2010 in books

In 2003, I made a list of every book I read that year. I haven’t done this since for a few reasons, although laziness is the biggest one.  Also, I don’t read as much as I should, and these lists are never accurate.  It’s like every top-100 record list by rock snobs that have Captain Beefheart on the list.  I can guarantee you that far more people listen to Boston’s first album than Don Von’s, and but people put him on the list because they want to look superior or act like they have a refined taste.  (For the record, I am listening to “More Than a Feeling” on repeat as I write this, something I do for hours at a time, until I decide to switch to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” or “Freebird”, or the Oakland SWAT team knocks my front door off the hinges because my neighbors have phoned in a potential Waco standoff, because there’s no other possible reason for someone to listen to side 1/track 1 of Boston – Boston 483 times in a row.)

Okay, so here is a partial list of the books I read in 2010 that you should read but probably won’t, because this post itself just broke the 200 word mark, and that’s way too long for anyone not on near-lethal amounts of ADHD medication.  Oh, in no particular order.

  • Loner: Stories by John Sheppard – This is a story collection by my pal John Sheppard that contains three stories previously released in Air in the Paragraph Line, plus a story entitled “Loner” that completely blew me away.  John’s an incredibly underrated writer and the book is worth it for this one story.
  • Meat Won’t Pay My Light Bill by Kurt Eisenlohr – Kurt is better known in these parts as the artist who painted the AITPL 13 cover, but he’s also an awesome writer.  This is a very Bukowskian novel about a punk named Lupus who wants to quit working and spend his time painting, and all hell breaks loose.  If you liked Post Office, this book is totally up your alley.
  • There Are a Million Stories in the Naked City by Fiona Helmsley – This is a cool-sized pocket book that consists of 120 pages of creative non-fiction stories about Fiona’s days world of punks and strippers and heroin and a dirty, pre-Giuliani New York City.
  • Awkward 1 – I first met Awkward Press editor Jeffrey Dinsmore during my brief stint in LA in 2008, which was right before he got Awkward up and running.  They’ve since done a more substantial second issue in 2010, which tells you something about my reading backlog.  This episode has five short stories about awkward occurrences, all of them great.  Each one is pretty innovate in how the story unspools, like Honor Rovai’s “Housesitting”, which starts off as a letter to a housesitter that quickly morphs into a crime confession.
  • The American Book of the Dead by Henry Baum – A high-concept thriller about the end of the world as brought on by a far-right conspiracy by religious fundies in a Cheney-type style.  It’s a good plot that would (or will?) make a great movie, but is also noteworthy in that it was self-published and isn’t just another SKU number regurgitated from the entertainment-industrial complex.
  • Air in the Paragraph Line #13 – I know I published it, and I wrote two of the stories, but I also read a metric fuck-ton of stories before selecting these, and I re-read everything here a million times during the production of the issue.  Todd Taylor’s “Banjo Alien Zen” is one of my favorites in here, as is Rebel Star Hobson’s piece about the insanity of working in a redneck-infested convenience store.

I didn’t buy as much this year because I re-read a lot of old books.  I moved, and in the process of moving, I tried to tightly prune my collection and dump books that had followed me across the country multiple times that I should have read but didn’t.  Also, I tried to nail down what I was supposed to be writing, or what I wanted to write, and a lot of that involved re-reading books important to me.  Here’s a partial list of what I re-read, all books worthy of purchase, if you’ve got that Amazon gift card from xmas burning a hole in your pocket:

  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson – A panic Kindle purchase when I realized I was on the way to the airport for a cross-country flight and had nothing to read.  I practically inhaled this on the plane ride home, and it was just as good as the first half-dozen times I read it.
  • The Risk Pool by Richard Russo – This is pretty much becoming an annual read.  Nobody paints a picture like this guy.
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick – Alternate reality we-lost-to-the-Nazis fiction at its finest, especially since all alternate reality fiction currently written is some right-wing wonk trying to get across some point about how paving roads is socialism.
  • The Fuck-Up by Arthur Nersesian – One of my favorite books about New York, even if there is a geographical goof about every five pages.

So what should I be reading in 2011?


Winter, sort of

It’s winter, sort of. The temperature has been consistently under 60 for about a week, aside from a weird day where it was 70. The 50-ish temps mean I switch coats to my leather jacket, which is always exciting to me, for like a day. I’ve written about this before, but I’m too lazy to look up the old posts. It’s always interesting to me, because after months of no jacket or a light jacket, the leather jacket feels like home to me. It’s so heavy, it feels like putting on armor. And the smell of the leather always brings back the memories of all these other points in my history, back to when I first bought my first leather jacket in 1993. (I’m now on my third.) So I like that, but in a few weeks, I’m going to wish I could trade the thing in for one of those Arctic parka things.

