Distant summers

rabbit1-smallI realized the other day that the summer I fictionalized for my first book Summer Rain was twenty-five years ago. This should make me feel very old, except that it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. I was twenty-one then, and in my mind, I’m the same person as I was then, but I realize I’m more than twice as old, and half a country away from Bloomington, and that’s depressing to me, that it’s an entire lifetime in the past for me.

When I’m not in the middle of writing something interesting, I often slip into this heavy, nostalgic, introspective thing, and burn a lot of cycles thinking about things that are long gone, like my time in Bloomington, the year I spent going to school in South Bend, even the time I was in Denver ten years ago, which seems like eons ago to me now. I try to remember the order things happened, the details of people and places I’d forgotten, and dwell entirely too much on things that happened, conversations I can’t fix, things I can’t take back. It’s unnerving that this stuff sticks with me, especially since I want to create things that aren’t my life, live in fictional worlds that don’t have to do with me. But the pull is so strong in old nostalgia, I can’t escape it.

There’s a certain draw to this near-era nostalgia that is completely addictive. Trying to find old images or articles or pictures of places I used to live or things I used to own is as compulsive as pornography, endlessly searching for the next thing to release some dopamine in the brain, give a tiny touch of satisfaction. I don’t know what I’ll find that will ever make things complete. And the draw of it is that so little of the early 90s, of my early 90s, is searchable or archived on the internet. Yes, I can go find a copy of that Nirvana album or the movie Singles or whatever, but try to find one picture of the IUSB lunch room where I spent every day of the 1990-1991 school year, and it’s impossible. I wrote some articles for that school’s newspapers that I will never find, unless I physically drive there and dig through their library. But I’ll still search, and maybe find a picture that reminds me of a computer lab where I used to work, a hint of what it used to look like, two renovations ago, when it still had PC-XTs and dot-matrix printers.

I keep thinking about writing something about this era again, another book. I thought about this a lot when I was in Indiana in 2015, in August. I’d never spent any time back in Indiana during the summer months, only returning for winter holidays, when everything was frozen over. And that feeling of summer, the hot days and air conditioning, then the cool nights and the sounds of crickets and clear sky and stars overhead made me think so much of the summer of my teenaged years, and made me think, “I have to write another book about this.”

I’ve struggled a lot with a book about the summer between high school and college, a fictionalized version of that summer in 1989. I think there’s a lot to write about: first love, first betrayal, leaving home, the big unknown of what happens next, and the beginning of a little bug in my head that would later develop into a crippling depression. There were also many things I didn’t know about at the time — I sat in northern Indiana in this pivotal time, the end of the Eighties, when the American Dream was quietly being led to slaughter. I only knew of life in that industrial bubble, the conservative bible-belt-meets-rust-belt pocket. Indiana never fully recovered from the early 70s recession when the early 80s one hit, and I graduated just as an expansion was about to burst. I didn’t know any of this at the time, but in retrospect, it sets an interesting stage for all of my personal garbage going on then.

I’ve written bits of this in stories over the years, and my completed 2008 NaNoWriMo project was an attempt at this book, which was finished but scrapped. I don’t feel like I was really able to nail it, to capture the feelings or set up a compelling structure to fit to this backdrop. It’s something I’ve wanted to revisit, but there are a bunch of things stopping me.

First, I don’t know how feasible this creative nonfiction stuff is in the era of Facebook and Google. I don’t think I could write Summer Rain now, because of the fear that a fictionalized person would find themselves and be angry that I was being unflattering, even if what I wrote was changed or masked or altered so it wasn’t true. I think just the fear of that would make me self-censor myself enough that I couldn’t operate. This is also entirely true of family members. I can’t write a first-person fictional book and get into it about the protagonist’s family, for fear that my own family would read this and think it was about them. I think Bukowski said he had to wait until his old man was dead until he started working on Ham on Rye.

But there’s also the conflicting fear that the longer I wait to write this stuff, the more it will fall out of my head. I find my memories fading of this era, and like I said, the physical relics of it are lacking. I took more pictures of my food this week than I took of anything in 1992. I archive all of my email now, although I get maybe five messages a week that aren’t garbage; I have almost no email saved from back then. There is a very real chance that if I wait until I retire or whatever and then decide to write this book, there will be none of it left in my head whatsoever.

And the biggest fear is that all of this is worthless to anyone but me. Summer Rain was not a big seller. Looking back, I can name half a hundred things wrong with the structure, content, characters, cover, blah blah blah, but there’s a horrible truth in that people like a book when they can identify with the main character, and if the main character is me and I’m ultimately an unlikeable person, people won’t like the book. I sometimes thing the current wave of nineties nostalgia could make a book set in that era appealing to people, but there’s a certain confidence thing there that I have to wrestle with, and it’s easier to put it off and go write about zombies or coprophagia or whatever.

During that 2015 trip, I started thinking about a sequel to Summer Rain, slightly informed by the John Knowles book Peace Breaks Out, which was the not-as-successful follow-up to A Separate Peace. The idea was that I had to return to Indiana twenty-five years later for some reason — dead parent, old friend, whatever — and I would see the contrast in all the changes (and non-changes) in the post-industrial wasteland. And I’d revisit all the characters, and what happened to them over time. One of the big themes in SR was the fork-in-the-road things, trying to decide on which way to go in life while in college. And in that book, every character subconsciously has a direction they were aimed, and one could predict the endings: this guy’s never going to leave town; this girl is going to burn through three husbands in ten years; this guy’s going to be a CEO before he’s thirty; this guy’s going to be found dead in five years. And one of the things I wanted to do was show how the unexpected happened with all of them, for better or for worse. And some people I know are still hopelessly stuck in this old era, never having moved past their high school or college self (much worse than I have it, even) and some people probably never think about the past at all.  I don’t know where I’d go with a book like this, but it’s something stuck in my craw.

