The Death of Palm

In a serious WTF move yesterday, HP announced they were ditching their hardware manufacturing business, and abandoning their work on WebOS devices.  HP just bought Palm a little over a year ago for 1.2 billion dollars.  Their big splash was the iPad killer tablet, the HP TouchPad, which sold roughly as well as the Edsel in the year before its demise. It’s a sad end to Palm, and evidence that doubling down doesn’t always pay off.

I have a long history with Palm, mostly because I’ve always wanted some kind of little portable machine to store my “brain” of vital info and capture little bits of writing ideas as I’m away from my desk.  I remember first hearing about Palm back in 1996, when I was still at my first job in Seattle.  At that time, the gold standard of portables was the Apple Newton, which were nice, but cost somewhere around a grand.  US Robotics rolled out their new device for only $300 for the low-end model, and they were way smaller and lighter than the Newton.  When I first stumbled across this new product on the web, they had a little Palm Pilot simulator you could download, which let you walk through the various screens of the PDA, albeit without the touch-screen area for a pen stylus.  I was 90% sold on this initial model, but 10% of me had serious doubts.  (And 100% of me didn’t have $300 burning a hole in my pocket.)

The thing that was most offputting to me was that the Newton was essentially a shrunk-down computer. You could put cards in it and it had its own file system that you could fill with apps and documents and whatever else.  But PalmOS was based on this alien concept that you carried a mirror of your important data, a copy, that got synced when you plugged the device back into the mothership of your home PC.  It was a sort of parasite, like one of those little helicopters on the decks of huge yachts, and wasn’t a “real” computer.  I don’t know why that bothered me, but it was new at the time, and I didn’t like it.  (It’s the same stumbling block a lot of Windows people have about the iPad, and why you see tons of people in message boards yelling “IT DOESNT HAVE A PCMCIA SLOT!  I CANT RUN VISUAL STUDIO ON IT!  HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO CUT BROADCAST-QUALITY HD VIDEO ON THAT THING?”)

So I didn’t get one. In the meantime, a bunch of people I worked with at my next job bought into a lot of bleeding-edge PDAs that have since left our collective consciousness.  Some of them were Newton or MessagePad die-hards, and a couple bought into the Magic Cap platform.  Windows CE devices also started appearing, which I thought was absolutely ridiculous at the time.  I spent my cash elsewhere, mostly on this other portable reading system better known as paper books, and patiently waited until Moore’s Law kicked in.

After I moved to New York, though, I foresaw a future of sitting on subway trains for a good chunk of my day. So I went down to J&R’s Music World, which is like the East-coast version of Fry’s electronics stores crowded with off-brands and flashy bright pricetags. I bought a Palm IIIx, which I think set me back $200 or so, and then figured out all of the cryptic mumbo-jumbo I needed to get it to talk to a linux machine.  (It probably involved recompiling the kernel five times.)

My use of the Palm fluctuated, and went through phases.  I’d go through periods when I downloaded a ton of ebooks, tried to keep a journal, and jotted down everything I saw or thought of, in hopes of eventually rolling it into my own writing.  I’d play dope wars forever (“you found two hits of acid on a dead dude in the subway!”) and remember reading that Bruce Sterling book The Hacker Crackdown and a good chunk of the Unabomber manifesto on that little 160×160 greenish LCD.  I never got the hang of writing in graffiti, the shorthand system of scratching on the little input area; I can barely print in Latin letters, let alone a system I haven’t been using for decades.

Everyone had a Palm back then.  When I worked at Juno, I think every single person on my team had a Palm III or V, except for one dude that had a Handspring Visor.  (I think one of the Directors also had the ultra-expensive Palm VII, which had an antenna hanging off of it, and could pull down the amount of web traffic you’d consume in about 60 seconds now over the course of a month, all for $14.95.) One of the project managers on my team found a hangman game you could play wirelessly over the IR ports, and our meeting productivity suddenly dropped 100%.  I’d get on the train and see dozens of people clicking with their little styluses on the charcoal or silver boxes, all of them drowning in crazy NASDAQ money as the tech bubble continued to expand like a huge zit on a teenager’s face.

I never fully sunk into the system, though.  Part of it was that it wasn’t 100% of what I needed to do with the damn thing.  I couldn’t really write on it; I couldn’t run totally kick-ass games with it.  There was no camera, no web browser, no way to send emails on the go.  I couldn’t write my own programs for it.  I could barely get the damn thing to sync with my PC, and would only plug it in maybe once or twice a month.  There was also the issue that I had a cell phone that could do about 23% of what I wanted, and this Palm that could do maybe 41%, and then I carried around a MiniDisc player, which totally solved the music issue, but only for the discs I remembered to shove in my pocket that morning.  I really needed some device that would do all of this and more, but that would be almost a decade away.  In the meantime, I assembled this mess of cables and adaptors to plug the Palm into the ass-end of this Samsung feature phone I had back then, so I could use the phone as a modem and dial in to a modem when I was on vacation, which almost worked.