It’s really odd that New York has the most people wearing black leather motorcycle jackets compared to anywhere else I’ve lived, but I’m also given the most unending shit about my jacket, especially from people I work with. If you think it’s odd that a person would wear a black leather jacket, you’ve spent too long in the fucking Hamptons. Seriously, check out the other 40-some states some time. And yesterday, I was at a health food store (believe it or not, I take a shitload of vitamins and supplements these days, for fear that my immune system will slow down more and I will be exposed to all of the viruses and parasites in this city) and I completely forgot that I was wearing the hide of a dead cow in a place full of level 7 vegans.

And it’s weird that I even give a shit about that, and I think that the fact that I do is one of my biggest weaknesses as a human, because I care far too much what people think of me or my writing, and almost none of those people really give a shit about me at all. Like I spend a lot of time trying to contact authors of books I have read and enjoyed because I think that they would care about the opinion of a reader, and almost 99% of the time, they don’t even answer their mail. And I do that because I would hope someday that people would write me letting me know if they enjoyed my books, and that also seldom happens. There are times I believe in karma, mostly when a bunch of bad shit happens to me in one day, and I’m convinced that it’s all because I cheated on a precalculus test in 1989 or something. But then I think about the above construct, and realize that karma can probably be safely shelved away with all of the other religious theories in which I don’t believe.

I read a Jonathan Ames memoir called What’s Not To Love?, which was pretty hilarious and also made me think that maybe someday I’d like to write a straight-up memoir (as opposed to the Summer Rain-type autobiographical fiction thing.) And then we went to see the movie Running with Scissors last night, and that 90% unconvinced me. The movie was not bad, but it wasn’t really that funny to me. There were a couple of good lines, but all of them were in the trailer. It was an interesting movie, and some of the acting was great, but it just didn’t blow me away or anything.

This convinces me that I really don’t get the entire memoir genre that’s so popular, with Augustin Burroughs and David Sedaris and so on. I’ve tried to read their books, and they sort of drone on to me like a shopping list, but whenever I see a video or hear a reading of them, people laugh at all of these points that are supposed to be funny, and I don’t get it. I mean, the funny parts are amusing, and some might make me chuckle, but it’s not ha-ha funny to me. I’m sure it’s some sort of demographics thing, like the same reason that I find almost all of NPR completely unlistenable, but tons of intellectual types enjoy it 24/7. And the flipside is true – I don’t think it’s technically possible to be a fan of both this memoir genre and, say, Andrew Dice Clay. I absolutely fucking loved Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but I know a lot of people who thought it was about as compelling as films of botched colon surgery.

And I don’t give a shit in the sense that I bear no hostility towards that genre, and I can keep reading my stuff and ignoring their stuff, just like I do with country music, Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings films, and whatever Disney/Pixar animated film of the month has talking fish, toys, cars, or whatever. But the problem to me is that I really do want to write a memoir in some sense, and just by picking that type of document, I’m instantly compared to these writers. And I simply don’t know how to write stuff that would appeal to that audience. I seriously think it would be easier for me to lay down a dance single in a studio, or maybe paint a modern art masterpiece than it would be for me to pen a memoir that was compatible with those standards in any way.

There’s also the issue that I’ve never been beaten, in rehab, on the streets, or sold to my mother’s shrink. I grew up in a tri-level house in a sea of tri-level and ranch houses, all with identical aluminum siding. There’s a part of me that thinks that because I haven’t lived a really out-there life, I couldn’t write a book about my life that would be interesting. But another part of me thinks it’s not the events, but how you frame them and write about them that makes it interesting. So who knows.

The zine is almost done, sort of. I have enough submissions to equal 170 pages, which was the length of #10. I have a few pending submissions that will maybe bring it up to 200. The cover’s not done or even thought about (I have the idea, just haven’t done it yet) but each story is already laid out in FrameMaker, so I don’t have a huge project ahead of me. I got a couple of last-second stories that were absolute fucking genius, so I’m happy with what’s going into this one. I am still nervous that I’m going to have to mail out more free copies than I will actually sell, and that’s a pretty legitimate fear, since it always happens. I want it to sell a lot of copies, and not because I make like 34 cents a copy, but because I want a lot of people to read some of the good stuff in it. And I want all of the authors in it to get some more exposure. My hope has always been that Y number of writers comes to the zine with their own audience of size X (the people who buy their shit no matter what), and so Y times X buys the thing, but some of the fans of one writer say “hey, that other writer is pretty cool too” and they go out and buy their books or read their web site or whatever. Last time, a couple of people posted links to the zine on their blog, and one person actually went out and pasted the press release into a jillion discussion boards and web sites. But yeah, not as much synergy as I’d hoped for. We’ll see how it goes this time.

(I’ve vaguely thought about writing a press release for the zine, mentioning that this guy used to write for my last zine, just so it shows in a million web searches. I’ve wasted a ton of time talking to the press about the guy, which converted to about zero book sales. If some idiot can get a book deal because they’re a 17-year-old blogger from Harvard, it seems like the distant zine buddy of the FBI’s most wanted might at least get me a column in Salon. But, I know I mentioned above that I didn’t believe in karma, but I think trying to huckster the terrorism angle would probably be a bad idea in general.)