I probably won’t do any of this, and will probably come out with another book of twenty stories or a hundred fragments of flash fiction about UFOs and sodomy, and nobody will read it.

Anyway, twenty-five years. That is really screwing with my head.

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The Busses of Perception

When I first visited New York in 1998, one of the things that struck me, an odd connection to the past, were the city busses.  I don’t even remember if I rode on one – I never really figured out the schedule, and it was usually easier to walk to a subway stop – but they looked exactly like the same busses we had in Bloomington when I went to school there.  It freaked me out at the time, because I couldn’t think of two more disparate worlds than the late-eighties IU campus, this few hundred acres of green grass and the occasional limestone castle of a classroom building, and the concrete jungle of Manhattan in the late nineties.

Both IU and the MTA had these busses, built by GMC, which upon further research were called the GMC Rapid Transit Series II. The RTS looked like a giant pack of gum, a squarish tube with a flat front end and a slightly futuristic look, in the same way a Disney monorail looks futuristic.  I grew up as a captive in those standard Blue Bird school busses, the kind that could be from 1997 or 1947, with the little square windows you could use to watch the suburbs scroll by on your way to and from your classroom of doom.  But the RTS had these giant rectangular tinted windows, and inside, almost every vertical surface was transparent to the outside.  Both IU and NYC’s busses were mostly white, with a small bit of accent color on them, a crimson stripe or an MTA blue bar, respectively.  I always remember that the difference reminded me of George Lucas’s treatment of the R2 droids in Star Wars; they were mostly white and chrome, but those little blue accent panels on the R2-D2 got swapped out for orange ones so it could look like a different droid.

I only really rode IU’s bus during the fall semester.  They ran a couple of bus lines, denoted by letter (and color) almost like the New York subway system, with the A bus making a loop around campus, and the C and E continuing out toward the campus mall.  When I first arrived in Bloomington, I was convinced it would take me hours to traverse the campus, and bought a bus pass.  They had two options: a full-time pass, which cost a few hundred dollars, and a night/weekend plan that cost something like $53, which is what I chose.  Two years of driving everywhere in rural Indiana reinforced the belief that you had to have a car to live in the Hoosier state, and I feared that first time I’d need to get to the mall to buy something important and I’d have to ride my rusted ten-speed the grueling 1.2 mile distance.  By the time I moved off-campus in 1991, I’d walk absolutely anywhere, in any weather, provided I had enough juice in my walkman to power a tape for the whole journey.

I have very distinct memories of riding that loop around campus.  There were these rubber pneumatic strips on the vertical pillars, and you pushed them to ding a bell and alert the driver you needed to exit at the next stop.  I’d look up at the glossy white ceiling and gaze at the emergency exit hatch worthy of a space capsule, wondering what kind of catastrophic failure would require egress if the bus never really got above ten miles an hour.  I’d sit in on the molded plastic seats, and I’d watch the green campus crawl by.  And I remember many a long wait at the mall, sitting at the corner in front of the Sears, waiting for one of the big white rectangles to cruise down the road and stop with a pneumatic hiss and open its doors for our return to campus.

The campus bus was also this connection back to my first visit alone to Bloomington.  I remember having a very different perception of the campus, before I started classes, before I really settled in.  I think it was my view of the institution of college in general, as seen from the eyes of a high schooler.  I didn’t spend decades planning on attending IU – I didn’t have any family members or friends who went there, and I thought I’d end up at Ball State, until maybe the January of my senior year, when I changed my focus.  I did that parent weekend visit, where you show up with your folks and the school tells you how great it is and how you should really give them your money (red carpet days?) and it all looked so hallowed and distant to me.  All of the students there looked a decade older, even though most of them were mere months ahead of me.  My perception of college life was formed by 80s movies like Breaking Away or Revenge of the Nerds, and I thought everyone was a rich jock or a supermodel-to-be, and it was all very intimidating to me.

But aside from the people, I had this perception of the campus as this hundreds-of-years-old institution, with the ivy-covered buildings and towering library and these bars and hangouts like Garcia’s Pizza and Nick’s and Kilroy’s.  And part of this perception was that the campus was immense.  When I visited that summer before my first semester, I drove down from Elkhart and stayed at Foster quad, which is on the north side of campus.  And they had some special shuttle bus set up to haul everyone from Foster down to the old crescent of campus, to Franklin Hall to meet with advisors and take placement tests and register for classes and do other things involving many scantron forms and number two pencils.  And I remember taking one of these RTS busses for the slow crawl around the campus, down Jordan and across the long stretch of Third Street filled with greek houses and old buildings, and then around the corner by the Law School and up Indiana to the division between the old original campus and the downtown.

I walked past all of these little stores, like the White Rabbit place where you got rugs and posters for your dorm room, and Discount Den, where they sold used CDs and everything imaginable with an IU logo on it.  That stroll around the Kirkwood Avenue buildings, eventually culminating with a lunch at Garcia’s Pizza, is where my perception started to change, from the campus being this distant Hollywood-formed entity to being my home for the next half-decade.  I didn’t know this change in perception had started, but that first glimpse of my new life is what I always remembered every time I got on one of those busses.

And then, a decade later, I’m in the same exact bus, with a different color stripe.  Except instead of being the A bus lumbering past the Arboretum and toward a giant limestone library, it was the M60 going from Harlem, across the Triborough bridge and into Queens.  Even though the lush green lawns got replaced with block after block of graffiti-covered buildings climbing into the sky, I still remembered that July day in 1989 when one era ended and another one began.

