My grandparents in a Steven Seagal movie

The final lasting image of my grandparents together is a Steven Seagal movie. No, my grandparents were not sixth-degree black belts, and neither of them had the 80s hip-guy ponytail. But Seagal’s first movie, Above the Law was shot in their Chicago neighborhood. So whenever the flick’s on cable TV over the weekend, I usually tune in for a few minutes to catch a look at the old neighborhood where I spent all of my Thanksgivings and Christmases, plus other holidays we loaded up the station wagon and drove two hours west to the big city.

I don’t know Chicago geography well, but the one now-gone landmark that was the nucleus of their old neighborhood was the Ludwig Drum factory. Go to the intersection of Damen and North, and then go up a couple of blocks to St. Paul Ave. That’s where my grandparents’ three-story brownstone sat, the place they bought back in 1940 for about the current cost of a new compact car. Across the street was an old brick warehouse where Ludwig made their drum kits, the kind almost every rock band used back then, or the big marching band bass drums used at football games. My mom told me when she was little, the Beatles came to the drum factory to see where Ringo’s skins were put together, and it turned into a full-scale riot. (Of course, in my mom’s stories, pretty much everything turned into a full-scale riot, so who knows.)

The big plot point in Seagal’s movie was this old church, and that was shot at Saint Mary of the Angels church. (Here it is on google maps.) I used to go to this church all the time with my grandma. She was really serious about the church, and was a Polish Catholic, which was like an order of magnitude more strict than just being a regular Catholic, although I didn’t really know how. Our church back home didn’t use any Latin, though, and this place had all kinds of songs and sayings I didn’t understand. The church got shut down because of structural problems right after the film came out. When my grandma died in 1989, the funeral was at another church; the city had slated Saint Mary for demolition. Some people got together the cash at the eleventh hour, and they rebuilt the place. So both Catholics and martial arts fans can rejoice that the landmark was saved.

The Ludwig plant fell apart, and they moved the drum production to Texas or Japan or something. Another company used the factory for a while, but in the 80s, it was used as a studio space for a few TV and film productions. The Color of Money was shot there, and allegedly, my grandfather ran into Tom Cruise, and said he was a nice guy. (I don’t know if this was before or after he turned to Scientology.) Above the Law shot a lot of indoor scenes in the old factory. Like there’s a scene where they’re going to a police evidence locker to check on some C4 explosives – that’s totally the inside of the Ludwig plant. I’ve never been in there, and I only know the place from sitting across the street and looking inside the mesh gate over the loading dock, watching the forklifts move around. But I could tell at a glance that the scene was shot there.

A lot of Above the Law reminds me of the general feel of the mid-to-late eighties Chicago, a place I just barely knew. All of the cars had those blue and white license plates, and in the background of the chase scenes, you could see the Jewel stores and gritty-looking car repair places, with red brick walls that were turned black from years of soot and pollution. The L-Train ran overhead, making that distinctive sound and looking like nothing we’d ever see back in Elkhart. All of the backgrounds in that movie of the neighborhood remind me so much of what I saw in the back of the station wagon, looking out at this giant city, where every square block housed more people than my entire high school. Watching five minutes of that film reminds me so much of that brief moment in time that it always amazes me.

The one big regret that I have about my grandparents’ old neighborhood was that I never really tried to explore outside of the close domain of their place. My mom was 100% convinced that there were rapists with full-auto machine guns every hundred feet, and if we left the fenced confines of their back yard, we’d be on the back of a milk carton or worse. Now, I don’t think as a four-year-old I should have wandered far, but when I was 14, maybe I could have walked around the block, or down to Wicker Park, or to Osco’s to get a Coke or something. In retrospect, the place was probably as safe as the streets I walk today in New York. I really would like to have more memories of the area around there. I don’t want to live there, and a vacation in Chigago is not high on my list of things to do with limited time and money. But it’s something that interests me in some weird way.

That area is now called Bucktown, and it’s a trendy little place to be, if you’ve got the goatee and the money. The Ludwig factory got broken up into single-serve condos, and the mom-and-pop bodegas and corner bars are probably all cloned Starbucks storefronts. The neighborhood’s probably all filled with hipster doofuses, listening to Coldplay on their iPods and reading J.T. Leroy books. After my grandpa died in 1995, they sold off his building for some obscene amount of money. Looking at the place on Google Maps, I see that they’ve torn out the garden and swingset next to the building and made it into parking spots, which really pisses me off. I’ve always wanted to go back and see the place again, but I’m guessing all of the wood pocket doors and elaborate cabinetwork got kicked to the curb and replaced with Pottery Barn.

I still haven’t watched Above the Law all the way through. But one time my mom rented it, and we found a part in the church where my grandparents were extras. (They probably went because there was a free lunch or something; my grandfather could not pass up anything like that.) You can see them for a split-second on-screen, which is awesome. How many of you can say your grandparents were in a Steven Seagall flick?

Bonus: Coincidentally, Larry Falli now lives about 20 blocks south and four blocks west of where they used to live.


Pee-Wee League

John Sheppard posted a nice Little League photo the other day, complete with 70s bright colors and high pants, which made me think a bit about my brief experience in Pee-Wee League back in the day. I forget when this was, but I’m guessing maybe third grade, and it was yet another one of those things where my parents really wanted me to experience different things besides the Apple II and/or determine if I was gay by forcing me to play sports. And given my lack of any hand-eye coordination or motor skills, I’m surprised they didn’t just give up and start buying me Cher albums and teaching me about flower arranging.

Pee Wee League was one of those things that not only made me feel bad about my inability to do something that so many other people could do easily, but I had kids making fun of me¬†well into high school¬†due to my inability to throw a ball long distances when I was a little kid. I know parents think these things will toughen up their kids, and teach them about teamwork and discipline and how to oil a leather glove. I guess one of the other things was that I was supposed to learn all about the national past-time and develop a love for the game. Honestly, I couldn’t name more than five baseball teams back then, and at the time, I was far too preoccupied memorizing random statistics about Star Wars characters than infielders and outfielders. This is probably best proven by the fact that I had about a dozen baseball cards, but I had every single one of the first two series of the Topps Empire Strikes Back Cards. (Insert speech about how I wished I sealed that shit in a vacuum-packed safe so I could put them on eBay and finance the down payment on a beachfront house, instead of randomly losing them all or accidentally covering them with peanut butter.)