I’m leaving for Berlin on Saturday. I have not done a single bit of preparation. Sarah picked out a bunch of restaurants. I bought a book, but read like a page of it. Time to get busy on that, although I’m now reading a bio of a Vietnam helicopter pilot, which is a bit more interesting…


Work (or lack thereof), social strata of New York

First things first: there will be a new issue of Air in the Paragraph Line soon, and I’m looking for contributors. The theme of the next issue will be Work (or lack thereof.) So if you have any fucked up tales of corrupt employers or savage burns you’ve pulled on The Man while at a place of business, send them my way. Click on the link above for more info.

I read Toby Young’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People yesterday. There were several forces that prevented this from happening earlier; the biggest was that when I started working on an anti-self-help book in the fall of 2001, I decided that this would be the perfect title. I worked on the book for a couple of weeks, then sort of wandered writing-wise, and then this smart-ass writes a book with the same fucking title! So that pissed me off for several years. Then, for some reason, I read half of a blurb on a subway over someone’s shoulder or something, and somehow got the idea that Young was working in the fashion industry. I assumed that his memoir was some sort of Devil Wears Prada thing, and wrote it off. But a few people told me I should read it, and I also found a used copy on Amazon for ONE CENT, plus shipping. And no, the shipping wasn’t $28, it was like $2.

Anyway, I liked the book very much. His writing reminds me of Chuck Klosterman in some ways, although where Chuck might go off on obscure KISS trivia, Young goes off on obscure pseudo-academic history, which had the eyes glazing over. But the other stuff was great, because there’s something that I have in common with him, and it’s not as obvious to most people, which is that we’re both outsiders to New York, and the ludicrosness of the situation in Manhattan that would normally be endured by the fashionistas and aristocrats is something that we both notice, in an Emperor Wears No Clothes sort of way.

You’re probably wondering what the fuck I mean, so I’ll break it down for you. I grew up in an essentially classless environment in Indiana. Yes, there were cliques, and maybe some legitimate racial segregation, but the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor shopped at the same mall. The best golf course in Elkhart in 1987 was only marginally better than playing in a gravel driveway. People didn’t ‘summer’ or spend time in Europe. I don’t know who the richest kid in my graduating class was, but there’s a pretty good chance his or her house had aluminum siding just like mine. I’m not saying that the cruelness of children didn’t create great social divides among us; but I’m saying the income of the rich and the income of the poor was probably close to the amount I currently have in my checking account.

I showed up in New York in 1999, and it was a totally different world. The richest of the poor and the poorest of the rich were set apart by seven or eight digits of salary per year. Something that Young explained was that he came from this strict social class system in England, where you never moved above or below a certain level, based pretty much on who your parents were. And if you were stuck in the middle, why should you work hard to become the next Bill Gates? You never could, so keep slumming. Contrast that with New York, where everyone says there are no social classes, and the poorest guy can become the richest person in the world if he just pulls himself together and gets out there. Americans love to think this country is a meritocracy, and in some ways it is, but in New York, there’s this artifical aristrocracy, and it’s something I never really could digest properly.

A lot of people in New York do stuff not to do stuff, but because they think if they do it, that moves them a little closer to the top. The biggest example I can think of is summering in the Hamptons. The other example is how people don’t actually process movies or books, but usually only memorize that one catch phrase that coincidentally is also the first sentence of the New Yorker’s review. (Cases in point: Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential – every single person who said they read that book and didn’t said it was “the don’t eat fish on Monday” book, and that has so little to do with the actually the book, it’s stupid. It’s like saying the bible was the “how to build an ark” book. The other example is Bowling for Columbine, where EVERYONE I knew said “oh yeah, that movie’s about how horrible guns are,” even though it was about how horrible the news media is. Same goes for Fast Food Nation and the fact that everyone says the book talks about how horrible McDonald’s was, when it was actually pretty neutral about MCD and spent a lot more time picking at Jack in the Box and the cattle industry.)

There is such a strong groupthink in this city, it’s impossible to deal with. And the reason this makes this faux-meritocracy so hard to deal with is that the upper-upper-class believe both that “anyone can make it to the top,” even though they are probably at the top because of their parents’ money and influence, but they also simultaneously think that because they are at the top, they are there to stay and they can piss on everyone below them. That’s what makes Enrons happen, not Republicans or Democrats; it’s people so out of touch with reality that doing such horrible things seems normal. And that thought pattern trickles down through the tree until you have people in the upper-middle-class that think it’s okay to spend $800 on a purse because Carrie Bradshaw had one.

Toby Young also really had his finger on the dating situation here in New York. He said most women, knowingly or unknowingly, are just looking for the proper attributes that will produce a man that is marriage material, much like how you shop for a new car or hire someone for an office position. In the people that I met here during the fivish years I was single, almost all of them were looking at what I was, not who I was. And that sort of feeds into the above, in that a woman would rather date a bland guy who had a nice summer house than an interesting guy that her coworkers might think isn’t a good long-term investment. I’m just glad I somehow beat the million-in-one odds and found someone who wasn’t like that.

