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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.

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Collectorism

I am beat. This weekend, I rented a moving truck and we hauled over everything that I’m going to keep from the Astoria apartment to my new place. I got the truck for the whole weekend, and envisioned lap after lap between the two boroughs. But on Friday, we got everything loaded into a single, densely-packed truckload, then parked the car overnight in a locked lot and spent most of Saturday afternoon hauling everything in. I think we were back at the Budget lot and done with it by maybe three. I spent the rest of the night and some of today unloading boxes, packing away things, and hooking up electronics. It’s not done, but it’s really getting there.

As far as what fits in a ten foot moving truck, this load included five bookcases, a wood and glass TV pedestal, a 27-inch TV, a surround sound receiver, DVD player, CD player, tape player, VCR, 12″ 3-way speakers, five surround speakers, a powered subwoofer, a bass amp, my keyboard, a bunch of bike parts, my tools, all of my dishes, papers, fans, an air conditioner, a ton of old cassettes and VHS tapes, and probably a thousand pounds of books. I wish I was joking about the book thing, but I’m not; I had about 20 boxes of books, each one weighing about 40 or 50 pounds. That’s why I feel completely devastated today. I never want to move again. I know we will move, but I don’t want to be the one doing it. It’s much easier for me to write a check than it is to unload boxes of books. I know I’m out of shape and everything, but this was a true affirmation that I am getting old. When I was 22 years old, I unloaded a 40-foot semi truck full of furniture, lawn tractors, refrigerators, and boxes of consumer crap every morning for a summer. Now I’m tired just typing that sentence.

This move has also created an entire phase-shift in my relationship to Stuff. I used to, for some reason unknown to me because I was in the center of things, like to accumulate Stuff. When I was single, I would buy Stuff. To me, Stuff consisted mostly of DVDs, CDs, and books, but once you get locked into those things, your collection of Stuff also grows to things like magazines or ticket stubs or photos or clippings about the creators of your Stuff. I’ve also gone through various other collectorial phases, collecting Stuff like gadgets and electronics. I’ve never gone over the edge as far as comics or toys or japanimation or any of that. But I’ve bought a lot of Stuff. And maybe I bought Stuff because I was unhappy, and I thought it would make me happy. But it never really did. All it did was take up space.

If you divide the world into people who are all about collecting Stuff and those who think it’s disgusting to collect Stuff, it’s funny, because one side will never understand the other. People with no food on their table but their entire house swarming with unopened Beanie Babies from eBay will recoil in horror at the thought of a nice apartment with nothing on the shelves. People with tens of thousands of records in their collection immediately pounce on someone’s 40-CD collection when they visit in the most mocking of tones. And hey, I’ve been there. But I’ve never taken a big step back to think about what all of this Stuff really gets me in life, how much I really need it, and how it really impacts me.

One of the big things in this move is that I’ve tried to shed some Stuff. A lot of stuff that I’d never really need again went in the garbage. Lots of papers, little tchotchkis, unneeded cables and adapters (no need for all of those 9-to-7-to-male-to-female-to-usb-to-printer cables with the new Mac) and other crap. Any time in the past when I said “hey, I might need this later” led to something in a closet that went. And I did save some stuff, but a lot of it went. The same philosophy went to the DVDs, tapes, CDs, and other media. And I shed a few hundred books before I left.

I’ve pretty much stopped buying DVDs, oddly enough. Part of that is Netflix, part is that I’ve been introducing Sarah to a lot of the old stuff I have in my collection, and part is that we simply don’t sit around and watch that many movies. All of the DVDs went into leather binders with plastic binder pages inside. This turned a giant wall of a collection into three small binders that hide away nicely. And now the notion of buying DVDs seems silly, since for the most part I only watch them once, if that, and then they take up space. I used to think it was ultra-important to have every DVD that I personally liked on-hand so if I woke up at three in the morning and absolutely had to watch Blade Runner, I could. But you know what? That doesn’t really happen that much. And the more DVDs you get, the more you need.

I still get the occasional CD. But I listen to CDs (or the derived MP3s, anyway) on my iPod or at home or work a lot. I might listen to a CD five times in a week, and I never do that with a DVD (except maybe Platoon.) But now that I use iTunes and the iPod for everything now, I don’t really need the CDs around. Those got banished to the closet, in some cardboard boxes I bought especially for that purpose.