Each of our Pee-Wee League teams had a corporate sponsor (if you consider “corporate” to include local car washes and septic system pumping companies) and a name of a real major league team. My assigned team was the AstroBowl Astros, sponsored by a local bowling alley, with a nod to the Houston MLB team, and featured orange hats and t-shirts. We didn’t wear the pants or the cleats or any other gear. I think there was a concerned mother freakout about wearing a cup, which happened when this kid named Skip ended up sliding into home plate ball-first and doing some damage to the yet-functioning family production units. I distinctly remember my mom’s hysterics, leading to a hand-off to my dad, who spent his childhood in the protection-free fifties, when you could still buy Jarts, M-80s, and small-caliber firearms at the local soda stand. The closest thing he knew about protection was when he got a CB radio so he could protect himself from speeding tickets on the highway. My dad grudgingly took me to Sears, where we silently walked to the athletics department and found that all of the various supporters and protectors were, at the smallest range, made for kids roughly twice my age or size. I think I could have used the smallest cup in stock as a batting helmet. Dad basically mumbled, “Son, be careful, and don’t tell your mom,” and that was that.

Somehow, I got put on a team that made the Bad News Bears look like the Yankees with a two billion dollar salary cap. Every kid who could not play was on the Astros. Most of the kids at school got onto cool teams, like the Dodgers, the Yankees, or the Cubs. (Yes, the Cubs were a good team; we were 100 miles from Wrigley Field. Despite the fact that they were a horrible team during that era, at least they were recognizable.) The only things I knew about the real Astros were Nolan Ryan, and the fact that they played in their namesake dome on their namesake artificial turf. That wasn’t much to go by.

I ended up as the catcher. When you have an adult pitching and the catcher doesn’t call pitches, this was where a coach parked their worst player, which happened to be me. I could barely throw the ball back to the pitcher. I could not infield to any extent, but it usually didn’t matter. The best strategy for the opposing team was to hit it anywhere in the outfield, and run in every single person on base while I sat and watched them cross the plate, because it would take about 45 minutes for someone to retrieve the ball and throw it home. I remember one game, against the faux Dodgers team, which had all of the jocko guys in it, when the score ended up being like 78 to 2. It was like a basketball game between the Harlem Globetrotters and a bunch of geriatrics who were off their meds.

I think we did win one game, and it was against one of the best teams, maybe the Yankees. It was on a day of really shitty weather, where the temperature dropped to about 45 or 50, and it was raining on and off, and extremely dark. Because it was on and off, the officials kept deciding the game would go on, and then they would change their mind, and then it would be back. We only wore t-shirts, and maybe half of the team got the idea to put on jackets under their uniform shirts. But wet denim jeans are always horrible, and your hands would be absolutely freezing. The parents on our team were pulling all of this “toughen up!” bullshit, and pretty much every kid on both teams was crying or trying not to cry, but still streaming tears down their rain-soaked faces. The only parents there on average were the mothers, who were trying to act like the fathers and overcompensating with whatever macho bullshit they caught from TV. (This was in an era when the divorce rate was like 100%, and all of the dads were probably off either getting loaded or trying to fuck the non-baseball moms.) So for whatever reason, our team could withstand the pain way more than the fake Yankees could, because we had to put up with so much bullshit under normal operating conditions, we didn’t even care that our hands were turning blue. Even the kids that couldn’t hold a bat were popping off doubles and triples, and we ended up pulling in a 12-4 win over the best team in the league.

One of the big things about Little League is that when you win (and it’s not practically snowing out), you go get ice cream. You’d think that since we had our asses handed to us on a regular basis, we’d never see any dessert action, but our coaches were sympathetic, or maybe in that “nobody’s a loser” parental mindset, so they usually found out where the other team was going, and we’d go to the other place for celebratory losing treats. There were two ice cream places in close proximity: a Dairy Queen, right next to the Taco Bell on 33 where I’d work when I was 16, and a Tastee Freeze, which was right in front of our corporate sponsor, Astrobowl.

I think I liked Dairy Queen better at the time, and we went there more, because the winning team usually went to Tastee Freeze because it was a local institution, and I think we lost almost every single game. Dairy Queen was more of a restaurant, like McDonald’s, and it had a sit-down dining room with a solarium. It didn’t have as many ice cream types, but I always got the peanut buster parfait. Tastee Freeze didn’t have any seats, just a window where you ordered. Maybe it had some picnic benches, but I remember sitting on a curb when eating my ice cream most of the time, and I wasn’t into that as much. Looking back, I probably like the Tastee Freeze better, because the ice cream was a lot more “custom” and they added sprinkles and cremes and sauces and other toppings while you waited, instead of just pulling out plastic-wrapped, pre-extruded things made at the central office in Kansas or whatever. Tastee Freeze is more of a small-town memory to me, something I’ll never see again in the big city.

When I was in the 7th or maybe 8th grade, we had to go to AstroBowl for a couple of class periods of bowling. It was across the street from the Junior High, so this was built into the curriculum, since we all know that bowling is an important skill for finding a job and providing for your future. (It’s important to note that even to this day, you will get your name in the Elkhart newspaper if you roll a perfect 300. Bowling is a big deal in Indiana. Not as big as crystal meth or illegitimate children, but it’s probably in the top ten.) Anyway, when I went over there and made a fool of myself yet again in another sport-like activity, I saw that in the trophy case by the front door, there was a picture of my old Pee Wee League team in a frame, along with a couple of other baseball team pictures that the bowling alley apparently sponsored. I was probably eight or nine, maybe ten when I went through that experience, but even at the age of 13 or 14, it was like looking back into another world to see that picture. I don’t have a copy of said photo anymore, but whenever I think of it, I always wonder if it’s still in the trophy case, gathering dust..

Oddly enough, a quick google shows that AstroBowl is for sale. Take a look at those photos and you see that parts of Elkhart have changed absolutely zero in the 15 years since I have left. The bowling alley looked identical back in the day: 70s futuristic logo, Pepsi sign above the door, big double stripe on the side of the cinderblock building, and cracked up parking lot. I’m honestly surprised that the location hadn’t become a TGI Friday ten years ago. I don’t bowl, but it would be sad if the place got sold and became a Mexican bodega or something. Current price is $450K, if you want to relive that Ed TV show and move back to the small city.

[Note from 2020: the AstroBowl was a Mexican event center for a few years, then sat abandoned for a decade or so, until the city tore it down. It’s now a parking lot for school busses.]

My parents also made me play basketball in the 6th grade, which is an even bigger story. Maybe I’ll type that one up sometime.


Surge, Vault

One of the 200-some odd reasons my writing throughput and/or quality has dropped considerably in recent years (and I’m talking reasons in my head, not real, quantifiable reasons) is that Coca-Cola stopped bottling Surge soda. For those of you who don’t remember or never experienced it, Surge is/was a citrus soda that originally was called Urge in Norway, and was bottled there to compete with Mountain Dew. (Some Coke bottlers compete with Mountain Dew with Mello Yello, which is available in some markets, but not others.) Anyway, Seattle was a test market for Surge when it showed up in 1997, and once I tried it, I was hooked. Surge basically reminded me of a carbonated version of the Hi-C Ekto-cooler drink. It was more lime than lemon, with an unnatural bright green color, carbonation, and caffeine. It had a very unique taste, and wasn’t anything like its nearest competitor, Mountain Dew. I really liked it.