Anyway, book was good. I’ll pick up his next one now, although it just came out, so I’m sure it will cost more than a penny…


Raymond Carver rut

A quick update after lunch. I know I haven’t been writing in here at all, and there’s a reason for that, and it’s that I’ve been busy working on my next book. And when I have writing to do there, it’s hard to write here, because every word here is a word that could be there. Or something.

I’ve been stuck reading Raymond Carver lately, although I haven’t been reading at all, because I’ve been walking to work, and I can’t walk and read. I can walk and listen to music, but I’m sick of everything on my iPod, and I don’t want to buy any more music, because everything sucks, and I don’t really know what I like anymore. And I think I have been cured of collecting music, so I no longer have the need to keep buying shit just to buy shit.

Back to Carver, I read his collection The Cathedral, and about the title story, I swear I’ve read it somewhere else. Actually, I swear someone verbally read it to me. Maybe it was in a writing class back at IU. Maybe it was in a movie that I’m forgetting. I’m sure the story was anthologized everywhere, as it’s a popular one, but I don’t remember where I first saw it. Oh well.

If you read the drama on my livejournal about the bad review, I’ve almost completely forgotten about it. The reviewer was an idiot. That said, I wish more people would review my stuff. But who cares. All I know is I have to keep going on the current book. It’s my first book not based on my life, and the first with a real plot. Those are two points of contention, because the two most-asked questions of me are “why do you only write about Indiana” and “why don’t your books have plots like Stephen King”. The answer, by the way, to both of those questions is “go fuck yourself.” Equally annoying are the people who tell me “just write whatever, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t have a plot or structure”, because those people have obviously never written a book. There has to be some structure or it won’t work. Captain Beefheart is a novel gimmick for about five minutes, but you can’t make a career out of it. I think he’s living in a van in New Mexico, trying to sell shitty paintings to tourists.

The weather is very nice here now. It’s good weather to walk home in at night, which I have been. I’m going to Wisconsin next weekend, so lots of cheese.


The Fuck Up

A side note: When I wrote about Seattle a couple of entries ago, that wasn’t any kind of cryptic clue that I was moving to Seattle, that I missed Seattle, or that I was visiting or anything else. I write about random nostalgia like that entirely because I can’t think of anything better to write. Also, I feel some need to cement my random memories in amber for later preservation. Don’t read too much into it. In fact, the topic came up when I was in Alaska recently, because there are so many regional chains up there that reminded me so much of Seattle. And when we were vaguely, theoretically talking about if I would ever want to move back, the answer was a pretty easy no, because you can’t go back. There are times I miss when I lived in Seattle and was a 25-year-old writer, eating tuna salad and cup-a-soup every night to survive on $7 a week, writing furiously every night because I had no TV, no playstation, no DVD collection or player, and no long distance because I never paid my bill. But if I went back to Seattle, replace all that with worrying about my 401K and bitching about taxes and traffic and whatever else. And there are too many ghosts in Seattle for me. I haven’t even visited since I left. I probably won’t for a while. You can’t go back. But I do write about it a lot. Don’t confuse the two.

I’ve been trying to step up the reading a bit. Finished that Amy Hempel book, got her new one, and the first hundred pages are some (but not all) of the stories in Reasons to Live. So about 100 pages out of 400 are things I already read. At least I grabbed the new one off of Amazon in hardcover when it was still in the “new hardcover – slashed price” state, so I paid like $14 instead of $21. That book is in the queue, but a couple of others jumped in front of it while I was waiting for it to show up in the mail.

I re-read Arthur Nersesian’s The Fuck-Up again, which has become one of my “friends,” the books I can read and re-read on an annual basis without boredom. It’s about a kid in New York in the mid-Eighties who is hopping from couch to floor to lover and from job to job to lack of job, mostly on the Lower East Side and Brooklyn. There’s some other story arc in there, but aside from Nersesian’s fluid writing, the main character is this old New York that is now gone. Most of the novel takes place in a ten-block radius from where I work. But all of the porn theaters and slum apartments described are now yuppie condos and fast food restaurants and Gap stores. (I think Marie told me though that he has a few fuckups, like saying a certain movie theater became a Gap store, when it didn’t, etc.) Anyway, it’s a good read, interesting.

One of the things that stuck with me this time I read was that the protagonist has a friend Helmsley that was one of these uber-intellect types. His parents died in a plane crash, and he invested all of the money and lived like a pauper on the interest. All he did was read, and write. That made me really wish I could strip away all of the distractions of my life and get to the point where the two main consumers of time would be reading books, and writing books. Now, I don’t even know what the fuck I’m doing with my time, because I never write, and I never read. I don’t have a subway commute anymore – it’s like three stops, and I usually walk home after work to clear my head, so that hour or whatever is now gone. I’ve been trying to read more at night though. The writing, well, I’ll talk about that later.

