Black Stickers

I think one of the biggest disappointments of my childhood was black stickers over cardboard packaging. Let me explain.

I had a lot of Star Wars stuff. Figures, playsets, the Death Star, the Millenium Falcon, the Slave One, and a bunch of other assorted crap, like a lizard with a trap door in his back so you could put figures on it. Also, when you moved his head, the tail would move in the opposite direction. So anyway, I got a lot of these figures. They came in a little blister pack, a figure on a card with a square plastic bubble that held the dude and his gun. On the back of each card were photos of other available toys. Well at one point a bit before Empire came out, the cards were printed with a special offer – if you clip enough proof of purchase seals, you can send in for a free figure for this dude from the next movie, named Boba Fett.

Of course, I immediately amassed as many of these damn coupons as I could find. I think I had enough seals for TWO figures, so I was in a frenzy over this. And this Boba Fett – nobody knew anything about him, but he looked like Darth Vader or a Stormtrooper, with an armor suit and so forth. But the coolest part was his rocket backpack. And the rocket looked like the same missile that equipped various Battlestar Galactica toys – a red rocket that SHOT WHEN YOU PUSHED A BUTTON!

There was no information about the rocket on the packages. My nine-year-old mind wondered why they didn’t advertise this in 72-point type, as it was obviously the biggest selling point of Mr. Fett. I mean, the big and somewhat dumb-looking Battlestar ships had two rockets, but that was on an entire ship. Boba Fett had a rocket on a single portable launcher, which meant a much higher per-capita killing capacity for him. Why didn’t they tell me more? Why weren’t there commercials every fifteen minutes during the Hanna-Barberra lineup every Saturday morning? I didn’t get it.

I heard rumors that some kid shot the Battlestar Galactica rocket down his throat and killed himself. Also, someone said Coke and pop-rocks may have been involved. And something about Rod Stewart getting his stomach pumped, but I didn’t entirely get the details. This was before the Internet, so I couldn’t just do a search on Bobo Fett or whatever the hell the guy was called. So I investigated the package further, and found a strange detail – the mail-away offer was printed on A STICKER that was glued onto each action figure package.

I also thought this was suspect. Were you suppsoed to peel off the sticker and put it on a card to mail in? Was I ripped off and did some cards have cooler stickers, like maybe a Death Star I could put on my lunchbox? The sticker didn’t peel off though, so I spent a few hours trying to carefully pry it loose. When I did, I saw a picture of Boba Fett’s backpack FIRING THE MISSILE! Why did they hide this? I don’t know, but I quickly begged my mom to send in all of the paperwork. I patiently waited the 16 weeks or whatever, and when the package showed up, NO MISSILE. The sticker was like a conspiracy theory to me, like a hidden level in a videogame that you know is there, but you can never find. I searched for stupid conspiracy theories like this in all of my toys. I took apart everything to search for hidden functionality. I played our Sears pong game for hours, thinking there might be a magic way to unlock a secret mission of some sort. The closest I ever got was a misprinted card in Trivial Pursuit.

And then when I got older and didn’t care about this anymore and my step-brother had a Nintendo and the game Contra, he told me about the up-down-up-down-left-right-left-right thing to unlock infinite lives, and I felt like my entire childhood had been betrayed. When I was a kid and my parents were spending their hard-earned money on my toys, there were no secrets. Now, everything is about extra features, bonus tracks, unreleased scenes, secret codes.

Oh well. I don’t know where I’m going with this, I was just thinking about that Boba Fett backpack.


Extreme olfactory triggers and strange nostalgia

I’m in one of those strangely nostalgic moods that only happens when you combine an extreme olfactory trigger from the past with an old CD that strikes a nerve. I’m burning a candle that smells like 1993 to me, and the CD was Rush – Counterparts. It reminds me of someone from a long time ago that I probably shouldn’t even be thinking of anymore, but I still do.

I was talking to my shrink about this on Friday. I’ve been getting through the emotions and problems of my last couple of relationships, trying to figure out where I went wrong, or if “wrong” is even the right word to use, or whatever. It would be much easier for me to say “my ex is a bitch and it’s all her fault” when I break up with someone, but they usually aren’t at fault, it’s just my reaction to the situation, or I’m at fault, or… well, whatever. The problem is, my last couple of relationships have been very long and involved, and there were many factors involved. These were people that were my friends, lovers, partners, everything, and it’s hard to pick apart the issues about what’s going on when you have so much all wrapped into one package. I don’t know if things would have been different if I never moved to New York, or if my work situation was different, or if I owned a car still, or whatever. It gets confusing fast, and it’s hard to analyze, especially when you’re still in the middle of it.