This was right after the time I quit caffeine entirely, but was going back on it again. I wouldn’t drink any Coke or anything else all day, except maybe the occasional Sprite. But on the weekends, when I was busy slamming away at the text for Rumored to Exist, I would go to Safeway, buy a 2-liter of Surge, and put it in the fridge, as my fuel for the next few days. I drank a lot of the stuff as I worked on the text, and I absolutely loved it.

Of course, when I moved to New York, I couldn’t find the shit anywhere. You already know the rant about how New York grocery stores don’t stock anything of variety, so I won’t repeat it. But I could not find Surge anywhere. Sometimes on a vacation, I’d get a taste. And I think the girl I dated in Cornell back in 2000 found a few bottles at a gas station upstate somewhere once. But after that, it was gone. And that pissed me off, because writers can get really locked into habits or triggers that can set off the hard-to-channel zone of writing. Some people have strange rituals. I used to start writing at the same time every night; others need a certain chair or pillow or snack or drink. Some need certain music; others require quiet. And for whatever reason, I got myself into a situation where I needed a certain type of sugar-water that a corporation test-marketed and then decided not to make anymore.

Well, good news, maybe. Coke has decided to come out with a new drink called Vault. There were a few ads during the superbowl, and they hinted at nationwide distribution in February. Now, I interpreted that as “distribution in every place with real grocery stores that aren’t run by the mafia, so fuck you New York”, and also wondered if the stuff really tasted like Surge, and if I’d get a chance to try it the next time that I went on vacation to a place with real grocery stores. But today, when we were at K-Mart, Sarah found that they actually had the stuff! I bought a couple of 20-ounce bottles, and gave it a try. It’s similar to Surge, although maybe a little more tart, and without as distinct of a green color as the original. The bottle looks different, of course, and you’d be amazed at how much different something appears to taste when it’s in a different bottle. But it’s pretty close. I like it.

I don’t know if I’ll be stocking our fridge with the stuff or not. My writing schedule and situation have been pretty off lately, and I don’t know if the magic elixer will suddenly have me pouring out words or not. I am in that process of thinking about what I will do before I start doing anything, and that’s frustrating and takes time. But it’s getting there.

Okay, I have to figure out a movie and a dinner and make them hobbling distance from each other so it will work out okay…


Wasting time with MAME

I’ve been wasting all of my free time lately reviewing CDs. I’m not sure why, because I don’t want to be in the business of having a bunch of crappy death metal bands emailing me their mp3s to review. But I have a lot of loose reviews around, and I wanted to write more long-form reviews and find a place to put them, and I’ve got it about figured out now. When I get more than about 7 reviews done, I’ll post a link. Anyway, that’s why I haven’t been writing here much. It’s far easier to write 1500 words on an old Metallica album than it is to try to come up with 500 words when nothing is going on that I want to write about, except maybe the weather. So, there you go.

But, the other day, I was digging around and found a bunch of ROMS to various stand-up arcade games I had from my old laptop. So I downloaded a MAME emulator program for the Mac, and started digging around all of these old games. I don’t know about you, but I played a lot of arcade games back in the day, and I don’t just mean the really popular Pac-Man/Donkey Kong/Centipede era. I found a lot of these games and played them, and they totally reminded me of my days in a Bally’s, wasting a couple dollars while at the mall. And video game brand loyalty is a huge thing, and it made me think about all of the different brands and games and the whole caste system of consoles, and who played what.

For example, there were certain games that I absolutely loved to play. Like there was the Star Wars vector game, the original Tetris, this Tetris plus enhancements called Bloxxed, and Roadblasters. If an arcade had all of those, it was excellent. If it had one or two of them, it was good. If an arcade (like that shitty one in Pierre Moran Mall, or maybe one in an airport or something) didn’t have any of those games, it sucked, and either I’d play nothing and go off to the Walden Books, or maybe drop a quarter on a sub-par game, just to see if maybe it was really okay. There were a lot of games that either I didn’t like or didn’t see the point of, like most of the three-button-attack quarter-eater types that came out later, or the driving games that didn’t have a good catch to them. I mean, for a buck in gas, I could drive around the parking lot of the mall in my real car and have more fun than half of the sloppy-controller stand-up drivers out there in the early 90s.

But different people liked different games, which always made it weird when you went with other people, because people always had different allegiances to different games. It’s weird, because now, decades later, I can still remember what friends liked what games, way more than I could remember their favorite beer or band or movie. And that would be cool, but sometimes, based on the games there, it would cause problems. Like, sometimes I’d go to the Bally’s in College Mall in Bloomington with Bill, and I’d inevitably buy into some “a shitload of tokens for $20” deal before I’d remember that they had absolutely no machines I liked. I mean, the best game on the list was a Ms. Pac Man, and I could play that for about six months on $20 of change, given that I wouldn’t die of boredom. But there was some game there that he loved, and he’d play it all day, even though I was either no good at it or hated it. So you have that. Another example is that Spaceport had some pretty esoteric game machines, so if you stopped in there with someone who just wanted to play the core Atari games, they’d be screwed.

Oh, at the lowest end of the totem pole were the situations where you only had one or two games, and you had to pick one. A classic example is when you’re with your family at Pizza Hut, and there are two games, and it’s either Bust-a-Move or Robocop, and neither one are very good, but you need something to do until the breadsticks arrive or something. This also applies to dorms with a couple of stray machines, or little arcades in laundromats or whatever.

Another game I didn’t get were the sports games, like the football, hockey, and whatnot. None of my friends played these, because I think you had to like the sport in question, and none of my friends were huge soccer fans. The only sports game that was the exception to the rule was Summer Games. This – I think it came out around the time of the 84 Olympics, but wasn’t a sponsored game or anything – it was all of the track and field events, like throwing discus and running around a track and soforth. But the thing is, to run, you had to slap two buttons really fast to get your dude to run or throw or something. And for some reason, that made it different; it wasn’t about your ability to know about NFL football. It was about how fast you could slap two buttons, and dammit, you knew you could do it faster than the other guy. The sport part was secondary – it could have been monster trucks or shooting dragons or anything else, as long as it was competitive and measured your ability to pretty buttons at light-speed. I knew a lot of people who were really into that, and you could always tell when someone was playing, because it sounded like someone was bitch-slapping a keyboard. And now we wonder why so many people have RSI.

The competitive games, or more likely the collaborative ones, are the things that have so much memory to me. I’ve already written many times about how me and Ray used to play Smash TV for hours, feeding many quarters into it. I think the first game like this I remember is the original Gauntlet. When I play this now, it reminds me of Adam Pletcher, who I knew from school, and who is now more known for working on the video game Descent and a million others. We played the game a couple times at the Aladdin’s Castle in the Concord Mall, although at that point, the game was so damn popular, all four slots would be full, and the second someone ran out of change, someone else would jump in. Games like this were great, and it’s amazing how shitty some of them are when you look at them now. There’s a Simpsons game that came out in 90 or so that was the same console as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and X-Men game. Then, the graphics were mind-numbing, but now, I cannot stop laughing my ass off the images are so blocky and bad. But being able to get two or three people on a machine to all kick ass hid the poor graphics somewhat.

