s the last one of my thirties, and I’m sure next year when the big 4-0 hits, I will be much more freaked out.  At least I did not have to work today.  But Sarah had to go out of town for work on a last-second trip, and that was a bummer.  She did get me a very nice gift though: a Canon Digital Rebel XS.  It’s my first SLR, and my best camera to date.  But it’s going to force me to actually learn about how to take a photo, and learn all of this nomenclature like aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and so on.  It does a good job with the auto settings, and it’s cool to have something that can shoot three frames a second.  But I need to buy a book or a DVD or something.  If you have any good links to things I can skim online that don’t read like a college physics book on optics, please let me know.

I went to Denny’s today, as usual.  This time, it was the one in Emeryville.  I had their new Grand Slamwich, and it was fairly horrible.  It has too many things going on at once – a McGriddle-like maple syrup bread, eggs, bacon, cheese, sausage, mayo, and maybe nine other things.  I dunno, I am not that crazy about Denny’s anymore.  Every once in a great while, I’ll want to go there to get some pancakes, but in general, I am pretty much over it.  But it’s one of those time machine things, a direct portal into so many eras from the past.  I’ve gone there for pretty much every birthday for almost twenty years now.  It’s weird because my big memory today was Denver.  Before the big weight loss thing, I used to end up at Denny’s a lot, and maybe part of the reason it was so big to me then was I spent almost ten years without a Denny’s in my backyard, in New York.  Then I move to Colorado, and I can go anytime.  And then no wonder it takes me sixty pounds of weight loss to get down to an average BMI.

(Tangent: if you write a product installer that has a “thermometer” status bar, it should go from 0 to 100% exactly once, and then be done.  Going from 0 to 100 to 0 to 100 to 0 to 100 and then staying at 100 100 100 100 and then going to 0 and then 100 etc etc is not helpful to me.)

(Tangent #2 – OK I was too lazy to go downstairs to get my iPod, so I installed iTunes, and I’m streaming music from my laptop on my desk downstairs to my laptop in bed upstairs.  Years ago, I would’ve accomplished this by stringing a fifty foot length of cord over the loft.  This is magic.)

Anyway.  I keep thinking back to old birthdays now.  Like I keep thinking about my 23rd birthday.  Part of that memory has to do with just touching a short story that took place in that era, one that might or might not get published in AITPL #13.  I was deathly sick on that birthday; I went to this girl’s party maybe two weeks before, and it was damn freezing outside, and I caught a cold that gradually became pneumonia.  I spent a good chunk of the day in bed, but I remember looking at my birth certificate and realizing both of my parents were 23 when they had me on that day back in 1971, and on that day in 1994, my life was so far from being together in any adult way; I was on my way out of a computer science program and struggling to identify myself as a writer for the very first time.  I was still moping around after a breakup that happened months before, one that I wouldn’t pull out of for a long time.  I was in debt; I was not making any academic progress; I was making only a few bucks an hour taking peoples’ shit on a phone support line.  I didn’t have a car; I lived miles out of town and off campus; I felt like I had nobody and nothing, and couldn’t even fathom being married and having a kid.  It was just one of those mind-blowing moments of time for me, and not just because I was coughing my lungs out and taking cold baths in the middle of January to try and break my fever.

Man, I am listening to Husker Du’s Candy Apple Grey right now, and the song “Hardly Getting Over It”, and it fits the feeling of the above paragraph so much, it’s absolutely uncanny.  This is such a god damned good album, I can’t believe I didn’t worship these guys back in the day.  I was probably too busy trying to find Grim Reaper bootlegs or whatever.  But CAG is such a fully mind-blowingly emotional album to me now.  It seems like every third review of it online says something like “this album got me through a lot of hard times”, and I could completely see that.

(I thought it was hilarious when “I Don’t Know For Sure” showed up briefly in the soundtrack of the movie Adventureland, BTW.)

Okay, I need to pack and wake up in a few hours.  Just wanted to get something in while it was still 1/20.

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36

I’m 36 today. It’s another nice round number, and I guess I think about that every year. 30 was big, 35 was halfway between 30 and 40, and 36 means I’m approaching 40. I like 36 better than I will probably like 37; I didn’t like 27 either, for some reason. But it always has me thinking of different intervals, points of life, and whatever else.

For example, I remember when I was 23. I had pneumonia and I was stuck in my apartment in Colonial Crest in Bloomington. 21 was legal drinking age, 22 was a nice even number, and then there was 23, normally not significant. But when I was born, both of my parents were 23. They were adults, with a kid, on the path of the rest of their life. And at 23, I totally didn’t have my shit together; I was living in a student ghetto, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my academic life let alone my life life. My biggest aspiration at the time was to get a Game Boy. It was a real slap in the face to think about how much I needed to get myself together.