Current book is the new Anthony Bourdain, called The Nasty Bits. It’s a collection of various newspaper and magazine pieces he’s done over the last few years, cleaned up a bit and pressed into a nice little 288-page hardcover. (I guess it isn’t that new – mid-May.) Some of the themes are repeated from his last two books, and if you’ve watched his TV show, some of the essays are longer versions of the different trips he’s taken. I like Bourdain a lot, and not for the macho pseudo-elitish chef shit that makes him a star. I seriously like his writing. He’s got the chops, and he’s read enough George Orwell and Hunter S. Thompson to keep alive that tradition of sharp observation mixed with entertaining craziness. Every good writer knows the best way to lure in somebody is to talk about work. And the best way to talk about work is to take some kind of work that is truly fucked up or boring or demeaning, and add some kind of element that makes it seem like a secret society to people. That’s why that bad jobs show on cable is such a hit. Nobody’s really interested in becoming a sewer cleaner; but when it’s presented in such a way that it makes people think (or think they’re thinking), it becomes gold. Bourdain does a lot of that. I’m not going to run out and eat whatever assholes and elbows make French culinary tradition great, and I don’t want a career in cooking, or even to learn how to cook. But his descriptions make it interesting, and I like that. The book is also much better than the TV show, which is glossied and cut up and pasted together in such a way that it loses part of the element. They’re entertaining, but the essays do a much better job. I’m only halfway through this book, but I have a feeling it will be done by tomorrow.

And I haven’t been doing that much writing, but I’m finding myself picking at these Bloomington stories again, like a scab that I will never let heal. These may or may not become a book called Six Year Plan, or maybe it needs a new title. No real news or agenda here – I’m just reading stuff that has sat for a while, taking out words, tightening lines, but not really doing much. Maybe I will get more productive with it, but it’s mostly something I do when I can’t figure out what the next project will really be. I think even if I made these stories as tight as possible and then put them in a book, it would only sell two copies, and that makes it difficult to jump into the thing with great gusto. I wonder if I ever would have written Summer Rain if I ever knew how many (few) copies it would eventually sell.

Time for lunch. I think we’re walking to this new farmer’s market on Orchard, then to a restaurant around here for some kind of brunch. It’s 70 and cloudy, very cool and maybe not bad weather for walking around for a bit.


Pocket books

Splitting headache. I think it’s from the heat, but it could be something else. I’m about to take some Tylenol PM, crank up the AC, and try to sleep it off. It’s been a slow weekend, which is good. I have a new dentist, and I think I can see his office from my window, so the commute isn’t a problem. He is also pretty laid-back and not all about the lectures, or the insistence that I need to cash out my entire 401K and spend it on veneers, braces, and who knows what else. I do have to go back next month for some work, but just fillings. No titanium post insertions or root canals or anything.

Lulu has a new book size, the “pocket” size, which is something like 4.25×6.875″ or something like that. I was thinking that I would love to make my own version of the pocket ref, which is my absolute favorite book ever, and I think pretty much anyone with a spare twelve bucks should buy it. It contains pretty much every reference table and material stuffed into 768 pages that fit in your pocket. I love to read it when I’m bored, and it’s always good to take on travel. Anyway, I thought it would be fun to glean together all of my most-used useless info and cram it into a little book, and others could buy one too. Like, what to do for a hangover or food poisoning, what presidents have been shot and where, the addresses of Denny’s in many major cities, a list of daily excuses to have a party, whatever. Anyway, it’s a thought.

I’ve been reading Amy Hempel’s Reasons to Live. No, it isn’t a new-age bullshit book, she’s a writer, very minimalist stuff, very good. All of her stories are told in as few sentences as possible, very tight, very deadly. It’s good stuff, except when I read it, I simultaneously want to rewrite everything I’ve ever written so it works like that, and I also just want to give up, because there’s no way I could. But I still read it. She has a hardcover story collection from this spring, I hope it’s not repeats from the book I have.

Nothing else. No writing, it’s been too hot, and my computer room has no AC. I have the laptop, but usually I spend half my time fucking with the WiFi to get it working or not working, and it won’t let me write.



Goodbye Astoria

The last of the Astoria move-out was completed on Saturday. Now all I need to do is send my keys to my landlord and get ripped off for my entire security deposit. Saturday’s work involved a last trip to the Neptune Diner, and then about three or four hours of clearing out every remaining item in the place. I had some grand scheme of donating things to some charity, selling stuff off on craigslist, listing stuff on freecycle, or whatever else. But when it came down to it, I simply couldn’t deal with waiting on other people and whatever else, so it all went to the curb or in the garbage cans. And as quickly as we could put stuff out there, it vanished. It was like christmas for some poor bastards that hauled that stuff out of there.

The worst of the last stuff were the loveseat and single chair that I bought back in 2000. Because of the weird s-curve layout of my front door, it was like a very bad 3-D tetris game trying to get the couch out of there. It was too wide and too deep, and the depth of the curve made it impossible to take it out long-ways at an angle. I can’t even really describe it, but it was a horror to get that thing out. After clearing everything, we did a real quick sweep of the place with broom and swifter, just to get the big chunks up. Like I said, the landlord’s going to fuck me on the deposit anyway, so there’s no reason for me to get out a toothbrush and go OCD on the place.