One of the games that I played but didn’t entirely like at first was Golden Axe. The student union had a room with maybe six or eight game machines, all of them duds, and one of them was Golden Axe. I reluctantly played the side-scroller for a while, and it really grew on me. The animations weren’t bad, but the sound effects were horrible. (When I was playing the other day, Sarah said that the dying people’s screams sounded like some kind of Crunk rap.) It’s also a collective game, although I played by myself a lot. I got the ROM and actually finished the game, which I guess is easier when you’re pressing a button instead of feeding in a coin, but it brought back so many memories of wasting time at the IMU.

Anyway, just some vague thoughts. I think if I had a lot of time and could remember more of this, I could write some kind of book or at least a good essay on greater taxonomy of video games. But, I’ve got these music reviews to write…


Back on the bike

I rode my bike to work today, for the first time in a while. When I originally bought it last spring, I planned to ride it every day, but I was thrown off by cold weather, hot weather, food poisoning, vacations, and a bunch of other lame excuses. But today, I made it. Of course, I cheated a bit. I’ve been spending more and more time at Sarah’s lately, because my apartment sucks, and I’ve been gradually moving over things. First, it started with an extra deodorant and toothbrush, then a few extra pairs of unmentionables and socks, and then I started leaving books and DVDs. Now I’m moving over stuff a gym bag at a time, and on Saturday we got a limo (no, you non-New Yorkers, not a 68-foot-long stretch Caddy with a wet bar and hot tub – here limo means “non-yellow cab”) and pulled over a few hundred pounds of stuff, including my bike. So, now I will try to ride more.

It’s in my favor that my door-to-door trip is about a mile. (Okay, 1.59 – thank you mapquest.) It’s also much easier for me to get the bike in an out of the place here, since the old place involved a dozen tight turns to get out of the door. There’s no bridge to contend with. And a horrific trip through midtown is no longer needed. But, I no longer have long passages of nothing in Queens, which is kindof nice, and I have a lot of pretty testy drivers and pedestrians on my trip through Chinatown. Most of the ride is of the heavy-defensive sort, with little in the way of long cruises. So that sucks, but it’s still fun. Bicycle is about the best way to get around Manhattan, if you’re up for it. After riding a bike, I really hate walking – it seems so slow and monotonous, especially after you can cruise down a long block in a matter of seconds.

I’m glad to be back on the bike, too. There’s a real difference between your time and personal space on a train versus driving or being on a bike. I’d really want to be in a car, where you can totally cocoon yourself from the world and just have totally private time to yourself. From the second I had a license and a set of keys, I totally enjoyed being able to just put in a tape and drive loops around nowhere, to the mall and back, out on the back roads, and to friends’ houses for no reason. I always bitch about it, and even at three bucks a gallon, I miss that freedom. That’s one of the biggest problems with living in New York. (I mean, aside from the smell.)

But before I had a car, I had a bike. And I spent ALL of my time riding somewhere, or nowhere. The same people who have a hard time imagining that I used to weigh a hundred pounds less than I currently do probably wouldn’t believe that I used to ride hundreds of miles a week. I was not competitive about it; I just liked to get out and explore. Northern Indiana was set up for it, since most of the outlying area was meshed by county roads a mile apart in each direction. That made it easy to keep track of mileage: you get on CR 17 and ride from CR 26 to CR 28, and that’s a mile. CR 30, another mile. I used to have this loop from my mom’s house to Bristol and then out almost to Nappanee and back, and it was just over 25 miles. I used to ride that pretty much every day, and I’d double it on Saturdays and Sundays.

This started back when I was 15. I bought a new 10-speed, and it wasn’t anything special, just some Huffy piece of shit or something. But every time I had a couple of bucks, I’d buy some gear for it, a new helmet, some gloves, whatever. No spandex. I rode all through the fall, and rode this St. Jude’s rideathon where you did laps of a church parking lot that was a quarter mile around. I brought a walkman, extra batteries, and about 50 tapes, and spent the whole afternoon doing the same stupid lap, over and over. This was the kind of thing where kids came and rode their BMX on training wheels and made 5 laps and everyone was all happy and the money went to The Kids or whatever, and I listened to like every Rush album to date in a row and ended up doing 50 miles.

I kept riding into the fall and through the winter, still going to Bristol every day. The cornfields went from amber to wispy brown and then fell into husks and broken stalks, and the cold made it harder to pedal, but I could do the 25 miles in my sleep at this point. I explored the back roads and took different routes, but they were all mostly the same, identical miles of farmland, with the occasional farmhouse. I had the roads to myself for the most point, except for the occasional car that blew past at sixty. I probably averaged about ten miles an hour, sometimes faster. I usually went out for about two hours, longer on the weekends.

I thought about a lot of stuff back then, which seems stupid, as I’m more than twice as old and I have way too much stuff to think about, to the point where I wonder if I need some prescription medication to possibly think about less. But back then, I somehow needed the time away from my family and away from friends and classmates to – I don’t know what. I mean, I listened to a lot of music, and I guess at that point in your life, your favorite bands require some great amount of dissemination, whereas now you listen to stuff just to have a sound in the background that sounds nice. But when you’re 15, that Rush album Subdivisions – it means something, because that’s you. And I’m sure I thought a lot about the opposite sex, and how I’d ever talk to girls, and all of that shit, and I wish I had a record of that, because it eventually all worked itself out, but I remember burning a lot of cycles thinking I was different and I’d somehow need to escape all of this. But I also spent a lot of time thinking about my first car, and maybe how cool it would be to ride my bike across the country, like maybe by strapping a bunch of racks to the front and rear and filling them up with bottled water and snickers bars and maybe some kind of tent so I could camp between stops. Now that I think about it, I have no idea what the fuck I thought about, but I spent a lot of time doing it.

And I still remember Indiana roads, and the kinds of roadways they had there. Most county roads were this asphalt, but they were old, and weren’t black, but maybe this greyish color, like a really overdone hamburger. The roads had a decent texture, like the kind of thing you could only mold out of plastic now. And those had a lot of cracks, and gravel in a bead on the side, and cars made this humming sound from ten miles back on this kind of road. When those got really old and fucked up, and they weren’t a main road that got a lot of use, the county would spray them down with this gluey tar and then dump a fine gravel on them. This kind of road totally sucked shit for a bike, because the underpainting of glue stuck to everything on your bike and was a horrible smelling petroleum product – it was like they just dumped out a bunch of engine oil, and then covered it with coarse sand. And that sand-gravel didn’t do much good on a bike with one inch wide wheels, either. Those roads sucked, and I always avoided them. The best were the main roads, like State Road 15, which were more concrete-like, and made from real asphalt, with a good surface that made you feel like you gained five miles an hour on it.