The thing that gets me about 36 is that my 18th birthday was half a lifetime away. I am 18 times two today. I remember being in the parking lot of Concord High School on January 20, 1989, a Friday, getting ready to leave for the day. I was listening to the Anthrax cover of “I’m Eighteen”, which is kindof pathetic, but I loved it. I went out with my friend Julia that night and went to the movies to see Naked Gun, which I thought was the pinnacle of humor at the time. And I guess the stuff in my head then, the desire to get the hell out of the small town and to a place where people didn’t like “book learnin'”  pretty much overshadowed everything else.

And like I said the other day, 36 is halfway to 72, and I have no idea how I will make it that far, aside from bionics or something. Maybe I should eat something healthy before I go to this 15-course dinner tonight.

My big gift from Sarah was a PlayStation 3. (see here.) It’s very very neat. My goal is now to get this book done before they get GTA 4, SOCOM, or an Ace Combat game launched, because otherwise, it will never get done.

Speaking of, I want to get in some Call of Duty 3…

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34

So I turned 34 recently. I didn’t write an official story about the whole trip, but it seems like every January when I go to Las Vegas, something weird gets thrown in the mix, and the trip mutates just a little bit from the original plan. There, of course, is no real plan to start with, just the idea that I’d bring a bunch of my friends to Las Vegas in January, hopefully armed with a bunch of year-end bonus money, and then act like an idiot in some new and exciting way. This usually goes wrong in that all of my friends are cheap fucking bastards who cannot comprehend going on a plane to a place where 1) drinks are usually free 2) the hottest women in the world degrade themselves in the sluttiest outfits possible and then walk around in public and 3) hotel rooms are always under $50, and if you know me, you know how I always get a big stiffie about hotel rooms. But no, that’s horrible, I can see why you’d want to sit in the -50 degree weather and not miss the latest episode of Joey or whatever.

I should mention that my friend Bill wimped out on us for the first time in like three or four years, and that kindof sucked, but he had like two other back-to-back vacations with just a few days between them. I guess Bill is mellowing with age a bit, and he’s stuck commuting between Seattle and Indiana, so maybe fitting his six foot eight frame into a plane seat designed for a midget for six hours is something he wants to minimize. At least he had the balls to come out several other times, unlike others.

Okay, so before I left, I bought a Tablet PC. Actually, I bought two. First, I bought the one I really wanted from HP, along with some memory and an extended warranty, through their online store. There was a snowball’s chance in hell I would get the unit before I left town, but I resigned to the fact that I’d probably just get it while I was gone and have a new toy to play with when I returned. I then checked the HP web site about four times a day and called them daily to try to get a tracking number or updated shipping info, or whatever other info I could score on my far too expensive new toy.

Of course, I got fucked. They kept back-ordering the computer, and the day before I was due to go to Vegas, they updated my order to an estimated ship date of the end of February or something. I called HP, told them to lick my balls, and give me my damn money back. One small issue was that I already got a 512 Meg memory expansion in the mail, and they also charged my credit card for that extended warranty. I still haven’t seen the refund on the warranty, even though I’ve called them like 19 times and told them to just take the cock out of their mouth and press the three buttons on their terminal that will debit the $200-some bucks back on my card, but that never seems to work. Oh, by the way, fuck HP. Don’t buy a computer from them.

I went to CompUSA and immediately bought a Toshiba Portege (there are gay accent marks on them, but I’m not going to go all stupid and try to find out how to put them on there) and it ended up being cheaper and with more stuff. It’s a convertible laptop, meaning the top screen swivels and then closes on top of the keyboard, so it looks like a writing tablet or one of those weird computers that UPS dudes have, except bigger and not brown. The 12″ screen (1400×1050 native) has a writing digitizer built in, which is basically one of those Wacom tablets but see-through, embedded in the screen. So you can write and draw and use the special pen like a mouse. It’s very nifty.

I am still getting used to the whole idea of a Tablet PC, but it’s a cool concept. I can sit on the couch with the wireless connection and a good battery and browse the web or take notes or look shit up on IMDB or whatever else. It’s excellent for sitting in bed. The writing uses a very good handwriting recognition thing for input into any program, or you can use programs like OneNote to sketch away any old crap in the ink format, which is nice for brainstorming or sketches or whatever. I have some other specialized programs that I downloaded, like a version of the New York Times crossword puzzle that you can fill in with the pen. It’s very cool. I also got an external DVD player and CD burner, which is a bit more awkward than having a built-in, but then the whole computer only weighs like 4 pounds.