Around 2001 or 2002, I took a half-step in that general direction, and upgraded to a Handspring Visor Prism, and got the Visorphone. The Visors had this cartridge port on them called the Springboard port, and the Visorphone was this sick attachment that  snapped on the back and essentially turned it into a cell phone.  And the Visor could use the phone for data, so you could fire it up and get SMS messages on your phone, or send out an email.  The Visorphone sounded like the coolest thing since the Boba Fett action figure with the shooting rocket pack that some stupid fucking kid shot down his throat and got the whole thing banned, but it was a total piece of shit.  It had its own battery in it, and you had to charge it separately from the main unit.  The software was barely integrated correctly, so it almost worked as well as one of those piece of shit Jitterbug phones.  And your monthly bill of 40 or 50 bucks came with just enough minutes to download and delete about four of your spam email messages.  Plus it got me locked into a T-Mobile contract, which was absolutely craptastic.  I did use the Prism for a while, and it was a nice step up from the IIIx, but I did miss the sleekness of the old Palm, the little fliptop case that reminded me of a Star Trek communicator, and the fact that it ran forever on AAA batteries.

I also owned Palm stock briefly.  I probably don’t need to explain how that went.

I sold the Handspring to a coworker, and jumped to a Sidekick, which, despite the fact that it was designed for emo 14-year-olds, had its shit together as far as data integration.  It was essentially useless as a phone, but I don’t like talking on the phone, and preferred getting the data-only unlimited plan and spending all day in AIM or browsing the web.  I did briefly consider getting a Treo when everyone else got Treo fever, but talked myself out of it.  Years later, when I was at the big S, we got a couple of Palm Pre units when they came out, and I spent twenty minutes screwing with one, long enough to lock it up two or three times.  I’d already moved to the iPhone by then, and it was the perfect solution I’d waited ten years for, so I was pretty nonplussed.  The WebOS UI had some nice features, but in a world where everyone had Ataris and Commodores, I didn’t want to buy a Coleco Adam because it had a neat keyboard.

I was thinking about all of this, and what happened to all of my old Palm files, and I remembered I used a program called jpilot on linux to sync my old devices.  It made a .jpilot directory, and it turns out I have two full backups of my old Palm’s filesystem, one from 2000 and another from 2001.  It is a total mindfuck to see what I carried on the thing back then.  I’ve got a list of DVDs I wanted to buy; a list of books to research later; and there’s an attempt at a journal that’s mostly a list sorted by date of when I was having panic attacks.  There’s an itinerary from a February 2000 trip to San Diego, and a copy of an early draft of my second book in PDB format.  I have all of the applications that were installed too, from a universal remote app to an R2D2 sound generator to some app that takes a Manhattan street address and tells you the cross streets.

Sometimes I wish I never kept things like this, because now I’m going to spend the next two hours digging through these files.

Thoughts on a random picture: the N

This is the N:

I took this picture just over ten years ago.  I was on the way home from my second date with Kelly.  We went to Jackson Heights, and then to Target.  It doesn’t sound that exciting, but when you live in New York in 2001 and you spent a good chunk of your life in Indiana, and suddenly, there’s no Target, the idea of taking two trains and a bus to the middle of nowhere in Queens to see a real Target is pretty enticing.

That picture was taken on Queensborough Plaza, which is the first stop in Queens after the N train goes through the Steinway tunnel and under the East River.  It’s the start of a new borough, a transition to a different land, and the point where the normally-underground subway train suddenly appears up on an elevated platform that snakes above the rooftops in Long Island City and Astoria.

I hated the N train.  The N and R trains ran into Queens, and they stood for Never and Rarely, because you could wait forever for one of the damn things to show up.  And while you were up on that elevated platform, freezing your ass off in January as the wind tunnel effect made the extreme weather even worse, they’d run twice as slow.  And while those A trains or F trains ran every 2 minutes for the last century in “The City”, the MTA had this habit of randomly shutting down the N trains all weekend, which started roughly around two weeks after I moved to Astoria, and went on until about the time I left.  They said it was for “station work”, but I was almost certain that some Sopranos wannabe motherfuckers paid off the MTA to force all of us to spend our money in their craptastic shops and restaurants all weekend.

Queensborough plaza was in a sketchy neighborhood, a part of Long Island City where everything around was either taxi repair shops, scrapyards, or the kind of strip clubs you go to if you have a c-section scar fetish.  There was also a “bootleg” Dunkin Donuts there; it had a sign with the same font and same colors as the real place, but it just said “fresh donuts” or “fresh coffee” or something.  I was waiting for the whole thing to get painted over after a cease/desist, but there were a lot of blatant trademark violations in Queens, and nobody gave a shit.  There was this place on 30th Ave called Pinocchio Restaurant, and I swear they had a pixel-for-pixel copy of the genuine Disney artwork on their sign.  I don’t know if a lawyer from Walt’s parent company woke up with a horse’s head in his bed one morning, but the damn thing’s still there today.  I desperately wanted the Olympics to come to New York, just to see all of those IOC lawyers try to shut down every business in Astoria with the word “Olympic” in their names, which is about 70% of them.

Two train lines butted against each other at that station: the BMT’s N/R and the IRT’s 7.  The 7 was the line built to run up to the World’s Fair, and they ran those famous red subway cars, which have since been stripped and dumped in the Atlantic to form an artificial reef.  I’m guessing this is the train John Rocker took out to Shea Stadium described in his infamous rant that got him all kinds of love and adoration from New Yorkers.  On the day I took this picture, we returned from Target on the 7 train, and then I switched to the N to go home, while Kelly got on a different train to head back to Brooklyn.