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Thoughts on a random picture: The Student Building

I went back to storage the other day and dug out two books of prints, most of which were unscanned.  There’s still at least one box of prints somewhere in there that I didn’t find, and I have no time to scan more of them, but here’s an interesting one I found.

This is the Student Building on the IU Bloomington campus.  I can easily date this as the summer of 1991, although that’s perplexing because I didn’t live in Bloomington that summer, and I didn’t own a camera then.  That means I must have been in town visiting the person Ray refers to as “the za chick” (long story) and I must have been using her camera.

The Student Building was a total shithole when I was a freshman.  I remember going there for a meeting with some alcohol counseling group.  I was a militant non-drinker as a freshman, which I now realize was stupid, and I probably just should have drank everything offered to me, if only to take the edge off of the unfurling mania that kept me awake for weeks at a time.  But I had some vague interest in finding out about this group that sponsored all of these non-drinking dances and whatnot, and I met with them once and then probably got bored of the whole thing and shifted obsessions to learning all of the bass lines from the first four Black Sabbath albums or whatever.

Anyway, the meeting was in the basement of the Student Building, and at that point in 1989, the place was practically on the verge of collapse, and looked like an East German department store in the mid-70s.  There were flickering fluorescent lights, dark passages, plywood over walls, wires hanging from ceilings, and cracking plaster everywhere.  I don’t remember thinking anything about whether or not the place should be restored or preserved; I’m sure I just thought “man all of these buildings are old… hey, there’s a new Steve Vai album I have to memorize….”

The renovations were underway on the 1905 building in late 1990 when there was an electrical fire that December and the place burned down.  I often say “electrical fire” because it was a strange coincidence that the iconic clocktower building was shut down and emptied and just happened to burn, probably collecting a huge insurance check and an even bigger inflow of contributions from alumni.  Even more amazing is the fact that it takes roughly 8 years to fix a pothole in Bloomington, but they had this thing from gutted and charred shell to completed construction in roughly nine months.

That summer, I lived in Elkhart, but started dating the aforementioned girl over the Memorial Day weekend (20 years ago – jesus christ) and I came down to visit pretty much every weekend I could.  I’d just bought this VW Rabbit diesel, which got something like 50 miles per gallon, and diesel was a dime a gallon cheaper than regular gas, so I could make the 500-mile round trip on ten bucks of gas.  I worked at this copper and brass pipe fitting factory on second shift, and would rush home at midnight on Friday, take a quick shower, then drive into the darkness, cutting across the state on US 31, pulling into Bloomington just as the sun rose.  I missed the Bloomington campus so much during my year of exile up north, and deeply cherished the brief 48-hour visits to see the old limestone buildings again.

By the time I returned to Bloomington in 1991, the Student Building was complete.  Most of the building belonged to the Anthropology department, but UCS outfitted most of the second floor with the latest computer toys, and I spent some time there when I couldn’t get a spot in the IMU or Lindley.  I didn’t work there much as a consultant (most of my shifts were in the Library the fall semester, and all of them were in the IMU that spring) but some of my friends like Bill did.  I always dug the interiors of that building: high ceilings, those giant curved windows, and massive wood trim everywhere.  They mixed that 1905 elegance with 1991 high-tech, with a whole room of NeXT workstations and color printers and flatbed scanners and dual-monitor Macs.

I remember spending a lot of time playing with this brand new program that just came out the year before, called Adobe Photoshop.  The 1.0 version was pretty rough, but let you take GIF images and alter them, changing colors and editing details and doing stuff that people used to do with razor blades and paint.  Today, every single picture we see online is photoshopped, but in 1991, this was still the stuff of science fiction.  Terminator 2 had just come out in theaters, and the idea of CGI and digital effects was brand spanking new, but here I was in the middle of Indiana, surrounded by machines that could do the same damn thing, free for me to use (provided some dork wasn’t parked there using a $10,o00 computer to chat on the VAXPhone to the person two rooms away.)

I spent a lot more time in the Student Building in the 1992-1993 school year.  I briefly had a second job with the UCS education department, helping teach the JumpStart classes, which were these free “WordPerfect in 60 minutes” sort of things.  They also taught these longer seminars on a fee basis to other departments, so if you needed all of your office workers in Parking Enforcement to learn DBase, you paid a few hundred bucks and sent everyone off to a three-hour class.  A lot of these were taught in the Student Building, probably because it was easier to reserve a block of computers for a half day.  I never taught these classes, but was always the assistant, meaning when someone fell behind during a lecture, I’d run up and guide them through the lesson.  I also did all of the pre-class stuff, like going around and wiping out and restarting Quattro Pro on 38 machines, or setting up template files from a server.  It wasn’t exactly my calling, but I was desperate for hours, and that gave me shifts.

The Student Building gradually lost that New Building Smell, and those cutting-edge NeXT machines quickly became boat anchors and eventually got replaced with a cluster of SGI workstations.  (“Wow!  These are the same computers they used to make Jurassic Park!”)  But that building, and all of the postcard-picture scenery in the old crescent of campus, always reminded me of that idealistic summer of 1991, when I so desperately wanted to be back, and the fall of 1991, when I finally made it.

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Precious cups within the flower

I broke my arm in 1992.  It was stupid – I was riding my new-ish bike that I bought because my Volkswagen’s brakes went out and when I got it to Meineke, they couldn’t put it on the lift because the Indiana winters rotted through the floorboards and frame, and the hydraulic arms would have popped right through the bottom of the West German toy and snapped it in half.  So I bought this bike, with the hopes of just using it instead of a car, although you can’t buy groceries on a ten-speed, and you can’t bring sixteen weeks of laundry to the laundromat, and you definitely can’t get laid if you show up for a date on a Huffy.