I don’t really feel like mentioning a whole blow-by-blow of the trip, because it’s not like we did tons of action-packed stuff every day. It started as me and Lon (a friend I met from Bill on previous trips) and then the next day, Jaime (a friend of Lon’s) met up with us. For the weekend, an old female friend of Lon and Jaime’s came out for the weekend. This was a bit odd for me in that I’m not super-duper best buddies with any of these people. I mean, I don’t dislike any of them, but I’ve known Bill for like 15 years or something. I was in his wedding (okay, I got his wedding crashed by the cops for being a drunken idiot, drinking tap beer out of giant iced tea pitchers, and running around building like a crazed Viking on a pillaging conquest, inviting everyone who even walked by to come in with me and get fucked up) and he got me a job in Seattle and everything. I’ve spent very limited time with Lon and even less with Jaime, so I vaguely feared that at some point, there would be some kind of long, uncomfortable silence that passes without event when you’re around people you’ve known for decades, but hangs in the air like a soggy discount beer fart when you’ve only known someone through a dozen emails and a trip or two.

When I got to Vegas and met up with Lon, we got to the cab stand and found a beautiful seventy-degree Las Vegas around us. SEVENTY. It was about -9 when I left New York. Aside from deploying to Vietnam from Alaska or something, you don’t get much more change in climate. Our cab driver was a retired rancher who knew tons of stuff about horses and guns and cowboys and everything else that makes you want to talk to Las Vegas cab drivers constantly and maybe covertly videotape it for some kind of TV show or book project. And when we got to the Tropicana (we originally had the Boardwalk all settled in, but at the last second Lon saw some kind of deal and jumped on it), we had the best set of rooms in the tower at the front of the hotel. The last two times I stayed there, they gave me shitty rooms in the towers on the back stretch, about a twenty mile walk from the strip, with a scenic view of the trash compacting facilities. This time, our windows looked out onto the strip, we didn’t have mirrors on the ceiling, blood stains on the carpet, or vibrating beds, but we did score our own fridges and a room safe that didn’t involve stuffing a dollar of quarters in a slot before you locked it.

I think you could sum up the trip by saying we ate, we drank, we went to comedy clubs, and Lon tried on 863 pairs of shoes. I got all of my hair cut off for about three times what I usually pay, but the stylist was pretty cool and told me a lot of crazy stories about people that got kicked out of casinos and ran to the beauty salon to get a haircut and disguise their shit. We went to the Apple store to harass the help, and ran into this Mac evangelist with one eye. I almost understand one mouse button, but the one eye thing sort of freaked me out, especially as he’s rambling on about how the new iPod is so damn great and the glass eye is wandering over to the left or whatever.

Jaime got a rental car from Hertz because his company has some kind of gold card where he can always get one for like $30 a day or something, no matter what. While Lon and Jaime went to the airport to get the car and then find a liquor store, I sat around and watched the highly viral “I love the 90s” TV show on VH1. Okay, normally I would make fun of this shit to no end, and I will – I mean, these people are doing a tribute to the long-lost years of like 20 minutes ago. But they’re really funny, and it’s weird how much of the stuff I remember, and scary how much I forgot. I mean, the early 90s I remember some things, but I didn’t have a TV in college and I didn’t tune in to 90210 or Melrose or whatever. And as far as the late 90s, that’s the stuff that depresses me. Because I remember very vividly years like 1996 and 1997 like they were yesterday, because in my mind, THEY WERE YESTERDAY. It was only a little bit ago that I was in Seattle and dating that-Seattle-chick and driving around that Ford Escort from Evergreen Ford and everything else. And looking back, that was a nice, comfortable, post-college, corporate, I-almost-had-my-shit-together era. And in some ways, I really miss it. And to think that it’s such ancient history that a TV show is being made about it as if it was the 14th century or something is really creepy. But I watched all of them, for hours, like I was watching a video of a BASE jumper slamming his nuts into a wall, over and over and over.

I gambled a dollar while waiting for a show, and ended up winning five dollars. So by percentages, I ruled. Otherwise, I didn’t feel like gambling. I did drink a fair amount, although Lon ended up buying Jack Daniels and some kind of fruity raspberry Bacardi, which are two things I can’t really stomach. I didn’t entirely lose my shit at any point like I did in 2003, although I got close a few times. At one point, I was so pissed off at everyone that I got up out of the restaurant, went to an ATM, took out $500, and vowed to drink all of it and then go on a complete fucking rampage, but by the time I got back to the table, our food had arrived, and I forgot all about it.