I spent so damn much time on the N train.  A rough order-of-magnitude guess is 2 times a day x 5 days a week x 50 weeks a year x 5 years = 2500 trips.  Each trip took about 45 minutes, so that’s roughly 78 days of my life.  Yeah, I invested that time into reading, and I probably read a book or two a week, but that’s still a lot of strap-hanging.

The whole idea of the subway seems a lifetime away for me.  I can’t even fathom any part of my existence back then: being single, living in such a big city, living in such a fucked up neighborhood.  I think about it a lot, because I’m at the same job as back then, and I’m working on docs for the same product (among others), so I often play dumb games like “what was I doing around the time I first started working on this?”  I think back to when I was struggling to get Rumored out the door, when I was trying to date, when I would take any free time I had and scrape up enough dough to get on a plane to Vegas, just so I could rent a car and drive again, and be in an open area that didn’t have a fifty thousand people per square mile.

And I think about life now sometimes – like I was in the parking lot of Target the other day (honestly, Target isn’t paying me to mention them in every damn post I put up here) and I was just thinking “fuck, I’m living in California.”  I get so busy with the day-to-day that I don’t even think about it, about how 25 years ago, California was this far off, distant land only seen in movies, and it may as well have been the planet Vulcan.  And now I’ve lived here for three and a half years, and I still don’t even realize it until I’m outside on a nice sunny day, and I realize it’s something like -60 degrees in Elkhart and I haven’t had to dig a car out of a snowbank for decades, and I really do live within a stone’s throw of the Pacific Ocean, a body of water I never even saw until I was 26 years old.

So looking back at pictures like this, the old rolling stock of the MTA, that look of soot and skyscrapers and brick project houses and a view of Queens so vivid, I can practically hear the car alarms and jackhammers at five in the morning and the taxis laying on their horns continually, and it’s a huge time machine for me.  It’s not that I want to go back or that I miss any of it, but it’s a huge reminder that even though I feel like the same person and the same old crap is going on every day, so much time has passed between now and then, and things have changed so radically.

The Other Cairo and Internet Archaeology

I took the standard drive-to-Florida Disney vacation when I was twelve, and I’d been to a bunch of the plains states by then: Missouri, Iowa, the Dakotas, Wisconsin.  But in the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, my dad took us on our first big trip out of the Midwest, this two-week journey to upstate New York.  And at the time, I was bored out of my mind, depressed about being away from my car for so long, obsessively reading the JC Whitney catalog in the hundred degree heat.  But we did a lot, saw a lot, and it’s one of those things I always plug into my mental wayback machine, trying to remember the little details or uncover something on the web that connects back to it.  I didn’t have a camera back then, and I never wrote anything, so it all seemed lost to me.  But thanks to the magic of google maps, I did manage to dig up some of that past.

We visited upstate New York because my stepmom’s family vacationed there.  It was the typical Italian-in-The-City migratory thing, where you rented out one of those little camps for a couple of weeks and sat around and played bocce ball and ate a lot and slept in little cabins.  We didn’t stay in the same compound as the rest of her family though; we rented basically like a motel room with an efficiency kitchen near the city of Cairo.  I remember Cairo as being just like all of those other little thousand-person Catskill hamlets, with a single main street and a general store and some other mom and pop places, like a pie store and an IGA grocery.  I drove around there in 2000, when I rented a jeep to bug out of the city for the weekend, but I couldn’t remember where anything was, and I think one of the main state roads running east-west got rerouted and widened, which threw off my mental landmarks even more.

I recently took a look on google maps, because Randy wrote about camping in Cairo.  Last I checked, the resolution on their upstate NY maps was roughly Commodore-64-grade, which wasn’t helpful.  But when nosing around, I found a little clue that zeroed me in to exactly where we stayed.

So, it’s July 1988, and I spent two days in the back of a pickup truck, sleeping on a mattress with all of our luggage, reading all of the Hitchhiker’s Guide books in one pass while watching Ohio and Pennsylvania scroll past me outside the truck cap’s plastic windows.  We got to Cairo, unloaded in this Bates-style motel, and spent a lot of time swimming, because it was always a hundred degrees and you could see the humidity.  The complex was a cluster of small buildings, each one with two units, on a horseshoe drive curved around a main house and an in-ground swimming pool.  Most of upstate New York like this is not in cities or towns, but just the occasional house off to the side of a heavily wooded road, which isn’t conducive to a teenager with no car who just wants to wander around parent-free.  On the first day, I hiked down the highway, my jambox on my shoulder, listening to Back in Black, and I walked about a mile to a gas station to buy a single Coke, which I then drank on the way home.  Of course, the whole voyage was a push, considering how much I sweated on that walk, but it was one of those journey-is-not-the-destination kind of walks.

The next day, I went to this restaurant to get a coke, and that’s my big clue on this search: the Stone Castle.  It’s now called The Stone Castle Inn, and it’s a, well, stone castle; a turret sitting off of this sleepy little road.  I walked over there one day and ordered a coke, but they had no to-go cups, so I sat in this heavy wood restaurant that I think used to serve German food, the prototypical German restaurant with high ceilings and a huge stone hearth and dark wood everywhere.  I guess the place has since been restored and is now an Irish pub, but more importantly, it is on Google Maps, and our place was right next door, so it zeroed me in and showed me I had been searching up and down state road 23, when I was supposed to be looking on state road 145.  If you go here, you can see that horseshoe drive, and the swimming pool to the northwest.  It’s even got a street view picture, although none of this is as high quality as if you aimed google maps at, say, Palo Alto.