I headed home from work at Ballantine one day, and took the ramp that connected the two levels of the parking garage, which had one of those giant arms blocking the entrance, unless you had a magic cardkey or you were a pedestrian.  As I rode downhill toward the two-foot gap between the gate and the wall, this dude came toward the gate on foot.  So I slowed down and moved to the left, and he moved to the left.  I should have just gotten off the bike, but this was a racing bike with toe clips, and I hated pulling my feet out of them, so I slowed down and moved to the right.  Then he moved to the right.  So I slowed down and moved to the left.  Then he moved to the left.  So I slowed down and moved to the right.  And he moved to the right.  And then BAM, I was flat on my ass, my feet still stuck in the pedals, because I had slowed down to zero and whatever laws of physics keep you balanced on a bike when it’s moving forward no longer applied, because I wasn’t moving.

Here’s the only saving grace: I never took my hands off the bars.  Your first instinct is to put your arm out and stop your fall, and if I would’ve done that, I would have snapped all of those tiny little bones in the wrist, the ones that never, ever heal right.  Instead of slamming 180-some pounds of weight into those little bones with names I will never know even if I go to Wikipedia and look it up (because I am sure some nutjob has removed all of the English names in a revert war, because they promote sexism because the 16th century doctor that named all the bones was a man, or whatever), all of my weight hit my elbow, which from a nerve ending standpoint is probably worse.

I got back up and pushed my handlebars back in place from the 40-degree angle they got knocked to, and rode my bike home.  But the arm felt worse and worse, and this was an aluminum road bike that you pretty much couldn’t ride one-handed because it was way too balanced and stiff.  So I got home at like 4:15 and called my then-sorta-girlfriend-but-not, and told her I thought I broke my arm.  She worked for a year at a loony bin in Chicago, which made her a medical expert, and she asked if I could move it, and I could barely move it, maybe a sixth of its normal motion.  So she said “you didn’t break it, you’ll be fine.”  And she said she couldn’t make it over until later (which I later found it was because she was dating another guy at the same time) and so I hung up, and fretted and fumed and finally said fuck it and got my wallet and set off for the Health Center.  But I couldn’t ride my bike, so I had to walk across campus, now holding my busted up left arm with my right arm in an impromptu sling.

Everyone called the Health Center the Death Center, and the only good reasons to go there were:  1) birth control 2) Prozac 3) antibiotics and 4) you could send your bill to your bursar’s account and not pay it until the end of the year.  I didn’t even know if they could treat breaks and sprains, but the real hospital was miles away, and I didn’t have insurance, and I definitely didn’t have a credit card with more than $3 of open credit on it.  By the time I got there, the pain seared through my body, the kind of thing where you fantasize about being tortured at the Hanoi Hilton by Soviet-trained Viet Cong interrogators, because that might take your mind away from the millions of flaming nerve endings turning your entire body into a throbbing vessel of pain.

I don’t remember what the hell I had to fill out or how long I had to wait or what decade-old issue of Reader’s Digest I got to flip through before they wheeled me into an x-ray lab with a machine that looked like it came off the set of a 1940’s science fiction serial.  The radiologist wanted to hold my arm in 528 ways on this table, and of course 475 of the poses were impossible without moving my elbow, which wasn’t happening anymore.  I sat and wallowed for another twenty minutes, then a doc came in with a couple of floppy translucent sheets of film that he slapped on one of those light-up glass things on a wall.

“See that shaded area on the radius,” he said.  “That’s a break.  It’s just a compression fracture, but I bet it hurts like hell.  You won’t need a cast, but we can give you a sling for it. Let me get you something for the pain,” he said, digging for a prescription pad.

“I’m allergic to aspirin, advil, and tylenol,” I said.  I also rattled off the short list of various mind-benders the shrink was feeding me on a regular basis so he could get that Aruba vacation from Pfizer.

“Um, how about you ice it, and keep it elevated.  Come back and see me in a month, okay?”

I limped home, the third time that day I’d self-propelled myself across the campus with a broken arm.  I called the not-really-girlfriend and told her I went to the fucking hospital and the fucking doctor took a fucking x-ray and told me the fucking arm was fucking broken.  No fucking painkillers.  I think she came over, maybe with food, maybe not.  I don’t even remember, I just remember trying to sleep that night, and not being able to get anywhere close to a minute of shuteye.  I was a restless sleeper back then, and couldn’t stay in one position, so laying on my back with my arm propped up on sixteen pillows didn’t help the situation.  Holding the arm above my heart and putting ice on it was like wrapping yourself in crepe paper streamers to prevent a flamethrower attack.  I counted the minutes until 8 AM, when the stupid health center opened again.

I called them up at exactly 8:00:00.00 and said “I BROKE MY ARM YESTERDAY AND I AM EXPERIENCING PAIN OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS.”

“What did the doctor prescribe for the pain yesterday?” the phone-nurse asked.

“PITHY ANECDOTES AND WORTHLESS ADVICE ABOUT ELEVATION AND ICE.”

They said to come in.  I got there (I walked again, except this time at least I had a real sling) and a group of four or five residents all converged and flipped through a big book of pills and potions and finally decided on something that would not give me seizures or cause my throat to swell shut in fifteen seconds.  “Okay, I’m going to prescribe some codeine cough medicine.  I know you don’t have a cough, but it doesn’t have any aspirin in it, so you can take a higher dose and it should help.”  Sold.