The only other thing of humor was that Lon and Jaime got talked into going to a timeshare presentation when we were shopping at the Venetian. I mean, they got a ton of coupons and swag and crap and everyone was really nice to them when they had to sit through the three-hour, high-pressure sales thing, but I thought it was sort of amateur-league. I mean, I ignore people like that as if they didn’t even exist. I’ve got the Greenpeace idiots and the children’s fund people and the moonies and the Scientologists and the copy shops with their color printing price fliers, and I can pass through them like a gallon of orange juice goes through an empty stomach. So I got a chuckle when they actually stopped to listen to them.

Anyway, four days of wonderful weather and good food and no fucking ingrates laying on their car horn like it was directly hooked up to their prostate, and not a single person telling me how Bush’s inaugaration had to do with Hitler or something, and then I return to spend two hours stuck on the runway, an hour waiting on my bags, and an hour and a half in subzero weather waiting for a god damned cab home with no gloves or hat. By the time I got home to my shithole apartment, I almost felt grateful, except for the part about having to be at work in like seven hours.

So that’s that. How are you?

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birthday, AC/DC day

Today is unoffically AC/DC day in office 375. I got the Bonfire boxed set last night, and I’ve got two of the five CDs with me today. I think I now own about six different recordings of “Whole Lotta Rosie.” Time to go out and buy one of those leather caps and a Jack Daniels t-shirt.

My birthday is over. It was pretty low-key, and to anybody but myself, would have appeared depressing. After fielding phone calls last night, I went to Denny’s, ordered a porterhouse, and wrote in my journal while eating. Then I went on what was probably my biggest CD shopping spree ever. I got two boxed sets, an Ultradisc II CD, and another double album. The total: $145.96. I think I’ve had other binges close to that, but it’s always nice to set a record. I was inches away from buying the Pink Floyd uber-boxed set, but then I thought it out and realized I have all of the CDs I like from that set, many of them in their new remasters, as opposed to the 1992 remasters. So I stuck with AC/DC.

I’m thinking, since almost nobody reads this, that I might parody another online journal for a while. I don’t know if it would be a specific one or a stereotype, and I’m not sure if it would live here or on another server. I could always get a geocities account. I guess I’ve screwed it up by mentioning it already, but what the hell. I loved Stale when it and Slate first came out. Is Slate even around anymore? What a stupid fucking idea.

Slow day. I’m going to screw around for a while.

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28

Today is my 28th birthday. It feels like any other day in some ways – I’m here at work, I don’t have any plans tonight, and I’m eating my usual sack lunch. It’s a weird year; Bill Perry has the same birthday as me, and we usually do something together. This year, he’s in Bloomington and I’m in Seattle, so that won’t happen. He will be here this weekend, though, so there will be some late celebration. Marie isn’t here either, and I wish I was in New York today, just to hang out and get out of the greyness and miserable weather here.

28 is a weird number. I didn’t like 27 because it’s an odd number, an in-between. I’m no numerologist, but it reminds me of when I was 17, which seems like the first non-landmark birthday. You get a license at 16, and you can do all kinds of stuff at 18, but when you’re 17, there’s nothing. I think you can get into R movies. 28 is also odd because it’s 10 years after 18, and so much stuff happened then. It really opens me up for more “ten years ago…” moments.

And ten years ago… my 18th was on a Friday. I went out with my friend Julia Zehr. We got into her Renault Alliance and drove to University Park Mall, which is vaguely near the Notre Dame campus in South Bend. We were going to eat someplace first and then go to the movies, but we got a late start, and ended up going to the Chick-Fil-A in the mall and eating while we waited in line. We didn’t have time to eat, and smuggled chicken dinners into the theatre. We watched Naked Gun – it was my second time and her first. The thing I remember the most were the long and strange conversations we had while driving in the darkness of the middle of nowhere. Julia is a great person to talk to and it was a great way to spend my 18th birthday.

I have a lot of birthday memories, and a lot of weird stuff has happened on January 20. I made a web page (long since deleted, sorry.that talks about other people who share my birthday and events that have happened today. The page needs some work, but it’s a good start.

I thought today would make me write scads of nostalgic and introspective stuff, but I don’t feel like doing anything. Oh well. Send you credit card numbers, I am thinking of buying a sit-down Star Wars arcade game for my birthday.