Ralph’s charged particles

I was at Ralph’s yesterday. Ralph’s is a grocery store, and it turns out it’s part of the Kroger empire, but nonetheless it is a huge and fancy grocery store, and that’s saying a lot because it appears to me that southern California takes their grocery stores very seriously, and even the shitty places have a produce department the size of a Las Vegas casino. So Ralph’s puts to shame the old Astoria C-town, and I don’t even think Ralph’s is the best of the stores out here.

Anyway, I’m at Ralph’s, and over the musak, I hear a song I know I know, and after a moment or ten, it comes to me: it’s the Chick Corea song “Charged Particles” from their album Beneath the Mask. And that was suddenly weird on so many levels. I mean, I first got into that album in the summer of 1992, and listened to it end-to-end thousands of times that year. And then when I was writing Summer Rain, that was the one disc I could always put in and get back to that point in time. And not only was it completely burned in my head, but it was also an enjoyable album to play when I was trying to write. And then, 16 years later, I hear it playing over the PA system of a grocery store, while I’m trying to pick out a brand of ketchup.

I’ve had a lot of weird thoughts lately about the past, especially since I have been doing nothing but shredding old papers and packing up boxes of zines and books and finding old ticket stubs and letters and notes. Part of me has always been a completist, and I thought I needed to keep absolutely all of that shit. And sometimes that’s true – every time I try to trim down my zine collection, I wonder if any of the authors are going to end up on an FBI terror watchlist. And part of me thinks that if I kept every damn thing I touched in 1992, it would have been much easier to write a book about that year. But part of me recognizes a need to let go of that shit, and I ended up throwing out a lot more old stuff this time around. I probably won’t need a copy of every shitty death metal zine I traded with back in 1993. Yeah, “it might be valuable someday”. Price out the cost of a storage space in LA and then talk to me about value.

My first week of living in LA has been interesting. I am the master of noticing small differences, especially those that have to do with grocery stores or fast food. But so many things amaze me. The plants are incredible, almost entirely tropical. It’s closer to Hawaii here in many ways, with the palm trees and other huge, broad-leafed green foliage. There are so many collections of odd things in one place. We live near a wetlands, and when we drive through it at night, we hear all of these frogs croaking. The other day, I saw a dude out in the swamp flying an RC plane. We went and saw the canals of venice. I see all of those old, old-school cars, old VW bugs and muscle cars, with totally pristine sheet metal, no salt on the roads or rough winters at all. There are more fast food chains than you could possibly imagine – everything started here. The Indian joint a few blocks from here has a $7.95 all-you-can-eat buffet, so we checked it out today. I don’t know if Denver’s food was so bad, or if this place was incredible, but I’m going back at least once a week. And it’s in this odd little house where no two corners or windows are the same, and everything’s painted up in garish colors, and it looks like something that belongs in a college town, but it’s here. It’s all so interesting and bizarre and new, and I don’t really believe I live here, but I do.

Speaking of which, on Monday, I fly back to Denver to be there as they pack up our house. I will have a night in what’s mostly our old setup, our regular bed and stuff, and then a night in a hotel. After that. who knows how many days until the truck gets here, then a day of unloading confusion, and several days of arranging and organizing. At least I am very close to LAX. When we went last time, it was a sub-$20 cab ride there.

I went to Staples yesterday and blew $250 on a new desk and chair. I now have part of an office, and don’t need to sit on the floor and type. I also got a new keyboard that purports to be spill-resistant. I got that at Fry’s, which is a bizarre California institution itself. It’s basically like an old-school Best Buy where they sell every single possible electronics item, including parts and pieces and oscilloscopes and everything else. We went to the one in Manhattan Beach, and found out that each Fry’s has a theme, this one being Tahitian. So, it was a huge geek store with the occasional tiki torch or fake palm tree. Very interesting.

I forget what else. Still sick, but maybe it’s going away. I wanted to go for a walk, since we are allegedly right by the ocean, but I measured it the other night, and it’s two miles away. Funny, every apartment in the neighborhood says it is “just blocks from the ocean”. Yeah, 20 blocks.


dead vw

I’m running emacs from eve on my local machine through the magic of X, and it’s pretty weird. It’s also a little slow on opening new windows, text selection, and redrawing, so I need to take it easy.