Man, I love me a good opiate.  I’d never taken one before that, and didn’t take aspirin or any of that stuff, because I had a weird allergy to it, and my eyes would puff up for days and I’d wheeze like an asthmatic at a Cypress Hill concert, so when I got a headache, I’d just think peaceful thoughts, and maybe drink 19 Cokes.  I sat in the pharmacy on the second floor, arm in sling, waiting for that magic bottle, and checking out all of the people waiting too.  (The only two prescriptions they really filled there were birth control and Prozac, and the place was always crawling with hot co-eds and I constantly wondered if they were loose or batshit crazy or both.)  They gave me this brown glass bottle that looked like it contained an old-tyme remedy formula, and I walked home (again!) and doubled up the suggested dosage.  The syrup tasted like an industrial adhesive mixed with something you’d wash your dog with when he contracted an outbreak of a strain of African disease-carrying lice.  So I hit the syrup, then downed half of a Coke, and put in a CD on repeat, and went to lay down in bed, and it felt like that three foot drop from standing to prone took about 45 minutes, like a slow escalator ride through a wall of clouds.

Suddenly, every lyric on every Black Sabbath album made perfect sense.  (“‘sleeping village/cockrels cry’… of course!  of course!”)  I stared at the half-deteriorated suspended ceiling patterns for a few minutes with visions of Ozzy dancing through my head, Mr. Francis Anthony Iommi’s fingers sticking out of the air ether emanating from the speakers, manipulating the molecules in my brain with his detuned zombie notes. Then the girlfriend-not-girlfriend walked in to check up on me; I thought ten minutes had passed, but I’d listened to the titular first Black Sabbath album nine times and it was lunch and she wanted to bring me to Subway or something.  (She was on Nutrisystem or one of those things where you eat their food, although she was at her goal weight, but she wasn’t into my diet at the time, which consisted solely of whatever meal at Burger King cost $2.99 that week.  So Subway was the compromise lunch place.  Of course, the first time we go to Subway, this friend of mine who happened to also be a stripper comes in and sits on my lap and starts asking me about my summer and flirting with me and playing with my hair which freaked the fuck out the not-girlfriend, who was the jealous type, although as I mentioned, I don’t know how many people she was dating when we were “dating”.)

The arm healed up fast, and I was back on my stupid bike within a month.  I think the sling did more damage to my neck and back than the fall did to my arm.  It always felt like I was one of those GI-Joe dolls where the torso was attached to the pelvis with a piece of elastic, and if you didn’t turn it the right way, the torso would be dislodged and stuck at like a twenty degree angle off center until you pulled the whole thing apart and let it snap back together the right way, except this was the arm-ribcage joint, and I had no easy way to pull my arm four feet out of the socket for the correctional manipulation.  I didn’t need to take the codeine after about a week, although I then found out that in addition to stopping the pain of a broken arm, it stopped that horrible overwhelming feeling you get when you’re absolutely sure your girlfriend is not really your girlfriend and she’s probably fucking that guy in her study group she keeps talking about.  Things completely fell apart with the not-girlfriend around the time I got to the bottom of that brown bottle, and I didn’t do a Rush Limbaugh and get a hundred different croakers to write me scripts to different pharmacies; I just went on to the next potential dating disaster.

So that’s the opium story.  I was thinking about this and realized that my old roommate Yusef also broke his arm, maybe a year before I did.  And when he came home, I told him it probably wasn’t hurt and he shouldn’t be such a pussy.  Key differences: 1) he was stoned out of his gourd when he rode home; 2) he fell on his wrist because he was carrying home this $800 classical guitar he hadn’t paid for yet, and he wanted to protect the guitar; 3) he really, really broke the wrist and had to be in a cast for the rest of the semester; 4) he was a guitar performance major, so this totally screwed him up for the better part of the year.  I could still fart around on the computer with my arm in a sling (this was before the conquest of the mouse, and everything was either DOS or unix), but he had studio and recitals and stuff he had to reschedule.  And 5) he had to pay for that guitar even though he couldn’t play it.  (Or maybe he returned it – I don’t remember.)

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Phoenix Dumpling

I had the most vivid dream a bit ago.  I was back in Bloomington, in present-day, working some job that involved me commuting either to or from Indianapolis every day.  I went for breakfast at the Phoenix Dumpling, which had been (re-?)opened as this sort of foody sit-down service restaurant, but still had the same cooks and the same food and kitchen setup.  I ordered The General and wolfed it down while overhearing a conversation at another table, with some woman who was a geology PhD from Arkansas or something, although she looked Filipino, who bought and reopened the place, trying to make it as accurate as possible.

I think the Phoenix was the first place I’ve ever eaten Chinese food.  I mean, I know I never ate it as a kid, because the most ethnic food we ever ate was maybe Pizza Hut.  The Dump was sort of an institution amongst the compsci people and other hackers that used to hang out at Lindley Hall.  You didn’t have to know the difference between a struct and a pointer to a struct to eat there, but at least half of the people there at any given time probably could.  (Or maybe not – it was a pretty scheme-heavy institution, scheme being this lisp-like programming language, not a synonym for plan or strategy.)

The Dump sat in this building with two storefronts, and a bunch of apartments above it.  At one time, Frankov had one of the studios above it, which must have been torture, smelling the food below on a daily basis. The storefront next to it was temporarily the location of Jerry’s Liquors, when their other location burned down in 1991.  Phoenix Dumpling consisted of a small dining area with a few tables in the front, with a sort of assembly line of food prep in the back.  A row of giant cauldrons sat on gas burners, a line of ancient Chinese women hunched over each one, stirring gallons of food with giant boat oars.  You pointed at the kettle of food you wanted, and they would pile it into a styrofoam box, along with a bunch of premade rice, and you’d order a coke, and they’d fill up a styrofoam cup, no cans or coke-logoed paper cups.  You could get in and out of there for five bucks easy, and get a pound of the best worst Chinese food you could find in town.  I mean, there were plenty of places to get Chinese food, and there were several places with better food, but this was one of those pound-for-pound comparisons, where you got five bucks of food for five bucks.