As we left, it hit me that I’d never see the place again, and despite all of the horrific problems with it, I’m sort of sad to see it go. I lived in the place for six years, which is longer than I’ve ever lived in any place since my parents’ house. A lot’s gone on there. Every book I’ve published was cranked out while I lived there. (Some of them were started before then, but the ISBNs hit the jackets while I was living in Astoria.) I crossed the millenium there. It was a good run, I guess. I didn’t like the place as much as, say, the 600 7th Ave place in Seattle, but I’m glad to move on, but shit, that’s a sixth of my life. Leaving didn’t blow me away as much as it did to leave the Mitchell Street House in ’93, or leaving Seattle in ’99, but still. End of an era.

We had a good Thanksgiving, too. We went up to Guy and Scott’s, Sarah’s friends, up in upstate New York again. Sarah went up on Tuesday night to help with the shopping and the preparation, and I worked on Wednesday and then took the bus up. The Port Authority looked like some kind of apocalypse disaster movie on Wednesday afternoon, but once I got on a bus and headed north, it wasn’t a bad run. I think I made it to Rosendale in under two hours, door to door, and was greeted at the bus stop by Guy and Sarah, who then took us to a shopping center where we got Chinese and pizza from two different places, and I headed into a Dunkin’ Donuts for a dozen of those, just in case.

Guy and Scott’s friend Beth was there with her two-and-a-half year old son Ian and her dog Gus. Guy already started the dinner preparation, and we all ate and hung out that night, knowing the oven would get fired up in the morning for the big bird. We crashed somewhat early, and in the morning woke to find a couple of inches of fresh powder covering everything outside. Given that this is in the middle of nowhere, it meant there was virgin white snow all over everything. When you live in the city, where snow is immediately smooshed by busses and trucks and turned horrid colors of black and grey by pollution, you really appreciate the pure white of a real snowfall. Gus, a collie/alaskan husky mix, enjoyed it too. He spent a lot of the day outside, running through the drifts, trying to chase the wild turkeys and deer that cross through the yard. He was so happy, he would roll around on his back in the snow and jump around like a kid on Christmas morning.

Guy’s dinner was perfect. I’d put Guy up against anybody’s pefect grandmother’s cooking dinners anyday. He’s totally into cooking way too much food and making all of it great, so you don’t want to get in his way when he’s cooking, but you totally want to be there for the product. Guy’s pre-dinner dinner is better than most dinners, and it’s just a long onslaught of food. It’s like the iron man triathalon of food. I had to pace myself and quit early, before the handmade pies happened. We stayed Thursday night again, and then I had bacon and eggs before Beth drove us back to the city. We got back before 2:00, which meant we had the rest of Friday plus the whole weekend to chill out and do nothing, which we did.

I should throw out a few book reviews for good measure, since I’ve been reading a lot. First, Andrew Smith’s Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth. I’ve been reading a lot of space stuff lately, but this really put a new twist on things, by trying to catch up with the nine remaining Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon. Smith chases after the elusive lunar explorers, trying to bring out more than just the stock NASA facts, but to really determine what happened to these men who had the great apex of their life happen at a young age, and then had the entire country’s interest in space exploration collapse after the moon walks. Some guys are still trying to champion space missions, like Buzz Aldrin, while others turned to religion, philosophy, art, or private industry ranging from beer bottling to football team management. Many divorced and had family problems, many felt betrayed by their country for dropping the ball on the space program. Overall, the backstory is excellent and a great page-turner.

An impulse purchase I greatly enjoyed was Sam Posey’s Playing with Trains. Posey, a former Grand Prix race car driver and long-time race commentator, also spends a lot of time playing with HO trains down in his basement, something that goes back to his childhood and a Lionel train set around the Christmas tree. The first half of the book goes through the fifteen-year saga of Posey restarting his hobby as an adult when he has a baby boy, going through the construction of a massive layout in his basement. During the steps of this journal, we learn a bit about the industry behind the hobby, and the various steps you need to go from a little loop of track to a full-blown system. In the second part, he gets his journalistic background fired up and starts to go out and meet the other people with his obsession, as well as the major suppliers and magazines covering the hobby. He also goes out and tries a 1:1 scale steam locomotive, and makes a few field trips to the crumbling remains of the once-mighty rail system in this country. While I never re-started the hobby (no basement, no attention span), I had the Tyco starter set and a bunch of Life-Like buildings nailed to a piece of plywood when I was a kid, and always dreamed of a giant 1:87 reproduction of some Santa Fe freight line rumbling through a scale city. The book reminded me of all of that, and I’m sure if I did have a basement, I’d be down there right now with $700 of new HO-scale equipment.