At some point, I used to think it was great being surrounded by all of this media, the CDs and DVDs sitting spine-out on shelf after endless shelf. I think it was part of the mental sickness of whatever disease creates completeists, the people who live for Stuff. I guess I struggled with this as a writer for a while, because sometimes I wanted to just buy Stuff, and hunt down that long-missing, elusive Stuff on eBay that would somehow make life better. But then part of me thought instead of getting or buying this stuff, I should be making it. And my most creative periods were when I was so broke, I could barely afford food let alone Stuff, but typing into an emacs buffer is always free. Okay, of course you have to pay the power bill. And maybe you always wanted the latest computer, which is also Stuff-ism, or maybe you need some CDs to play while you write – that’s how you start to justify buying more Stuff instead of writing, which is what kills the muse.

Books are still a problem. I’m paring them down, but I have much more of a connection to the books I read, and this will be a harder bug to kill. But it’s getting there.

P.S.: No more trip to Cancun. We rebooked, and will be going to Amsterdam on the 9th. I realize it will be a bit cold, but at least it’s not underwater. (knock wood.)

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Crossing the river East

First things first: I’ve moved. It’s just across the river to Manhattan, and it’s not 100% done. But I’m in the new place 100% of the time. So if you have need for my phone or postal address, please drop a line. (It’s at the username jkonrath plus this domain name, if you don’t know already.) Also, please drop a line with your current contact info, as I’m trying to get all of this stuff organized so I can sent out another holiday card this year.

I’ve had a back-breaking long weekend here. Sarah is in LA, so I’ve been trying to get the last of the worst stuff done in the old place. I hauled the last of my CDs here, and boxed up all of my books. I also went through a lot of old stuff, recycling papers and junking things that won’t make the move. I also did a lot of cleaning, although you can’t tell from the look of the place. Being on the first floor of a New York apartment means a constant layer of dust and smog, and it accumulated all under every piece of furniture. It’s a horrible thing. Now I am nervously trying to plan how I will move 21 boxes of books plus four huge bookshelves and all of my AV gear, plus how I will give away, sell, throw out, or burn a bunch of half-assed furniture that did not make the cut.

I’ve been thinking about the past too much lately, which is dangerous. I have this huge stack next to my desk that contains probably 20 or 30 spiral notebooks dating back to 1993, filled from cover to cover with daily notes about my aspirations, conquests, fears, and failures. And since all of my other books are in transit, I’ve found myself pulling out a random journal and paging through it in my downtime. What amazes me is how much I used to write, and how varied each entry was. And it also boggles me to see how great my dreams were ten years ago, when I was fresh out of school and had nowhere to go but up. You would not believe all of the wacky future plans I sketched out on Mead college rule while waiting for my food at a Seattle Dennys. I found academic plans on attaining PhDs, house layouts, book outlines, magazine pitches, movie script pieces, just about everything. It’s weird to me now, because my current future goals pretty much have to do with getting a Ryder truck to move all of these fucking books.

I found more of this stuff when cleaning today, pieces of printer paper with outlines or paragraphs scribbled on them, pieces that don’t make a complete puzzle, but are filled with ideas that I never get now. And I try to think of what would someone swing this back in my direction, like saying “yeah, well, I wasn’t planning for retirement back then” or something, that somehow justifies why I’m not doing stuff like that anymore. But I can’t really find a reason. I don’t have kids or commitments or anything else eating up my time. The only thing I can think of is that I used to have all of these great ideas, but they were just that – ideas. I was never able to take any of those wild thoughts and turn it into a concrete book or degree or story or whatever. Through experience, I learned what could and couldn’t fly, and I stopped chasing the things that would end up dead on the vine. And while it has saved me a lot of time, it’s also made life a lot more boring. And that’s the one thing I really miss when I go through old journals or old writing, is that it always seems much more interesting than where I’m at right now.

The stupid part of all of this is that at some point N years in the future, I will be reading this entry and saying “man, things were so much more happening back in 2005.”

As I was getting ready to head out of the apartment tonight, the dimwits that live in the back apartment started some sort of altercation with each other, with the usual screaming and yelling and door slamming and other bullshit. Normally, this would bug the fuck out of me, but it was so nice knowing I wouldn’t have to hear it anymore. I’ve had real mixed emotions leaving this place – I mean, I’ve been there for six years now. I’ve seen some good times there, and despite all of the problems, it’s been a good place to hole up and hide out. There are times when the neighborhood is quiet, the drug addict neighbors are passed out, the car alarms aren’t going off, and all is peaceful, when I’ve really enjoyed myself there. I will miss the place. I won’t miss the ceiling collapsing in the bathroom, the hot water going out, the heat not working in the coldest winter ever, my mail being stolen, my phone line going out at the drop of a hat, my power lines blowing out when you turn on three lamps, the insane neighbors, the heat, the bars on the windows, the truants dealing drugs below my windows, or the biggest bugs I’ve ever seen outside of a David Cronenberg movie. But you always miss an old place. Hell, I still miss my old place on Mitchell Street.

Okay, I’m dead tired….