I’ve been thinking about Bloomington a bit lately, digging through some old stories I want to clean up eventually.  I have not been back since 2002, and even that was for a quick afternoon.  I wish I could go back, but any time I’m in the midwest, it’s up north and during the winter, so I can’t invest the ten hours of driving on crap roads to walk around a cold and vacant campus.  I don’t know though – it might be incredibly depressing to see everything changed, and the place populated with kids who are literally young enough to be my kids.

Okay, gotta get to work.

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Own a piece of Konrath history

For only $159,000, you can buy the last place I lived in Bloomington:

http://www.homefinder.org/public/buy-details.asp?sTransactionNumber=20101620&sCRecord=147

This is the 1005 W. 6th house, where I lived from 1994-1995.  I lived here with Simms and Matt Liggett, and it’s a weird little place.  It’s five bedrooms, but they’re odd-sized little rooms, so you can only really get three people in there.  We each had a tiny upstairs room, with a computer room up front and the Simms music studio in another room.  It had 1.5 baths, but in a weird configuration; there was a room with a toilet, sink, and non-functional tub; the other one had a shower, sink, and no toilet.  I bought a sign that said NO DUMPING and put it on the toilet-less room.  This also became a metaphor for distributed computing in a long and somewhat irrelevant story that I’ll skip.

The place also had a giant kitchen, big enough for a drum set and full band without compromising on keg location or chili distribution.  I have a lot of strange memories of that place, like when I tried to grow tomatoes in one corner with a bunch of grow lights, or the birthday when me and Larry went to K-Mart, bought two copies of this board game where you built castles out of bricks and then launched marbles from catapults siege-style to try to level your opponent, and then played on the kitchen floor, proceeding to lose little marbles all over the place.

I really did like my room there, too.  It was a cape cod, and my room was upstairs, so I had a low ceiling with weird angles on it, and bookshelves built into two walls.  I spent many late nights on my mattress on the floor, reading Henry Miller and scribbling in notebooks, listening to rain on the rooftop or running the little electric heater in the cold.  I loved living in this little closet-sized womb of a room, books on three walls, journals all over the creaky wooden floors, a busted-up PS/2 386SX computer I borrowed from work and only used to play solitaire in Windows 3.1.  (It was a literal doorstop; it was not networked and I had some crazy idea that I’d type away on it in Notepad and write down thoughts and turn them into books, and of course that didn’t happen.)

Anyway – I’m not in the market for a second house these days.  And if you really want some Konrath history for about $158,985 cheaper, you could go buy a copy of Summer Rain.  (And that book was based on a different house – the one at 414 Mitchell – but I did start writing SR at the 6th Street house, so there is a connection.)  But I’ve been thinking of B-town a lot lately, and it seems five forevers ago since I was there.  So it gave be a chuckle and a brief trip through time when I saw this.

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The Run-in

Here’s something I forgot to mention about my Vegas trip last January:  my ex from Seattle was there at the same time as me.  I did not run into her like I did on my 30th birthday, but I knew she was there because when I was waiting for my luggage, someone kept paging her.  That really tripped my freak-out meter and made me look at every single person arriving at the shuttle monorail station, wondering if she would show up, and what I would do.  In that particular case, we broke up with no real ill-will and remained friends, albeit walking-on-eggshells friends, for a couple of years while I was still in Seattle.  But after I moved to New York, some switch was flipped with her, and she decided I was the root of all evil and we could no longer speak.  And sure, I’ll be the bad guy of the situation and assume that role if it makes her feel any better, especially since we live however many thousands of miles apart, and it’s not like I need to avoid places to not see her.  But it’s strange that we keep ending up in Vegas at the same time, and it always makes me wonder what I’d say if I did have to talk to her again.

I always remember the opposite scenario, especially back in Bloomington, with the bad breakup and the dread/anticipation of running into an ex.  Because here’s how it would go down:  I would get dumped, usually in some catastrophic way.  Then I would spend every waking moment wanting to see that person again, for that last word, that one bit of closure.  I always thought that if I said the right magic word, they would see the error in their ways and come running back to me, even though they spent the last month breaking every connection, burning every bridge, and completely salting the earth to make it clear to me that we would never get back together again.  But I would be pained in such a way that I would absolutely need to say something or lash out in some way and get in that last final “no, fuck YOU!”  And when I got to the point where I started leaving the house again, because this typically involved a refractory period of sitting in my room alone listening to Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut a million times, I would both fear and anticipate running into this person again.  Because Bloomington’s a big city in some ways – I mean, it’s a couple hundred acres and like 40,000 people milling about, but you’ll eventually cross paths again.

But here’s one that I thought I documented (fictionally, sort of) in Summer Rain, but I guess I tore it out before the final draft.  So I dated this woman in 1991, and after spending that xmas break fuming and fretting to all of my friends about how I should dump her, I got back and she dumped me, and whatever reason, it completely knocked me sideways, and I spent a lot of time depressed.  We had a lot of stupid fights, and the scorched earth policy went into full effect, and I absolutely knew I could never go back with her (mostly because like an hour after we broke up, she had already fucked like 9 other guys, and was talking about moving to Australia or England or something, because she spent all of her time in IRC chat because she was a fervent Anglophile.)  But I was still borderline obsessed with running into her, getting in that last jab, getting her to somehow admit she was cheating on me the whole time or whatever.  I don’t really know what I wanted, but I was obsessed with it, the kind of obsessed where I had to take her name out of my wholist program on the VAX.  For a while, I left it in there, officially because I needed to know if she was in a nearby lab on campus so I could avoid her, but unofficially because I was somehow obsessed with where she was or if she was on the computer late at night, talking to her next prospect.  Not a healthy thing to do, but it took me a while to finally delete her name and get her off my radar.