Another great one was Michael Harris – The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground. Harris was drafted back in the fifties, and spent a year of his two-year commitment at the Eniwetok Atoll. He was there in 1955 for Operation: Redwing, a series of some of the biggest H-bomb explosions ever. He spent the first part of his stay editing The Atomic Times, a little mimeo base newspaper, which reminded me a bit of John Sheppard’s stories of Army journalism. He later spent time typing requisition forms and destroying carbons for top-secret shipments of nuts and bolts. On the day of the tests, with no morning, the enlisted would get pulled out of bed and ordered to stand at attention, facing away from the blast, while 20 megatons of test-device vaporized islands and ocean water. Much of his story deals with being stuck on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere (a lot like Lost, but no hot chicks) and dealing with the stupidity and pranks of various draftee-quality Army privates removed from their small towns for the first time. A minor caveat on this one is that Harris tends to be a little choppy and informal in his writing, and loves to use incomplete sentences. But the subject matter is great, and it’s a unique look at the history behind the H-bomb.

I also bought the new Vonnegut book, A Man Without A Country. Vonnegut said he’d stop after his last one, Timequake, but he came back to cash in a bit with a thin little volume of retread material. If you’ve seen Vonnegut speak in the last 10 or 15 years, take that stock speech and add in a bit of whining about George Bush, and there you go. Vonnegut’s always been a favorite writer to me, and I love all of his novels and books, but there wasn’t much to this collection except maybe a sly way to get the Air America crowd to rush out and buy it and say “best book ever!” because he compares Bush to Hitler. There’s a really funny example (or 40) of this on the Amazon reviews for the books; all of these people’s reviews are like “Hi, I’m 23 and a college graduate and I’ve never heard of Kurt Vonnegut, but I saw him on the Daily Show, which I think is a real news program, and rushed out to buy his book.” It’s also somewhat sad to see that Vonnegut has been preaching this “the world is ending tomorrow” luddite viewpoint, but he’s been doing it for 40 years now, and the world hasn’t ended. Oh well. Three out of four ain’t bad.

This entry is far too long. Sorry.


Let it Blurt

It’s hotter than living hell out. It’s been an entire weekend of unrelenting weather, but this afternoon we got a wicked thunderstorm and some rain, so it felt good for a few hours. Now it’s getting hot again and the apartment is returning to swamp-like consistency. I should probably stop bitching about the weather, but the problem is that when the weather is like this, I have nothing else to write about, because my brain pretty much shuts down and all I can think about is moving to Antarctica, or how I can somehow take all of the computer parts in my house and build a bootleg air conditioner that will work better than the stupid portable one I have in my bedroom.

I finished reading this biography of Lester Bangs – I don’t remember the author [Jim DeRogatis], but the title is Let it Blurt and the author is/was this fat kid who went to visit Lester for his high school writing project, and met him at his apartment, and Lester was incredibly nice to him and talked to him for hours, and then like two weeks later he was dead. The book is the best one out there, but it was still a little weird or lacking, and I don’t know if it’s the writer (although he put a lot of effort into it) or just the arc of Bangs’ life. I mean, it seems like he was just gaining steam, and then BAM, and it wasn’t like Johnny Chapman jumped out with a revolver yelling “death to music critics” or something – he just died, and it’s still disputed if it was a drug overdose or a bad case of the flu or some mystery disease or what.

I think the thing with Lester Bangs is that describing him or what his deal was is a lot like trying to explain Devo to your mom, and you can’t really describe it, and it’s the kind of thing you just have to get right in the middle of and dive in without looking how deep the water is. And I’ve read a couple of the Lester Bangs books, and they kick total ass, and you realize how incredible this guy must have been. But all of his books were postmortem anthologies, and the little bits and pieces are good and bad and glued together at the whim of a third-person editor, and every time you read anything, you wish there was MORE somewhere. I mean, imagine Hendrix never released those first few albums while he was alive, and his entire discography was just these fucked-up, spliced together CDs that Steve Ballmer or whoever puts together. You’d get bits and pieces of the same riffs and jams, but would always walk away thinking “fuck, I wish he had some ALBUMS out!” And now, you put in Are You Experienced, and every song fits together perfectly, and every time you listen, you find some little sound that’s new, and I just wish Lester had put together some damn books in his lifetime so we all had that same experience.

The other thing about Lester Bangs is that in reading this biography, he really reminded me of my old roommate Simms, and I don’t know if Simms would take that as an insult or a compliment. I guess they, at least to me, have/had a similar persona, and Simms is totally this kind of guy that you could have a four-hour conversation about everything and nothing and that was a big Lester Bangs trademark, to the point that he had his phone cut off half the time because of huge bills to the phone co. And Lester Bangs sounds like the kind of guy who would go out and buy every Criterion Collection DVD and totally get on top of all of them as far as what was phenomenal and what was shit and somehow relate all of it to Frank Zappa. And I’m sitting here in iDVD, rendering an old video to disc, and the “burn” button is a spinning radiation-type symbol, like a six-piece circle with half yellow and half black, and it totally looks like this button Simms gave me of The Who that I still have in a box somewhere. So Lester Bangs reminded me of Simms, who I have not heard from in forever, but I just called his voice mail, so we’ll see.