I’ve spent the last few hours reading old mail and cutting out snippets and ideas that I can later use in the second book. It’s recycling, but it’s also stuff that hasn’t been published, and it’s mine, so what the hell? Whenever I’ve done this in the past, I’ve contorted the old stuff so much, that it’s barely distinguisable for the original, so I don’t think anyone will notice. In fact, Rumored to Exist already contains stuff pulled from dream journals and heavily modified. It’s weird to think that ideas from the book originated in dreams, but it happens. It’s even more weird that I read in an interview with Chick Corea that the theme from Eye of the Beholder came to him in a dream. I’ve listened to that album thousands of times, and that song is so haunting – you remember it out of nowhere weeks later.

[There was a long thing here about Chick Corea’s belief system, which I won’t even mention by name for fear of getting sued.]

06/27/98 18:10

My digestive system has gone south, so I’m wondering what to do about dinner tonight. I’m sure something will happen. I have enough money to go to Denny’s, but the food would kill me, and I need to ration my cash like Germans rationed gas during World War II. (That’s a completely arbitrary comment – I’m assuming they rationed gas, because we bombed the shit out of their oil refineries. I didn’t. Somebody that lived in the US did. They, not we. Nevermind.)

The VW is still dead. I bolted on the refurbished water pump and housing, hooked it all up, and… it didn’t start. The battery died from the 3 weeks or so of sitting around. I checked it for any visible problems, and saw that it was a 50 month warranty battery that was installed in April of 93. Do the math and you’ll see why I found that humorous/not very fucking funny. I got a jumpstart (the wonder of two cars) and cranked it over, and… it leaked like a sieve. New antifreeze, all over the place. It didn’t leak too fast at first, and I thought that maybe the engine would get hot and the parts would expand and sort of weld together, sort of like how the SR-71 leaks fuel all over the place while on the ground, but once it gets going mach 3, all of the titanium expands and it’s tighter than a drum.

So I got in the car, went for a spin, and within 2 minutes, realized just how stupid I can be at times. The engine temperature light swept from C to H like the second hand on a watch, and I pulled into the parking lot of a medical center. The thing was REALLY losing coolant, and I watched it drain onto the ground while the engine ticked away. I’ve been told that driving an overheated VW is one of the worst things you can do, because it has an aluminum head, and it’s very, very easy to fuck things up on a colossal scale. So I was smart enough to stop before the needle got buried in the red on the temp gauge. I let it cool down, found that I don’t know how to operate the heater in my car, and then I left (the VW heater controls have a bunch of international symbols – instead of saying “vent”, “heat”, etc. there is a triangle, a box, a grid, and some wavy lines. I don’t know what the hell this means. Also, the heater core might be dead – I’m not sure. I wanted to run the heater because it’s the best thing to do when the car overheats. It’s uncomfortable, but it works like a secondary radiator, and can sometimes save your ass. I had to do this daily in my diesel Rabbit.) I got maybe a half mile back, and the temp redlined, so I pulled into a hospital or a medical building of some sort, and waited a bit more. The engine cooled, so I put in the key, and… nothing. No battery. No cranking. Not even a pathetic “tic tic tic”.

I called Karena on my cell phone, and she showed up and jumpstarted the car. On the remaining mile of the trip, I stopped again briefly. It was cool because I stopped on a little cul-de-sac with a slight downhill grade, and when the engine cooled and we took off, I just pushed in the clutch, shifted to third, let gravity pull me to a gentle clip, and jockeyed the clutch a bit – pow, the engine started. No jumpstart needed.

Anyway, I got the car back, and it doesn’t seem to leak a whole lot when its at a standstill. I think that it’s the housing’s connection to the engine, and that it’s not sitting well. I asked around on usenet, and I think if I pull everything apart again, put a Pamela Anderson-sized amount of silicone sealer all over the part, and torque the shit out of everything, it will stop leaking. But that means draining and refilling the radiator again. As for the battery, I can pick out of those up maybe next weekend.

I’m tired, my stomach hurts, and I’m still dirty from all of this work. I think a nap is in order.