So we never ran into each other again.  And months later, I meet someone, and we meet and we have breakfast and everything is magical and just clicks, and if you think you’ve heard the story before, it’s because you did – the character Tammy in Summer Rain was based on this.  And we meet on this Sunday morning in the spring that’s one of those magical days in March in Bloomington where it’s suddenly 70 degrees out and sunny and you don’t need a coat and the memories of digging your car out of a block of ice and spending the last two months damning yourself for not going to school in Florida or Southern California quickly vanish from your mind.

And I go on a walk with this new girl, and we decide to walk across campus to go use the new NeXT computer lab at the Student Building (romantic, right?) and we’re walking and holding hands and joking and strolling across that big parking lot that runs next to the Jordan River behind the music building.  And as we’re walking, guess who we see coming the opposite direction?  The ex.  THE ex, the one I have been avoiding, that I have sort of but not really gotten out of my head.  And I don’t even acknowledge her presence; I keep talking and joking and laughing with the new girl, and we go past her as if she’s just another stranger walking around on that sunny Sunday afternoon.  And I wanted to say something, to the effect of “do you realize what just happened?”  Because right then, the entire remainder of whatever bad karma or bad mojo or whatever you want to call it suddenly vanished from my system, and I realized I did not give a fuck whatsoever about this ex.  It was the magic pill that completely cured me of that breakup.

Of course, I did not know at the time that in a few short months, I would be doing the same thing with the new girl, except now she would be in Pittsburg, not answering my phone calls or letters, and I was desperately wondering how I’d ever talk to her again.  And then the next fall, as I did talk about at the end of Summer Rain, I would run into her again, and coincidentally, it was at the same exact god damned spot behind the music school where I ran into the other ex, only this time I did not have some new girl in tow – I was actually in the middle of a huge fuck-up/breakup with someone else, spending my days moping around and writing giant multi-page journal entries about what I could have possibly done so wrong to fuck up my life so much at that point.

I am now largely convinced that my next book should be something bizarre, like a sibling to Rumored to Exist. But one of the stories that I wrote for Air in the Paragraph Line #13 was about a bad breakup in 1993, and it makes me think I should just write a book that’s a chapter per bad breakup from like all of the 1990s, and maybe some light paste between stories to make the whole thing a novel.  Maybe, but maybe later… bigger fish to fry right now.

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414 S. Mitchell

I know I just talked about the folly of nostalgia, but the other night I found myself googling my old address on Mitchell Street in Bloomington. Long-time readers (both of you) know that 414 S. Mitchell was my home base from 1991-1993, and also the backdrop of my first book, Summer Rain. Anyway, I found out three interesting things. The first is that the house is on google maps street views, so you can see what it looks like.

I also found a picture of a woman in front of the 414 side of the duplex, and it looked pretty much the same as when I lived there – same grey paint, crappy trim, etc. But it turns out the picture was from 1979. I emailed the person and it turns out he and his wife lived there from 1976-1979, and the house was in pretty much the same shambles as when I lived there. The big difference was that then it was a true duplex, basically two apartments with many bedrooms each, and living rooms. When I lived there, the house had been de-duplexed and cobbled together walls re-divided it into maximum room space with no living space, so it could be run as a boarding house with maximum profits. I always wondered what the house configuration was like in the past.

Further googling showed me that the new owners (“new” – I think they bought it in 1992) have re-duplexed the place and tried to fix it up a bit. (Listing here) It’s now painted this hunter green color that looks like a travesty to me. There is a blueprint of the 414 side (I technically lived in 416) and it looks like they turned one room into a living room. I also found someone on craigslist trying to sublet for the summer. That room is directly above my old one; the kitchen is the one by my room, and it looks like it has new appliances (in 1992, ours were from like 1947) and cabinets. It’s odd that they are asking $450/mo. I paid $177/mo back in the day. Also, I totally forgot about this – I tried to sublet for the summer of 1992, and I plastered fliers everywhere saying I’d rent it out for the entire summer for $100, or five cases of beer. Everyone that looked at the place thought that price was highway robbery.

Speaking of robbery, I got Grand Theft Auto 4 last night. It’s interesting – a little different than I thought. The other GTA games have this cartoony, unrealistic feel to them in some ways, which makes the whole thing seem like much more of a parody. But in 4, they really tried to get the audio and small details to be more realistic. If you pop your car onto the sidewalk at full speed and hit a fire hydrant, it knocks over and sprays water everywhere. Hit something too fast, and you will fly through the windshield. Look at someone the wrong way on the street, and they will give you shit, with plenty of profanity in their tirade. The cops are pricks. The subways are slow and delayed. There’s too much traffic. People are trying to hit you up for money. In other words, a complete New York experience, minus the smell. It is weird, because they have really mapped out a good chunk of the city. It is not 100%, more like a Reader’s Digest version, but all of the landmarks are there. Of course, they’re all renamed. Queens is Dukes. Brooklyn is Broker. Astoria is Steinway. Manhattan is Algonquin. Long Island City is East Island City. Tribeca is The Triangle. The Lower East Side is Lower Easton. Chinatown is Chinatown. I am still stuck in Queens/Dukes (history repeats itself) until I do more missions, but it’s funny when I’m driving and I think “holy shit, this is the way I used to walk to Best Buy…” I got lost once, and then realized I was at Fulton Street in Brooklyn, where I bought my last pair of Nike high-tops. The stores there are run-down and gaudy in the same exact way as the real thing. My old apartment is not there. The beer gardens are. I wonder if my place at Seward Park is there. Anyway, looks like I won’t be writing the great American novel for a few more months.