But way back when, things were different. I had a relationship that only lasted from March to October, but it still haunts me. And it’s because it was so fantasy-like in so many ways, just in the time it happened, how it all went together, how we met. There was no real-world component – it was just pure infatuation, pure fairy-tale. And then we spent the summer apart. And then school started, things wavered a bit, and then it was over.

One of the reasons this is so important to me is that it’s almost mythological. I was depressed as hell, and this innocent little 18 year old wandered into my life like a puppy dog, and we were in love. It ran its course, it hit the ground, and it was over. It was like when they take a brand new car and smash it into a wall. There are no other factors to consider, like tire wear or a drunk driver – it’s just the car and the wall. And that’s what this is, because when it was over, I couldn’t reason with it in any logical matter, or place blame. I was forced to feel loss. And for a guy who has spent his whole life using logic to avoid feeling loss, that’s a major fucking beating.

So here I am, in New York City, 7 years later. I don’t even remember what her voice sounds like. I can barely remember what she looks like. The idea of being close to her – or anybody – seems so remote to me. I’ve been in two relationships that, combined, lasted five times longer than the time I spent with her. Yet it still bugs me. I don’t obsess about her every day – I’ve got enough shit in my life going on. But it seems like I’d be able to forget her and move on with life.

I think part of it is that I think I will somehow repeat what I had with her, but make it all happen right again. I’m convinced that I made a couple of dumb little mistakes, and if I meet her again, the 30-something version of her, and I don’t fuck up, I will have the perfect woman and I’ll do everything right. I think every relationship I’ve had since, every first date and failed encounter has started with some sick fantasy that this woman would be as perfect as her. Not that she was a supermodel or anything – I mean that everything would dovetail nicely; that we would be a nice match and the atomsphere would be incredible and everything else.

It’s silly for me to continue this discussion, because I’m not going to say that wanting something spectacular is a bad thing, and I’m not going to say it’s helping me out, either. I guess that’s the rub. Either I’ll figure this out someday, or I will be in the right place at the right time again.

Not much else. Time to go to bed.


Book done, Seattle nostalgia

Well, I think it’s time to start writing here again. Aside from the number of people that keep writing to see if I’ve jumped off a building yet based on my last entry, there’s been a lot of nothing going on in the writing world, and I don’t want to resort to other less savory methods of wasting my time after the 9 to 5, like watching prime-time TV. So here we are.

The biggest news is that my book is done. I sent off the masters on July 5, and now I’m just waiting for the designers to send me proofs to correct and approve. I’m also working on a site (located here) that all of you should check out and keep up with as I add more great new content and news on what’s up with the publishing process. I think I’m looking at a mid-September release, so start saving your pennies.

The lack of the book means my daily process has been screwed. With no deadline and no project, I’ve been drifting. Everyone keeps asking if finishing the book is exciting, and honestly, it isn’t. I think if I would have kept writing and rewriting for another ten years, I still wouldn’t feel done. So it feels like I submitted an incomplete work. Secondly, this wait is killing me. I want instant gratification, but at least this is much shorter than most publishing cycles. And most of all, it’s hard to not be immersed in a project. I know I should be working on Rumored, but I can’t force myself to get started, and it will take some time to get back on it. So until then, I will drift.

Today I bought a new stereo. Actually, it’s one of those home theatre in a box things – five surround sound speakers, a 100 wattx5 receiver with DTS, Dolby Digital, and many functions, inputs, and outputs I will never fully understand. It also came with a huge-ass 50 watt self-powered subwoofer. The receiver does a good job of powering its 5 matched speakers plus my old 12″ 3-way Pioneer speakers when I’ve got a CD in the player. I’m listening to the Zappa Au20 gold disc for One Size Fits All and it sounds better than ever, especially with the sub to pull out all of the bass. And Top Gun and The Matrix in AC-3 both made me glad I don’t have neighbors underneath me. I can’t use my remote for my CD player anymore (long story having to do with proprietary Kenwood system interconnect crap) and it’s sort of difficult to jockey the volume sometimes on Dolby Digital movies. When you lower things so the Terminator’s motorcycle isn’t waking the dead three houses down, you can’t even hear peoples’ dialogue. There is a special mode to correct this, but it also flattens out all of the ass-kicking sound that I just paid a bunch of money to have. I guess you can’t win there, unless you live in the middle of nowhere.