If you go northwest on 145, you come to Hitchcock road.  We used to load into the pickup truck, and drive up that road to 32, which crossed Catskill Creek here.  When the motel pool got old, we’d swim in the river. It was blocked partially by a dam to the northwest, which formed this nice little pool with some falls that were perfect for inner tubes.  The water was always cool, crystal-clear, like swimming in bottled water.  I remember sitting on the beach by that water, talking to some older kids who wanted to know where we were from, and when I mentioned Indiana, they said “Bobby Knight, right?”  The one thing I learned on this trip was that Indiana, which was my entire universe at that point, only held a fraction of a fraction of a percent of peoples’ collective consciousness outside of that state.  I always – and still – marvel at what one or two random factoids people do know about the Hoosier state.  Back then it was Bobby Knight, David Letterman, and maybe band instruments like Selmer.  This was pre-Shawn Kemp, pre-kid stuck in a vending machine, pre-meth lab Indiana.  And those “older kids” were probably all of 19 or 20, which seemed like adults to me at the time.

The first time I ever flew was here too, at the Freehold Airport.  (here, here.)  We drove by here, and they had some deal where you could fly for 15 minutes for ten or twenty bucks, so me and my two sisters piled into this little Cessna and took off.  (It was probably this blue and white Cessna 150 shown on this page.) I loved airplanes, but had never been in one.  I got to sit in the front of the little VW-sized cockpit, and the pilot told me not to touch anything, because I had a yoke and a set of rudder pedals right in front of me. I remember so distinctly when those tricycle gear wheels pulled off the ground, watching the ground fall below us, and flying at a few thousand feet around the area.  The pilot asked where we were staying, and we flew over the motel, looked down at the creek and the bridge and the dam, saw little tiny people swimming and tubing in the water below.  It would be seven years until I got on a plane again, not out of any fear of flying, but just because I never had the money or reason for air travel.  But being in that little Cessna made me want to fly, made me spend way too much time kicking tires at airshows and screwing with crappy flight simulators on outdated Windows machines, wishing I could jump in a tiny plane and cruise around at two thousand feet, looking at the scenery.

I’ll have to do more digging to find out more about this place.  I remember we also went to Woodstock, the Zoom Flume water park, and Hunter Mountain.  But what I remember most is how those daytime activities, the little field trips to see old bridges or small towns, were punctuated by these longer periods of boredom and late-night depression.  I thought all of my melancholy feelings had to do with being in Indiana, being around the people in my school, but when I was a thousand miles away, I still felt them, and knew something was wrong.  I didn’t fully realize any of this until a few months later, sitting in a psychiatrist’s office, trying to unravel all of the depression and confusion.  At the time, I just wondered about the strangeness around me, taking in all of this alien scenery of small town New York, listening to people talk about the muggings and rapes and crime of The City, not knowing that in just over a decade, I’d be living there, too.

Anyway, bottom line, google maps is a huge time suck, and take more digital pictures, while you have the chance.

City that never sleeps (because of those stupid reverse-gear backup warning beepers)

Good to be back.  I spent all day Friday in airports and on airplanes, immersed in the world of roller suitcases and $9 bottles of water in newsstands filled with every single tabloid featuring pictures of a recently-adultified Miley Cyrus and rumors of tattoos and nipple slips and not a single piece of readable material outside of maybe a moldy Baseball Insider hot stove report with 48 pages of circle-jerking over Jeter’s next big payday, and maybe a 4-point type mention of Tulo’s big $160-million dollar deal somewhere under the mandatory required notice of circulation numbers and where to contact the publisher on page 96.

Actually, Friday was a marathon day, mostly because I could not sleep at all in New York, even with the help of all of the various pharmacological cures my Doctor Feelgoods give me.  (One advantage to a full-bore PPO plan in the hot potato days of plausible deniability-seeking doctors who pass you off to every specialist known to the medical profession any time you have a complaint even slightly off from their knowledge core is that opportunities abound for you to drug-seek elsewhere.  Not that I doctor-surf for Oxy like a right-wing hillbilly talk show host with an itch to scratch, but every time I go to see a new specialist, he or she will immediately rattle off a script to some new wonder-drug that may or may not help my ails but will surely get them another step closer to that Aruba junket with their pharmacy sales rep.)  I forgot that sleep in New York is a careful balancing act of drugs, white noise generators, and the learned ability to tune out the sounds of a garbage truck’s BEEP BEEP BEEP backup alarm at three in the morning, punctuated with the occasional siren bouncing off the buildings.  A decade of guidos, gunshots, and garbage trucks outside my first-floor window always made sleeping an annoyance, but when I’d leave and end up in the middle of nowhere, in a hotel where there wasn’t a shouting match ten feet from my head every hour, I found myself tossing and turning like it was the day before some big event (audit, wedding, presentation, sale on some Apple product I didn’t need, etc.)