So I rode a lot. I think the last big thing I did was this 100K bike ride sponsored by WTRC, a local country station. It ended up being closer to 80 miles, and I think I rode it in eight hours. It was total hell, and it rained all day, with huge wind gusts. I remember turning into this really long stretch, and it had a totally killer headwind, and I was pretty much ready to just put down the bike, lay in the road, and hope someone would kill me. It was an okay ride though, and it was pretty weird because it went way north into Michigan and through Edwardsburg, and I saw all of these things that normally I’d just see when hanging out with my dad, like my uncle Don’s house, the golf course, and a bunch of other little landmarks. It was fun, and I wonder how I ever had the discipline to stick out eight hours of that shit, given that now I seldom have the discipline to make a sandwich.

Anyway, a year later, I got a car, I almost never rode the bike after. I brought it to Bloomington for a year, but almost never rode it. (Tip: do not wear toe clips in a college town.) I brought it back, had to ride to the mall when my car was broken, and got a flat. Left it at Concord Mall, and forgot about it until months later, when it was gone. Oh well.

Speaking of sandwich, I’ve been writing forever, and now I’m starving. I was going to put some kind of lofty conclusion on this tying together how much I like riding my bike now and all of that stuff above about how I used to ride my bike and think about stuff, but now I’m thinking about food instead, so you’ll need to put that one together on your own. Bon appetite.


Junk yard

I was watching a show last night that’s about bad jobs – it usually involves someone removing feces from subways lined with rats bigger than dogs or something, so I never watch it. But last night, it was about guys working in a junkyard, which I thought was funny. Not ha-ha funny, but because it was the kind of intellectual porn aimed at blue-staters to show them how horrible life is out in the flyover zone. But to me, it brought back the vivid memories of the wrecking yard, a place I knew well from my teenage years.

Growing up, I did not drive a new Mercedes provided by my parents on my 16th birthday, and my idea of car service went beyond self-service gas. When I was 15, my stepdad bought this totaled Camaro for $300, and along the way, it eventually became my project. By the time I got my license, a lot of major work had been done, from brakes to tune-up to tires to a new interior. A month or two later, I bolted on a new exhaust from stem to stern, while trashing three socket wrench handles in the process of wrenching off rusted bolts. But one of the biggest things I needed to fix was a badly dented fender on the front passenger side, along with a cracked fiberglass nose. I couldn’t buy those parts from the local AutoQuest, so I had to make a trip to the junkyard.

The junkyard in Elkhart, or at least the one I went to, is out on CR 10, west of the Nappanee extension. It’s way up north of town, in an isolated corner of the county, by the regional airport. It’s also coincidentally by one of Elkhart’s several EPA superfund sites, the old Himco dump site, but I didn’t know that at the time. I’d never been there before, but my stepdad used to go out there back in the 60s and 70s when he was always working on muscle cars, and I think I made a call or two out to the place.

I planned a whole day around the fender swap, a Saturday, and awoke early to find a few inches of snow on the ground. That bummed me out, but I vowed to put on an extra layer of clothes, some old boots, and forge onward. Because I didn’t have a truck, I took out the passenger seat and carefully measured the existing fender to make sure I’d have enough room. I left early enough to head across town and get to the place just as the chain-link gates were opening. When I got there, I found a big prefab metal building with a run-down front office and a set of big garage bays that could probably fit a Peterbilt semi, if they cleared out all of the junk first.

I remember getting there, and the guy in charge told me where to head for the Camaros, to pick out a donor and then come get one of the guys to wrench off the parts for me. He set me loose in this labyrinth of dead vehicles, everything dusted with a powder of snow. The white padding muffled all of the sound around me, except the crunch of my feet on the dirt path. Most of the narrow roads within the yard were heavily rutted, and muddy and wet, since the temperature hadn’t been freezing for that long.

I found a row of F-body cars, Camaros and Firebirds, along a treeline. None of them were on tires anymore, and half of them were missing engines. I could imagine someone around town driving a piece of shit Chevelle, bragging “yeah, I got me a Z-28 motor in here” for each of the engineless cars. Some of the cars were smashed in the front; others had extensive rust damage in the rear panels. A few had smashed glass in spiderweb patterns that suggested a fatal collision.

To say that I’d spent a lot of time in my Camaro would be an understatement. I took apart and put back together so many pieces, spent Saturdays scrubbing the interior, running speaker cables under carpet, changing fluids that I’d just changed 100 miles ago, and dreaming about what parts I’d tear off and replace, when I had the cash. I memorized the Chilton’s guide for the car like it was scripture, and had a solid mental image of every part of the car, inside and out. So to look at all of these cars, at the minor differences from year to year, the missing chunks and damaged pieces, felt a little weird. It was like seeing a relative without a head, your house with the roof removed. But it was also exhilirating in a way, to think of buying a more tricked-out center console from a newer model, or a faster engine from a different car, or whatever else. Mostly it was weird to see all of these rows of cars, missing pieces, gently frosted over by that winter day.

I found a white ’77 with a front fender that looked good, and trudged back to the front gate. When I got there and said I found it, a guy that was maybe in his early 20s waved me over to the most motley car I’d ever seen, an old Suburban or some sort of pre-SUV truck, but with half of its parts missing. It had no hood, half of its glass gone, no front lights or bumpers, little interior, but the back held a set of welding tanks and a haphazard bucket of tools. The dude, who looked like Alice Cooper but no makeup or anything, told me to hop in, and we creaked across the lot. The truck rocked and swayed so much, the windshield was flexing and I was sure it would explode at any moment, but we got there.

It took the guy a few minutes, and I carefully watched what screws he took out to extricate the sheet metal from the old car. I also got a rear-view mirror for the side door (and unfortunately, broke it before I got it back on my car – oh well, five bucks.) The fender, still wet from the snow, just barely fit in the car, and I got a baggie full of hardware to bring with me for the transplant. It felt so weird, driving across town, listening to Iron Maiden or whatever I was into that week, with no passenger seat and a huge chunk of metal taking up half the cockpit.

There’s not much else to the story, except that it’s a bitch to work on old metal that’s rusty, with concealed little sheet metal screws in hard-to-reach areas. I had to take off the hood, and spent an hour or two playing the “I think all the screws are off but maybe there’s one more” game. I had a 5:00 shift to work that night, and almost entertained the idea of driving to work with no hood on, but I got everything set up, and made it to the mall in my red and also white car.

I went back a few more times for a few more cars, and I always liked the whole idea. Every car there tells a story, and it’s sad to see them dead like that, but it’s also cool to know they will be recycled, and other cars will live longer lives with all of the parts. It’s a weird little bit of midwestern culture, and a pleasant memory, even if more of my cars ended up in the junkyard than not.