It is POURING out. The top foot of my bed is drenched in water from the wind tearing the drops into my apartment. I hope that will dry off in the next hour or two. I also have about 20 CDs I bought in the last week, and I don’t want to listen to any of them. I am listening to Gordian Knot, this prog-rock project thing that is one of the guys from Cynic, along with a bunch of other prog-rock favorites like Bill Bruford and Steve Hackett, and it’s good. But I bought a bunch of stuff to fill holes in the collection, and I was bored of them before I got them out of the bag.

Okay, time to pay my bills and listen to the rain.


Apple Confidential

I’ve been sort of sick this weekend, although I think drinking my weight in grapefruit juice and sleeping 14 or 15 hours a day has mostly stemmed it off. It was that kind of sore throat, coated tongue, back of throat crap that is usually the first stage of something worse. What’s weird is that I have only had this sort of sickness all year, and not a full-blown cold. I hope I did not jinx things by saying that. Anyway, the three-day weekend plan has been to mostly sleep, and do some reading and other vagueness around the house.

The other day I read Apple Confidential 2.0 by Owen Linzmayer. It’s a very good history of Apple, from the birth of the two Steves up to the present. It was just published in 2004 by No Starch Press. I enjoyed reading this book a lot, because it reminded me so much of the “ancient” history of ten years ago when I supported the Mac at IU. I read through the various timelines and it made me think back to when we got our first PowerMac, when I first saw a Newton, when I first got to mess with a color Mac, and all of the other intersections with my computing past. Anyway, it’s an excellent book. I paypaled Owen twenty bucks and he sent me an autographed copy. You really should go to his site and do the same.

I had to get out of the house today, so I went to Union Square to shop for books. I went to The Strand, which for the first time ever was actually too cold instead of too hot, but didn’t buy anything. I also bought tickets to see that new hockey movie about the 1980 Olympic team, but I chickened out and decided I’d rather sit around the house for two hours instead. I know that sounds stupid, and even I can’t figure it out. Anyway, I hate sports, but I really like sports movies. I know that makes no sense, but it’s true. I have never sat through a college football game in my life, and I’d rather jam a pencil into my ear than do so, but I really loved the movie Rudy. Go figure.

I won’t go into the whole Valentine’s Day/anti-Valentine’s Day because things are just too far gone for me to deal with it, and I realize that it’s totally my fault. So I did not leave the house on the 14th, and then today I went to Duane Reade and bought about two pounds of candy for 50% off and ate them until I was sick, then I downloaded a lot of really sick pornography. That did not really solve any of my problems, but it took up as much time as the hockey movie would have.

It’s freezing outside, but it’s not bad in here, and it will be even better when I’m in bed reading and staying up late because I have the day off tomorrow. So here’s to that.


Snow Crash

I’m getting so restless around the house, I actually cleaned. I really want to go out and do something, but it’s freezing again, and I don’t really want to blow any money, either. So I’m watching Die Hard with a Vengence on TV, although I missed the part where they digitally edited McClane’s sign that says “I hate n-words” to “I hate everyone”. I did just catch the part where the 7 train is at the fake 2-3 Wall Street station and blew up in a way that completely defies physics. Despite about 20,000 goofs, this is still a good movie. If I ever see it in the $7 bin, I’ll have to pick up the DVD.

One fun thing about watching the Sunday afternoon movie is you see the most pathetic, low-budget infomercials for junk As Seen on TV products. There was just one for the Eggstractor or something like that. It starts out with black and white footage of a woman with really crappy, frizzed out hair and no makeup, trying to peel eggs in the most pathetic way possible. Then they switch to full color and show the woman with totally Jenny Jones makeover hair, full makeup, and happily plugging eggs into this device that looks like a plastic squeze tube and another piece of plastic that extrudes off the egg shell. She’s happily de-shelling eggs like the thing’s giving her ten orgasms per egg. Then it shows the kids using it, and it’s the greatest thing since GI Joe with the Kung Fu grip. They also use the phrase “high protein” about 80 times in 30 seconds to placate the Atkins freaks. I never knew peeling eggs was such a god damned problem.

Anyway, I finished reading Snow Crash, and I was really happy with it. It’s probably one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and something so completely different. I’ve always wanted to like cyberpunk, but the Gibsonesque stuff wasn’t that great too me. It was good, passable, but too much like the crappy SciFi shows that they make to fill up time on the WB network on Saturday afternoons, and not enough like the very first time I saw Star Wars or something like that. But this book really blew me away, because it was like one part Mark Leyner’s humor with one part Kurt Vonnegut’s ability to take a couple of disparate stories and slowly weave them together by the end of the book. It’s also got all of this weird religious theory in it that almost threw me, but was still very interesting, and I wish I could learn more about that without tackling some giant, 1200-page theory/reference book I will never read.

Nothing else going on here…