My hotel suite cost roughly what I paid for a car back in college, per night, and had the two-bed setup, each bed just big enough for me to roll over once before I fell on the floor.  I remember decades of having a twin bed like this, even on occasion sharing it with someone for various acts of fun, and I never had issues.  Now, even a queen bed is a tight fit for the mountain of pillows and blankets I encase myself in every night.  Was this trip damned to be one of those “the more that things change” reminders?  I don’t know, but I did enjoy the iPod/iPhone dock built into the clock radio.  I had some fears because most of our team was on the same floor, and I didn’t want everyone to hear me at three in the morning, singing along to some Venom song about Satanic sacrifice at top volume while playing Angry Birds in a fit of insomnia and checking my facebook hourly on my $34.95 per day WiFi connection.  The room was barely bigger than the two beds, and when I got there, I thought it didn’t even have a bathroom like one of those cold-water shooting pads you’d rent out in Spanish Harlem in the 70s when you needed to kill a prostitute, but then I saw it hidden around a corner, a low-flow den of sample-sized soaps and a toilet that took around 45 minutes to flush each time.  At least the place had a standard bible AND a Mormon bible, which made it that much easier to smash pills into snortable chunks of powder.  (I took the copy of the Mormon bible, with some vague idea to either read it and write a parody, or use it in some sort of art project, although I’m sure I will forget all about this and in two years, when I’m digging around for books to dump on Amazon (probably every “get over writer’s block in 56 seconds or less” book I bought in a tirade in the last year) and wonder why the fuck I had a copy of the LDS book in my collection.)

So yes, New York.  I didn’t do as much walking around as I wanted, mostly because it was December, which meant the time of year I usually spent every waking moment trying to find a heated astronaut suit on some Russian eBay ripoff so I could make the ten-block walk to the subway every day without further aggravating my constant upper respiratory infection with that wind that whipped through every seam and zipper of every coat I ever owned.  I wondered if the city grew or my memory of the city shrunk, but then I realized as I wandered up and down Lexington in the middle of the night, I realized that I never looked UP when I lived in the big smear.

That sounds stupid, but it’s true – when it’s your daily penance to hustle up and down the sidewalk from subway to work to lunch to work to subway, you keep your head down and barrel forward at top speed, cursing every mouth-breather and inbred from a flyover state that stops on the sidewalk to look at a massive foldout map and see how far they are from the statue of liberty or ground zero or whatever the hell tourist spot they are ambling toward.  Even zen pacifists that never step on ants will, within fifteen minutes on a New York sidewalk with shit to do and places to be, turn into a bloodthirsty offensive tackle of NFL caliber and look to plow down every single person not sprinting at top speed in front of them.  This aptitude came back to me quickly, as I knocked over nuns and old ladies on the way to the subway, but I noticed this look up/look down thing when I pulled out my camera for a quick picture to prove I actually was in the city and not on some Vegas strip club junket (you need as much evidence as possible with these new expense report systems – receipts are never enough; I’ve been bringing a pro HDV broadcast camera and taking video of waiters and hotel desk clerks holding up a copy of that day’s newspaper just to make sure I don’t get burned on reimbursement checks.)

And when I looked up, I saw this massive city, buildings climbing in every direction, and not a hint of economic downturn.  I mean, you look in almost every other American city, and it’s nothing but boarded up stores, closed restaurants, vacant lots for sale that will always remain barren.  The last time I went to Elkhart, I started playing this game while driving around where I would take a shot of tequila every time I passed some retail location of my youth that was either shuttered or turned into a Mexican grocery, and within fifteen minutes, I was blackout drunk.  But in New York, there’s stores opening inside stores, every corner of office building lobbies and subway tunnel filled with people selling wares.  The only thing I saw closed were the subway token booths, which were apparently shut down so they could afford to raise prices again.  (Wait, what?)

I went back to my old office for a half-day; most of my work stuff involved training-type meetings in the hotel convention center, but on Thursday, I had a morning of open time, so I got on the 6 and headed down to NoHo to work at the old digs.  First, taking the subway brought back so many strange memories.  Just the feel of that yellow plastic card going through the stainless steel slider on the turnstile (and of course, 1 in 2 times saying “please swipe your card again at this turnstile” at the exact point you push your entire body weight against the still-locked metal bar preventing you from advancing in the rat race) – that reminded me so much of my daily trip in the germ tube to the office.  I did remember to grab onto something when the car started so I didn’t get launched across the car, but I did keep forgetting which side the doors opened on and how you needed to get the fuck out of people’s way when they needed to exit at their stop.  When I got to 632 Broadway, I was too early and locked out of the elevator, so I got to hang out in the lobby and talk to the doorman about how many tens of millions Jeter would need to get.  I also went to the deli across the street for a Diet Coke and balance bar, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the mass of office workers getting their caffeine and bagel fix.  I always forget how personal space is a premium in the low-10000 ZIP codes.  In most other cities, you’d end up in a domestic partnership if you stood this close to other people for this long.  Here, it was standard operating procedure.