Procter and Gamble picnics

As always, I was playing around on google yesterday, trying to scouring my brain for a tiny clue to something from my childhood, to see if anyone more afflicted than myself had any related pages on the web. I’m not sure how I found the link, but I managed to find enough info to find a name, a town, and even some pictures, which is a victory in my book. Okay, here’s the story.

When I was a kid – probably in the late 70s/early 80s, I used to go to Procter and Gamble’s huge corporate picnic there, which was held at this place just outside of Chicago called Hillcrest Park. My grandfather and my aunt both worked for P&G, and it was a big deal for everyone to attend the picnic every year. To me and my sisters and all of the other cousins that were my age, this was the chance to ride rides and eat tons of ice cream and other junk food and have a lot of fun. At that time, we lived in Elkhart, which was a couple of hours east of Chicago, so this meant a trip to the big city, and a chance to hang out with all of my cousins, who were infinitely cooler than me.

Back then, P&G corporate was in Chicago, and I think they also made soap and other stuff there, because we’d go to the factory, and the place would smell horrid. The only other thing I remember about the factory was that they had an automat, which is another lost concept in American culture and a pretty nifty idea. Anyway, we never hung out there for long; they’d load us up into a bunch of chartered busses that drove us to the park.

The park was about 60 acres, so it was no King’s Island or anything, but they only did these corporate picnics, so it was just people from the company there. Inside, the grounds were wooded, with pavilions and picnic tables, and a couple of buildings, like a food court, and some restrooms. The elders usually sat around the pavilions and formed these enclaves, where people watched over the little kids and everyone’s stuff, as everyone else wandered around. My Grandpa worked for P&G basically his whole adult life, so he knew a lot of old-timers, and he’d wander around running into those guys and trading complaints about their latest health problems or whatever. My mom usually spent time with all of my aunts, her sisters, trading their stories or whatever. That left us kids to go on the rides, and to eat food.

One of the rides I remember more than others was the railroad. I was really into trains as a kid, and the train was also the ride that you could go on with adults and little kids. The park ran this narrow-gauge train with a real steam locomotive that chugged around the perimeter of the place, through the woods and around the fields. It gave you a good view of the whole park, and passed the sports grounds, which featured a huge outdoor pool that at any time was filled with about 10,000 kids. The train also looped back around and ran right next to the roller coaster before it came back to the station. It was always neat when the timing was right and you were chugging along and the coaster’s cars whipped past right next to you. The train was pretty slow and not exactly a thrill ride, but I always liked to ride it at least once per trip, just to get the lay of the land.

There were some other rides grouped right by the coaster, in a little promenade area. They had a merry-go-round (which we considered lame, but me and my cousins were all like 10-12 years old at the time, so you get that) and a whip-a-round type thing that was marginally fun once or twice, but repeat rides did not reap any rewards. A set of electric bumper cars, the kind with the scraper bar that went across the ceiling, were a fun opportunity for some bumps and always had a long line. There were a couple of coin-op games, a rifle game where you shot at various targets like a piano player, and maybe a skee-ball game. We never played those because I could never shake down the change from my mom and the cost wasn’t included in the picnic.

The big show was the roller coaster, called The Little Dipper. It was a wooden coaster, painted white, with a figure-8 pattern that pulled up 16 riders with a clicky chain and a creaky first hill that dropped off and gave a huge rush, even though now I found out the stats, and it’s only like a 20-foot drop that gets you up to what a car’s first gear does. But the Little Dipper was my first coaster ever, though, so I have fond memories of it. It was a little rough, but at the time it seemed like the fastest, most brutal thing ever. I was reluctant to ride it at first, but then I wanted to get back in line and ride it all afternoon. Once we did get there early enough that we got through the lines three or four times really fast before a crowd built up, and that was absolute paradise.

I have a lot of other good memories of that park, too. I think they had some kind of paper ticket system for the food, and we’d always end up eating an endless supply of hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream. P&G was pretty good to their people, and always had random drawings that somebody in our big extended family would always win, which consisted of huge bags of P&G products.

I was sad to hear this place closed, though! I always expected it to be long gone, because even back then, it was pretty weathered and beat. But I guess they pulled through until 2003, when less companies were spending the money on picnics, and that 60 acres of real estate was worth more than their draw. The rides were auctioned off, and I am glad to hear that the coaster made the transition to another park. I don’t know what happened to the other rides. Lemont, Illinois will now have a new warehouse, but that doesn’t really make up for losing the park.

I guess I’ve rode a lot of roller coasters since then, but that’s not why the memory stuck in my head. I guess it was a combination of the food (which probably wasn’t that good, come to think of it), seeing all of my cousins, being in Chicago, and just being able to see everything in the park. For whatever reason, this was like my Christmas in the summer, one of those things that really stuck with me.

Anyway, another distant memory solved by google. Now I need to find someone auctioning off another roller coaster like this one, so I can set it up out on my land in Colorado. Any ideas?


mixing paint

Okay, I had fun rambling on yesterday about my old job at Montgomery Ward, and it was a good warm-up exercise for writing, so I thought I’d do it again for a bit. Here goes.

I don’t know how I lucked into the job at Ward’s, but it came at the best time possible. Before that, I worked at an Italian restaurant hellhole as a dishwasher, busting my ass for $3.35 an hour and taking the abuse of the old-school Italian owners. After about six weeks of breaking my back on a sink hung about six inches too low for me, I walked out on a Saturday night during the dinner rush and planned to never come back. The owner called on Monday, cursing in Italian, and said if I didn’t finish out the next week, he wouldn’t pay me. I came back and worked at half-speed, putting greasy plates on the clean rack, never changing the water, and giving them every excuse to tell me to leave. On my last night, I had to clean the cheese grinder, this huge, cast-iron piece that weighed a good twenty pounds, with big screw-threads inside that filled with raw mozzarella cheese. You were supposed to spend a ton of time carefully scraping the extruded cheese out of each thread, scrubbing the insides until sterile. I said, “fuck this,” and gave it a quick once-over on the exterior before putting it away, leaving the cheese to dry into cement inside. The next week, I filled out applications, and basically fell into an interview and callback for Wards, and had the job.

The paint department had two older women and two teen-aged guys. There was me, and another guy named Joe, a year older. He looked like the actor Eddie Kay Thomas from American Pie, except much more sickly and emaciated, and he was even more of a slacker than I was. He perfected the ability to sleep while slumped against the paint counter, so at a distance it looked like he was actually waiting for the next customer. He wanted to go to film school, and his stepdad was one of the top microphone designers in the country. He worked for Crown, designing mics, and wrote articles for many top-end audio magazines. What that meant for us is that he had tons of audio and video equipment lying around the house. Joe got me hooked on punk bands like Black Flag and also on old Troma films like Surf Nazis Must Die and Bad Taste, so we were continually trying to get a band together and/or shoot a movie with no talent, no money, and whatever equipment we found in his basement. Luckily, only a few copies of our attempts actually survived over the years, and I keep tight control over them to avoid shame and embarrassment.