I have been looking for free MP3s – not the kind you get from Russia because of a loophole in the international copyright treaty, but the kind that unknown bands hand out so you will get into their stuff. I am sick of every one of the 6885 songs I have in iTunes, and I want to look for new stuff, but I realize I don’t know how to do that anymore. And I don’t want to keep buying crap from the past that has been re-re-re-remastered. I have no idea how this could be done, but I would LOVE to write a script or program that scraped the names of all of the bands in my current library, and then gave me a huge list of stuff of theirs I don’t have, stuff by related artists (like those big flowchart books) and stuff that I might like based on that. Does Amazon have a web service that does part of this? I don’t know. But it would be cooler than shit to have that script, so I could run it and it would produce a big giant web page with links where I could either buy (or preview) the CDs on Amazon or iTunes. It would also be nifty to put this in some giant Web 2.0 bullshit that makes charts and graphs, but I just want the info.

In a fit of stupidity (I have many of these), I got on iTunes and bought every song I could find that a Rockies player uses for their walkup music. Three things surprised me about this. One: the Rob Thomas song “Streetcar Symphony” is something that they played before games, and twenty years from now, I will be listening to that and thinking “man, remember 2007” because it is such a strong association. Second, I really hated Brad Hawpe’s walkup song, Nickelback’s “Rockstar”. But now that I have listened to the entire song, I like it. Third, I had no idea what the fuck reggaeton was prior to going to baseball games. Since every other player is Dominican, a ton of them use Don Omar or Daddy Yankee songs for their walkup. And now that I’ve heard “Salio El Sol” a thousand times when Yorvit Torrealba bats, I find that I actually like reggaeton. I mean, I feel like an idiot if I’m listening to “Gasolina” in my car while I’m driving around El Segundo, because I think someone’s going to pull up to me at a light and think “what the fuck is that esse’s problem?” And I have no idea what other reggaeton I would buy, because it’s one of those genres where there are endless numbers of greatest hits compilations, and all of them sound like some dude just pressed ten buttons on a Korg and spit out the song.

That’s all. Go to http://twitter.com/jkonrath if you haven’t already, to see how that experiment is going.

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From the IMU

Today’s journal is coming to you from the bowels of the Indiana Memorial Union. Although I’ve written paper journals in weird places (at 30,000 feet, in the middle of the golden gate bridge, at disneyland, at MIT, etc), I think this is the first online journal entry I’ve written outside of Washintgon.

Of course, I have much to write, and little energy. I’ve slept far too little, and done a year’s worth of walking in a day. I’m staying with my former roommate Simms, in my old house, on my old couch. He threw a massive Halloween party last night – more people than I’ve ever seen in that house before. He, Bennett, and Jason played his score to the classic silent vampire film, Nosferatu. The band was in the kitchen, and 3 TVs in various places in the house showed the laserdisc part of the show. Incredible stuff! I also saw many of my old cronies, and many people who knew of me that I didn’t know – Simms tells his Konrath stories to everyone he knows, and he knows many people. My costum- I went as Poison Ivy from the new Batman film. Don’t ask.

I managed to give away a shitload of zines last night – I set a stack of them on a table, and within an hour, a bunch of people were reading them or taking them. Cool.

Yesterday, I saw a lot of the town and realized how small it really is. I took the walk from the IMU to y old place in Mitchell Street. A lot of it looked the same, but it didn’t ring a bell anymore – it seemed distant. Most of my visit sofar has been like that. Things from my past are still here, but it doesn’t feel like it did before. Maybe my brain is telling me I should move on.

Speaking of moving on, I’ve got a shitload to do. Maybe I’ll try another entry while I’m still in Indiana…

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An expensive piece of paper

My diploma showed up this weekend, in a mailer marked DO NOT BEND that was bent almost in half by my fuckhead mailman. After straigtening out the piece of paper, tacking it in a $12 frame from target, and hanging it in my bedroom, it’s a strange reminder that my days at IU are over.

I guess that’s a harsh way of looking at it. But the piece of paper is sort of the official word that on June 30, 1995, the part of my life called college ended. I didn’t see this piece of paper because I owned the bursar some cash, and I never did the cap and gown stuff because at a school as big as IU, it’s pretty worthless. They don’t have every one of the 10,000 people walk down the aisle when their name is called – they say “school of business – please stand – you are graduated – next – school of music – please stand – “.

Packing and moving out here changed things, and I’ve been here for long enough to forget what it’s like to be a student. But the piece of paper is a strange reminder. It’s so official – like something that would be in a doctor’s office, telling the world that this person spent a lot of money doing this and it ain’t no truck driving certificate. I sat looking at the piece of parchment for a while last night, mesmerized.

It reminded me of when I got my first driver’s license. I spent a whole evening staring at it, reading all of the text: the different restriction codes, the organ donor section, my height, my weight, my crappy picture. I drew a handlebar mustache and long hair over the photo with a pencil, which made my age go from 16 to 34. But most of all, I just thought about how strange it was to see an Indiana driver’s license with my name and picture on it. It was also abnormal to be able to get in my beat up Camaro that had been sitting for almost two years, and without a parent or guardian in the passenger seat, pull out of the driveway, turn up the radio, and slam on the gas.

—–

I was watching Larry King Live and he asked some guy in Paris if he had ever seen a car as fucked up as Lady Di’s limo after it got crushed in that tunnel. If Larry King asked me that, I’d have to answer “you’ve never seen some of the shit I’ve done to cars, Larry”. That Mercedes was in much more saleable condition than my Turismo that blew up in the parking lot of a Martins grocery store.

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