Stepping into the old office felt so — weird.  I mean, I spent every weekday of 2001 to 2007 in this place, hunched in a cube in the back corner, typing away at user manuals consuming mass amounts of Coke while downing heavy doses of DayQuil during the cold season.  (This was, thankfully, before the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 stifled everyone’s creative juices and prevented us true artists from buying Sudafed by the case.)  My old cube was still open, so I crashed there with my laptop and entered this strange time travel vortex, my muscle memory relaxing straight into the position I assumed for so many years.  And then I opened the filing cabinet under the desk, and found damn near every printout I made in those six years, carefully filed in my haphazard organizational system (files like “MIR space junk”, “fake celebrity porn”, “government conspiracies”, “failed Microsoft projects attempting to topple Java”, “standards documents I will never use”, etc.)  Talk about a mindfuck – it was like that insane recurring dream where you’re back in high school, except there’s no chance of dream-banging a 16-year-old cheerleader on videotape.

But yeah, that lack of sleep really killed me.  Thursday night, after a trip up to the Bronx to visit a guy who used to machine lower receivers for M-16s at his cousin’s bowling alley (he’s making a lot more cash now turning out bootleg $60 iPad stands), I think I went to bed around 2:00 and woke up at 4:30, unable to sleep but unable to stay awake, doing nothing but cruising various photo sites on the iPad, looking for some good Kim Jong Il snaps for an art project in the event that the shit does indeed go down in Han-Bando.  I went outside early, hoping to scare up a danish cart or cold bagel, and ran into a contingent of EMEA sales and service guys, who informed me that there were no good diners in all of the UK, so we went to one of these gastro-hipster places that probably used to be a Thai-French fusion restaurant three years ago but was now a diner with some of the appeal but none of the grime of its 80s counterparts you used to find littered all over the city.  We bitched about old documentation and ordered rich food that promised diabetic comas in short order; I got 5000 calories of corned beef hash that must have contained an entire pound of butter (i.e. perfect) and got all nice and lethargic for a morning of training.

And yeah, a day of airports and airplanes.  I didn’t get the TSA Operation Grab-Ass everyone’s been talking about, but then again, I didn’t get Ebola when every 24-hour news alarmist said all five billion of us were going to get it back in the 90s, either.  I did enjoy the new (newly redone) terminal at JFK, and spent an hour perusing the used DVDs at some electronics store and almost considered dropping $60 on some super ultra 3-disc Apocalypse Now box set before I realized that the only machine I had with me with a DVD drive was my work Windows laptop, and I wasn’t even sure if Windows 7 plays DVDs out of the box without 200 hours of studying every aspect of DVD authoring and toggling a million registry settings and downloading several $100 versions of all of the crippled “lite” drivers and programs bundled with the computer.  Instead, I stuck to the kindle and got cover-to-cover on another fine book during my trip west.  I then bailed out the Toyota from its short stay at the long-term parking lot, and bumbled home the ten miles on the 880, driving like you’d expect someone to drive after being awake for 24 hours with only the good parts of a CPK Cobb salad (i.e. the meat, bacon and cheese and not the lettuce) from the Phoenix airport and two rolls of Certs to eat in the last ten hours.  I then gave the missus a $25 box of chocolates from the airport gift shop, said my hellos to the four-legged terrors, and slept a solid eight in the confines of my queen-sized cocoon.  Good to be back.

The drive

Last week, I drove 40 miles each way to work, which is 400 miles a week, which is about 20,000 miles a year, or maybe a hair less when you count in the various holidays and days I break an arm or wreck a car or get sent to a trade show where, instead of questions about my work, idiots ask me questions about the parent company’s TV sets.  Today, I drove zero miles.  I sat at my kitchen table, with sunlight streaming in from my giant 17 foot tall wall of windows, with a cat sitting on the table next to me, and plugged away at my laptop.  It wasn’t bad.  I mean, I don’t have a work laptop yet, which meant running Windows in a VM on my Mac, and then running a VPN in that to connect back to Palo Alto, then a morning of trying to figure out how to get at servers in New York, but it worked.

I’ve done this drive for two years.  With my tiny car’s awesome mileage, that still comes out to about a thousand gallons of gas.  Add in the lunches and the dry cleaning of shirts and the cost of said shirts and pants, now that I get to sit around in jeans and a t-shirt, and I wonder how much it cost me to work.  Granted, I probably made much more than that, and it would be much worse if I cared about my appearance and spent more time in a Nordstrom’s or at a salon or going to a gym every day to obsess over my muscle tone, but it’s still freaky math the amount of money you pay to make money.  And that’s on top of essentially paying half of what you make to various forms of The Man.  So yeah, it would be cheaper for me to sit around in dirty clothes in some tea party wet dream of a borderline-anarchist land with no laws and no taxes, but it also costs money to stockpile ammunition.

I spent all day reading tech writing stuff that was my bread and butter from 2001 to 2007, and a lot of it’s still me.  Editing old work I haven’t thought about in years is a really strong and effective time machine.  I mean, the product has moved on since I left, and someone else worked on the docs, but it’s the same basic templates I created, and the bulk of the writing’s still mine, or at least a slight variation of mine.  It really pulls me back to 2003 or whatever, when I was hashing this stuff out for the first time.  And it’s somewhat stupid to get nostalgic about an era that’s largely documented on this very site, and that’s got some pretty solid coverage in my paper journals and in saved emails and all of the other crap sitting on my hard drive.