As for the two women, there was Bev, who worked the regular day shift and was our somewhat-manager. She set the schedule and did other managerial tasks, but she wasn’t a salaried manager, and that was a big point of contention for her. Bev was this middle-aged woman that took the job a bit too seriously, and always wanted to claw up a level on the Wards corporate ladder, but would always be back in paints. She helped out the housewifes with their wallpaper samples and worked slowly yet diligently. When there was a shift change at five, she babied us “kids” a bit, and that got old after a while; after all, we were teenagers and knew everything in the fucking world. Joe and I talked behind her back all the time and went on and on with long, mocking dramatic parodies of her and Pearl, but she kept things going during the day, so that worked for us.

Then there was Pearl. Pearl was a crotchety old woman with white curly hair and a constant look of fear and confusion on her face. I felt sorry for her, because she actually worked some other job and needed Wards to make ends meet. I didn’t know her social situation, but I imagined her to be the hermitted old maid, the lady in the neighborhood that all the kids said was a witch, with no family to help her, and this big, scary Reagan-spun world of evil ready to collapse on her at any moment. Pearl was very highly strung, and tended to lose her shit at a moment’s notice. Put her in front of a cash register with a transaction that’s anywhere near abnormal, or have her mix more than four cans of paint, and she would freak the fuck out. She often put cans of paint in the orbital mixer without closing their lids all the way, causing an explosion of pigment everywhere. That and the fact that she was creepy made it difficult to work with her, although maybe it was slightly better than a shift’s worth of Bev’s momming you around.

Me and Joe never worked the same shift during the week; sometimes we’d team up on weekends, but most school nights, it was one or the other of us watching the fort. One of the games we played was repainting stuff in the department. We’d get a lot of damaged, mismixed, or extra paint, and since we’d only get like one or two customers a night sometimes, we’d use the extra supplies to refinish equipment. Joe started the trend by completely disassembling the pigment dispenser one night, and spraypainting the base and turntable with some nice beige spraypaint, the hard-metal finish crap you use on filing cabinets. Compared to the previous million-color splatter, it looked showroom-new. I took apart the paint can closer, that press-thing that seals can lids, and did it up in two different colors. Joe then resprayed our orbital mixer, although shortly after his new paintjob, we got a new one that didn’t shudder and shake like an out-of-balance washing machine during each can of paint.

We did another collaborative art project, which was a book of modern art we created from found objects in the paint department. We only had one or two colors of marker, plus ball-point pens, but we also worked in paint samples, weekly circulars, security tape, wallpaper pieces, and anything else we could find. Once Joe found a cockroach and taped it to the page. We kept the book (really just a legal pad) hidden in the back, and worked on the modern art masterpieces during slow time. I still have the book and often threaten Joe that I will scan the pages and make some kind of web-based interface for it. Just for posterity, here’s a page I scanned in for my glossary; the top piece (“Sunset From Hell”) is Joe’s, when he was in his blue security tape and wallpaper-as apocalypse period, and the bottom piece (“The Analog Kid”) is my deconstruction of the Sunday sales circular into mosaic, representing the complexities of a post-Freudian individual in the new world Reagan era of digital change. Or something.

Any idle time was spent making fun of Pearl and Bev, or devising complex games or diversions. First, both of us would imitate Pearl, and sometimes pretend she led a secret life as a deranged serial killer, mostly because she resembled Norman Bates’ mom’s corpse from Psycho. When that got old, we’d do stuff like put metal can openers in the orbital mixer and hit start to see the thing shoot around; it sounded like dropping a wrench in a large printing press. I manufactured a blood pack from plastic bags and pigment; Joe started a game of seeing who could steal the most can openers a night. We did all of the regular work: dusting off cans, putting away stock, tending to customers, facing shelves, and all of the other usual retail labor. But sometimes, in those non-holiday months, you had nothing to do but listen to Muzak for four hours, and you had to pass the time.

Shortly before I came aboard, our store switched to Nixdorf Point-of-Sale terminals, replacing the old cash registers. These things looked like a slick (at the time) grey PC, with a full keyboard, a tape and form dot-matrix printer, a small greyscale CRT screen on a swing-arm, a magnetic card swipe reader, and a disembodied CPU unit hidden in the counter below, and connected to a main computer, the offices in Chicago, the credit companies, and who knows what else. They gave me a couple of days of training on the machine, but it really took about seven minutes to master them. If you could order food at McDonald’s, you could understand the intricacies of this machine. That meant, of course, that Bev and Pearl were constantly at war with the little grey box. Something as simple as a return and exchange for a different amount would send them into a fit, and I would be asked to step in because I “knew computers”. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone finds out I’m “into computers” and then asks me to debug something like a garage door opener or a VCR timer. I didn’t learn how to fix a damn toaster in my compilers class, people.

Anyway, I spent a lot of time going through all of the menus on the register, trying to find secret screens or undocumented easter eggs. After hitting all 101 keys in every combination on every screen, I found a way to change the idle screen on the monitor. Normally when you leave the register, you flip around the monitor and it says “Montgomery Ward – Register Closed” with a bunch of asterisks around the text, in an ASCII-art box. Well I found out you can add your own line of text below this, maybe to say “Go to Housewares” or something. Instead, Joe and I found great pleasure from changing it to “Go fuck yourself,” or “Pearl, this is Jesus, you’re going to die.” We had several close calls where we forgot to change a register back and had a manager wondering how the hell the idle screen said “Holiday in Cambodia” or whatever punk anthem we were into that week.

Another time, we were playing with the igniter from a gas grille. It was a push-button assembly with a wire coming off of it, and when you put the wire’s tip near a piece of metal and pressed the button, it would click and shoot a spark across the gap. We had a lot of fun one afternoon shocking each other with the thing, playing games of paper-rock-scissors-electric shock or whatever. Then Joe was ringing up someone’s paint at a register and I found that when you shocked the glass CRT screen, the system FREAKED THE FUCK OUT. The screen would completely blank, even more than when the register was turned off, and all of the peripherals acted like the thing was in the middle of a cardiac arrest, the print heads moving back and forth, spitting out and pulling back in paper. Right when we were ready to fess up and call someone from the front office, we found out that cycling the register to another screen woke it up again and everything was well.

After a few months there, I could take apart the entire Nixdorf terminal with no tools and no keys, in my sleep with the lights turned off, in probably ten seconds. I knew how the printer worked, and was shocked to find out they were paying some doofus 50 bucks an hour to change ribbons and clean printers, when I could do it for nothing. I even had fun taking off the keys and rearranging them, so nobody could type in addresses unless they were a touch typist. Word got out that I could “fix computers”, and I got called to do stuff like unjam printers, pull out shards of documents that were fed wrong, and re-thread ribbons that were totally fucked by people trying to print on cardboard or something.

Wards wasn’t a “real” job, I mean, compared to stuff after college, but it didn’t involve food or wearing a headset and saying “would you like a drink with that?” so it was a big step up for me. There was a dress code, and I had to look reasonably like an adult: dress shoes, no jeans, collared shirt, a tie, and unfortunately, a maroon smock-jacket for the paint department, where I worked. We did have nametags, and “Master Paint Specialist” badges, which Joe and I would use white-out and marker to change to “Master Pain Specialist” or “Master of Puppets” or whatever. Most jobs a sixteen-year-old can get are places that employ “kids”, like fast food or other places in the mall, and everyone worked with other kids their age. But I mostly worked with other adults, and to a certain extent, was given the same respect as one. I mean, Bev still babied us and kept us in our place, but all of our customers were adults who asked us for advice, and I went from being a 16-year-old punk building model airplanes in his basement with Iron Maiden on the stereo to someone who could have a conversation with other adults in a pretty short time.

I have been rambling – this is about like a book chapter, and I haven’t even started. Okay, I’ll get back to this later. Let me know if you enjoyed it.


Missing Emerald City, sort of

Re new nephew, his name is Wesley Douglas Owens, and all is well. I know that me gloating over a new nephew is very unkonrathian given that I hate kids, but I’ve found that I’ve actually enjoyed having my first nephew Phillip. My younger sister managed to be a good mom and raise a kid that’s smart, funny, and well-behaved, and I’m more than certain that Monica will be a good mother too. And what’s weird is that I remember when I was Phillip’s age, and being around him is almost like a portal into my past, the days when I spent all of my time playing with Legos and the last Star Wars movie was bigger than Jesus. So that’s cool, and I’ll enjoy watching another one grow up.

There’s a new guy at work who came to us from Seattle, and when I first talked to him on Friday, it turns out his wife also worked at WRQ, my last employer in the Emerald city. I always have the same conversation when I meet another Seattleite, similar to the one I have when I meet a fellow Hoosier that is expatriated and living in New York. It’s the conversation that starts with where you lived, where you worked, where you hung out, and goes into how much you miss Safeway or the Upstairs Pub or Garcia’s, and how cool it was to hang out in the Pike Place fish market or the Irish Lion, and how you can’t get good salmon or parking or whatever else. But this conversation was even more detailed, because we talked about the offices on Lake Union and the benefits policies and the Fourth of Julys on the terraces with the fireworks on the lake and the company picnics at Mount Si. And then I thought more about it, and realized it has been FIVE YEARS since I left. FIVE YEARS.

That’s a real sack of bricks in the gut right there. I guess when I talk about Seattle, there are a lot of reasons I’m finally glad I did get out when I did, and try something new. I mean, it’s not hard to create a list of reasons why the place hit the shitter around 2000: the vanishing job market, the WTO riots, the vaporware monorail and the taxes that prop it up, the taxes for the two stadiums (a quarter billion dollars to a football team that was 6 and 10 in 2000, so they can play six home games a year in a non-multi-purpose stadium), the traffic, the Microsoft millionaires driving up the rents, etc. etc. etc.

But I still miss it. Seattle was a far more liveable city if you can overlook the flaws. I mean, New York has way more to offer to most people, but the quality of life issues are so horrible, and you’ve got to spend some cash to avoid them. I have a lot of good memories of Seattle though. I think the real problem is that the Seattle in my mind is Seattle 1997, and I can never go back to that, just like I can’t go back to Bloomington 1992.

Speaking of getting out of New York to improve the quality of life, I’m thinking about vacations in a vague sense. I might try to skip out of town for a week in August, to spend it in cooler climates or at least in air conditioned hotel rooms for the worst part of the heat. I bought some book called 1001 things to see before you die or something, it is a giant flip-through book that you read when you are bored rather than when you want to travel, but it has all sorts of crazy ideas in it. I’d like to do something cool and travel-oriented like drive a dune buggy around or go rally racing or even snowmobiles, but I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. Maybe I’ll just go to Coney Island and ride the kiddie go-karts.

OK, gotta go write…



The new Peter Gabiel album, Up is pretty damn good. The music behind it has progressed greatly over the last ten years, although in a strange way, this is not as pop-accessible to me. It reminds me much more of one of his first three self-titled albums, but if they were recorded with incredibly advanced and modern digital equipment. There’s still the world music-oriented influences on there, although in a different direction than Us. But the thing above all of it is that his signature voice is still as pronounced as ever. It’s a very strange experience, and I think it will grow on me even more after I get it on a MiniDisc and listen to it with headphones on the train for a week straight.

I can’t believe it has been ten years since the last Peter Gabriel album. I don’t remember exactly when I bought Us, but I do remember spending a hell of a lot of time listening to it in the 1992-1993 school year. It’s one of those pieces of hyper-nostalgia that ties me into that timeframe. I really remember listening to it a lot when I was briefly dating this girl Kim in January of 1993, because the song “Secret World” really reminded me of her. I also remember a night where I listened to the whole tape three or four times, when I was dragging my laundry from my house on Mitchell Street in Bloomington to the laundromat in Eastgate Plaza. It made me remember the whole routine; I’d drag the clothes there and practically explode the tendons in my wrists from the laundry baskets. Everything went in, then I would walk down the plaza. This was, of course, on a Saturday night, because I had no life. I would go to Morgenstern’s and look at some books or the magazine rack, and pick up some obscure magazine that looked cool. Then I’d go to the cheap Chinese place – was it called Grasshopper? – and order some very Americanized sweet and sour pork, and read my magazine. I guess the Peter Gabriel fit this well; Us was such an introspective and dark album, following Gabriel’s divorce and really picking at various parts of the same problems I was facing. It was such a soundtrack to the strange ups and downs of my life at that point, unlike the steady stream of Death Metal that also shared the CD player around the same time. Death Metal marked the peaks, the energy and anger of being 21 and being in college and everything else, but after that all faded and I found myself sitting alone in an apartment as a 31-year old writer, the Peter Gabriel stood the test of time.

Speaking about thinking about the past too much, I’ve been getting some letters about the NecroKonicon, the glossary about my life. I guess I’m not the only one plugging their past into Google and hoping for an answer. I wish I could do more with this thing, either expand it more or do something fancy with the layout. I also wish I knew of a better way to send this out to more people, or somehow market it or put the right spin on it. I have a hard time even describing it to people. Most of its readership is from Google. If you have any bright ideas, let me know.

I had to move all of my logs off of today, so I did a quick report with analog to see how things stood. The directory currently getting the most hits is the Vegas directory, and I suspect that most of the hits are from people googling on stuff like “cheap vegas hotel.” And a ton of them are from google’s image search. I have very mixed feelings about this. For one, I’m running out of space posting photos, and I get no feedback whatsoever from them, they seem like such a waste of time to me sometimes. But, if I had nothing but text, my site would be incredibly boring. So, I don’t know.