But red-penning my way through hundreds of pages of this stuff brings me back to the times I sat in the back corner of that office, hunched over a Dell, a giant second-generation iPod playing from its whopping twenty-gig hard drive, wondering what kind of fortified compound I’d build out of leftover shipping containers on my land in Colorado, what I’d do on my next big trip to Vegas, how I’d endure another weekend in Astoria, what I’d add to my Amazon shopping cart for my near-daily purchases I’d rapidly consume on the N train every day.  It makes me think of bad first dates and forgotten coworkers and random movies I saw for no reason other than the two hours of free air conditioning, even if it did cost ten bucks a pop plus a long train ride into “the city”.

And I guess I do lament the New York I resisted in that period, the people who were the status quo and how I knew I could never be them, and how I tried hard not to be.  New York is a land of old money, and a place of millions of people who come to this overpopulated ghetto of an island to somehow prove that they are old money, even if they’re tending a bar and running a receptionist desk.  It’s not like LA, where everyone is trying to get rich quick, where being a nobody from a dirt farm in Nebraska is actually a good thing, because you want to prove that you came from nothing and created everything.  I never came to New York because I wanted to be a New Yorker or because I wanted to follow some near-Parisian dream of being a bohemian but with a rich lineage. And there are millions of people who drive cabs or dig ditches or bust suds in a dish sink who have much different dreams.  But when you’re a white, single, early thirtysomething with a college degree and a desk job, it’s pretty hard to look beyond your demographic.

It’s also oddly contradictory, now that I think about it, how so much of being a status quo New Yorker is all about getting out of New York.  You spend every free second slinging shit at the “flyover states”, but almost every big status symbol requirement has to do with where you summer, how you get a share on Fire Island, how you go upstate to see the leaves turn, how you go to Europe or “do” LA or go to Rio or whatever non-New York place is supposed to make you a New Yorker.  I never built in these escapes, and being confined to a little island with no car drove me nuts.  It’s why I would get a last-second flight deal and go to Pittsburgh and absolutely love it.

I still haven’t been back to New York since I left.  I’ll probably end up going back soon, and I’m sure 100% of it has changed.  And I know I could never live there again, but I am curious if I show up at the corner of Broadway and Houston, if the whole thing will feel like I never left, or if I will be overwhelmed, or if it will all seem like a strange dream.

I think I’m buying a new computer desk tomorrow.  The kitchen table is no AnthroCart.  And once the new laptop shows up, there won’t be room for two computers and a cat.

Lost City Lost

So Lost City is an interesting blog, an attempt at documenting all of the old bits of New York that are rapidly vanishing and being converted into Subway restaurants and doggie day cares and five dollar cupcake shops in the Bloomberg wet dream of gentrification and sterilization. But I should say was, because the proprietor of this nostalgic blog has decided to close shop.

In a sense, I feel bad about this; I mean, I never found out about this blog until I heard about its closing, so I didn’t get to waste tons of time scouring its pages, looking for things I remembered that got bulldozed or scraped out to build yet another Bank of America branch.  One of the first things I found on his pages is that Chumley’s, the underground, speakeasy-like bar hidden in the village, once  a haunt of literary types and just around the corner from William S. Burroughs’ place, has since shut down because of a chimney collapse, and has been forever stalled in that “under construction” phase that means death. Anyway, I do love me some nostalgia, especially having to do with places I lived, so it’s sad to see a site like this go away.

But, here’s the deal: I know how hard it is to run a gig like this.  I worked on The Necrokonicon for a good four years before I finally scraped it into a paper book and shut down the original site.  It’s a thankless job, one that can generate some decent traffic, but that requires constant revisions, to the point where your full-time occupation becomes the maintenance of this profitless venture you could never hope to monetize.  You get constant emails from people bitching about how you got an opinion of yours “wrong”, and how you got facts backwards when explaining an urban legend that wasn’t true in the first place.  You find dead ends researching restaurants that have long since closed, in cities that don’t keep records of the past, with residents that have no long-term memory anymore.  Every little update becomes a political struggle, and you wonder if it would be easier to just write Twilight fan fiction and call it a day.  There’s some reward when you find a person that gives you some information that’s useful, or when you stir up the thread of nostalgia in someone who appreciates it.  But it’s also a bitch, and there’s never an end in sight, because you’re talking about a city that always changes.  So I understand the decision to call it a day.

What I don’t get is all of the negative bullshit being stirred in the link above that goes to theawl.com.  I started poking around this site a bit, and it’s sort of a hip New York-centric pop culture thing.  So it doesn’t surprise me that much that all of the commenters go off on this guy and proclaim the general uselessness of his work.  I mean, it’s hard to really explain the undertone of the comments without a complicated Venn diagram, but in general, there’s a lot of venom.  I’m not sure – do these people actually appreciate when a place like Zen Palate goes under and gets replaced by a TGI Friday?  I thought urban decay and throwback architecture is hipster cool, but there are people who actually seem excited about mallifying Times Square and building huge glass condos that will look asinine in five years.

I don’t know – arguing about urban planning with someone who self-identifies as a New Yorker is almost as futile as arguing religion with someone holding a giant sign that says “god hates fags”.  These are the people who claim the city never sleeps, even though I could never, ever find a 24-hour pharmacy within ten miles of my apartment, and yet Elkhart, Indiana, population 40,000 has at least a dozen.  I mean, there is a certain validity in the fact that you can’t keep New York into the exact thing it was the second you got there, because everything constantly changes.  But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to try to remember these things.  Because we have no attention span and now with the death of all paper media and the twitter-ification of all things reference-oriented, you will find it absolutely impossible to look up something that happened five years ago without facing a sea of 404s.  All news has become blogs, and all blogs have a shelf life of even less than a Thai-Mexican fusion restaurant with a $14,000 a month rent in SoHo.  So I find it commendable when someone does try to make a reference of the past like this.  Because all of you are going to wake up tomorrow, a dozen years from now, and only have the vaguest of memories of that Shea-whatever-it-was-called place where the Mets maybe used to play, and every single maybe-relevant phrase you enter into google is going to redirect you to a CitiBank advertisement.

Reason #8,234,123 New York City Sucks

Reason #8,234,123 New York City Sucks:

June through September.

Seriously, summer blows here. Find me a person that thinks it’s great to live here in the months between spring and autumn, and invite them to my place for an hour, and they will cry faster than those pieces of shit in Guantanamo after the CIA torture technicians crank up the Britney Spears albums. This city is a giant heatsink, and all of the office buildings that need to keep their giant unused conference rooms at a frigid 56 degrees are pumping out even more heat that gets absorbed into the concrete. Add to that the fact that people here shit, piss, and vomit pretty much everywhere as if it’s Calcutta, and the streetsides are giant open-bake ovens for garbage that is put out on Mondays and then possibly picked up a week later. And if you have the wise idea to get the fuck out for a weekend, forget it. Central Park is a baby festival on the weekend, intermixed in with the occasional gangbanger race war. And that’s on the weekend when there isn’t a culturally aware pride parade-slash-rapefest. I’m not trying to sound like I’m starting a Klan chapter in Astoria or anything, but I think if you have a whatever-day parade for your race or creed or religion or whatever, that’s fine, but after you have, let’s say more than about zero rapes or murders, it’s cancelled forever. Of course, maybe these people are pissed off by the heat, so maybe it’s justifiable. Who knows.

Before you start, here are the ground rules on what is known as the misery of my apartment:

  1. Bars on windows. No way to put in an AC unit.
  2. All wiring is from about 1812. We’re talking about that cheap aluminum, paper-wrapped, total catastrophe stuff, with the whole apartment hooked into two 10A breakers, which are conveniently located in the basement in a locked utility room, meaning if I trip a breaker, I have to get the landlord to come over (we have no super. yes, that’s illegal) and he’s out of town for months at a time sometimes.
  3. Yes, I know they sell free-standing air conditioners, fucknut. I have one. It’s the most expensive one that the most expensive Italian company produces. It barely works. It’s like making ice with a toaster.
  4. All of the windows are on one side, so there’s no breeze, and no real way to get one going with fans.
  5. I live on the first floor, so when I leave all of my windows open, I am treated to the sounds of the Caucasian-d/b/a-ebonically challenged neighbors, who are typically dealing drugs, screaming at the tops of their lungs, or smashing cars in the windshield with a brick to set off alarms and see which ones they can steal.
  6. For the 347 reasons outlined in Konrath publication 456-763-2A, entitled “why I cannot up and move at a split fucking second like all of you cocksuckers in towns in the Midwest with a 47% occupancy rates and rents under a hundred dollars for a 4-bed house”, I can’t move in the near future.

In another futile effort to make the situation better, I spent $100 on a Vornado fan. Oh wait, I mean “room air circulation unit” or whatever they call it. I just got it set up a few hours ago, and it’s actually working slightly better than my regular high-volume fan, but it’s much quieter, and doesn’t knock this high stream of sickness-inducing air into my face. (Yes, I know that allegedly, exposure to a draft or cold air or whatever isn’t supposed to cause a cold. But gee, whenever I point a fan right at my head and go to sleep, I wake up with a cold. And when I don’t, I don’t. That must have to do with Jesus or dinosaurs or my Tarot card reading or something else, right Mr. Scientist?) So maybe the Vornado will help. I’m hoping if I fire up the anemic AC unit and put the Vornado right next to it, I will get some kind of better cooling. And if all else fails, I will just spend way more time at Sarah’s, since she lives in an apartment built within the last two centuries that actually has AC units, ceiling fans, and no Eminem-wannabes three feet from your head playing with their shitty ringtones on full volume at three in the morning.

I have been working full-time on Air in the Paragraph Line (aka “the zine”), or at least as full-time as I can with a real job and almost no energy from constant heatstroke. But the layout is looking good, a lot of the text has been placed, and the guts are close to ready. The one person holding up the issue is, of course, me, because I can’t decide on what to include, and I think everything in the current inventory kinda sucks and I need to write something new, but any new effort is basically a tone poem that goes like this: “MUST / DRINK / MORE / WATER”. But seriously, everything is looking good and it’s a good read, with a lot of decent fiction, some longer stuff, and I like it.

You’ll also notice some slight changes to the layout here. I’m just trying to make things look a little better, work better, whatever. If you see something horrifically broken or wrong, please let me know. And if you have any ideas or thoughts on the look, I’d love to hear your thoughts. So drop a “you should have an xyz” comment if you have any wise ideas.