I still haven’t found any magical answers to life, although I’m getting a little better at dealing with things. I’ve had rough spots, but I’ve also been slowly figuring out what’s bugging me and why. I still basically have nothing to do in my life except my job, but sometimes doing nothing can be enjoyable. Nothing’s better than cooking some dinner, reading a book for a while, and making a few phone calls. It’s not the way to Carnegie Hall and it won’t earn me any Nobel Prizes, but I think this downtime is important. I seriously need to regroup, figure out a few things, and get a little more comfortable with my surroundings.

Case in point: like an idiot, I bought the DVD for Singles. Okay, Bridget Fonda is nice with the first-season-Agent-Scully haircut, and as long as you don’t think about the Kevin Bacon thing, Kyra Segwick ain’t bad, either. And I was at Virgin and there was some “buy 4, get 1 free” deal, and it was the first thing I saw. So I put it in the player tonight, and all of this imagery of Seattle hit me like a sniper’s bullet to the temple. It made me wish it was a Saturday night at 7th and James and I was climbing in the Aqua Ford Escort to drive around in the darkness and do a lot of nothing. All of those comfortable memories hit me – the places I used to hang out, the scenes I used to stroll through and the drives I used to take. After about three minutes of this, I tore the movie out of the player, and spent a long time thinking I needed to get the hell out of New York and go back to Seattle so it could be 1997 all over again.

Then I realized how stupid this was. It’s not 1997. And I can’t go back to Seattle, any more than I can go back to high school or the third grade or living at my mom’s house and working at the mall for my pizza and CD money. I have strong memories of the Seattle experience, and maybe there was something magical about the scenery or the people I knew, but I think a lot of it was how I perceived myself there. Because I wasn’t happy in Seattle – in fact, I was pretty depressed a lot of the time. There were many Saturday nights I went to the Barnes and Noble to sit around and read magazines because I didn’t have anything better to do, and at the time, I thought it was pretty pathetic. So why don’t I go to Borders or whatever in Manhattan and do the same thing? Good question. And that’s what it all comes down to – I have all of these convenient memories of my past, but they are of mundane activities in a glamorous setting, and the whole thing is blurred by time. So if I went out every Saturday and wandered through the streets and ate at 24-hour diners and went to bookstores and maybe even picked up a copy of the Voice and found something slightly more interesting to do, maybe I will create the same memories, the same experiences. I can’t expect to talk to people or make lifelong friends or meet the lover of my dreams, but I can expect to get out, and expect the occacional weird stuff to happen.

So I guess that’s the plan. Except it’s raining and shitty tonight, and I stayed in all day running wires all over high hell to get this surround sound stuff working. I am exhausted now, my arms hurt from hauling in a hundred pounds of wood and plastic, and I feel about ready to drop off to sleep. But before I do, I’m going to keep cleaning, rearranging electronics and cables, and wear myself down a bit so I’ll drop off like a baby.

I don’t know when I’ll update next, but if it’s not for a while, just assume I’m still trying to program all of these remotes. Why can’t they write decent documentation for this stuff? Wait, I should know the answer to that one.



It’s still hot here. It is amazing how many times I had to deal with much worse heat than this in my past: the factory jobs, the Indiana summers, my top-floor, no AC apartment in Seattle during the August crawl of 90 degree weather. I’m a complete wimp now. Either I’m getting old, or I have no sense of perception.

I “finished” book 1 of Summer Rain. I “say that” because there are still pieces I don’t like and I’m sure I’ve made some bonehead spelling errors in there. But I’ve messed with these 15 chapters so much, that I don’t want to touch them anymore. The next 15 chapters are watching their intestines spit out of a gaping hole in their abdomen while I’m giving the first 15 a pedicure. I need to go where the real work is needed. And I need to finish this book, and go on to the next.

(If you want to critique or read the book, email me. I can always use another opinion.)

I want to finish Summer Rain, but I want to spend the summer doing it. I enjoy working on this little opus (little – it’s 1200 pages) and it’s a very dear part of my history. Many others from that era need to read the book, to rememberthe times we had together and to see Bloomington in 1992 again. But I know it would never sell, and it’s a first book. So I need to get it done and go on to something which will wow the agents and the publishers and satisfy a greater cross-section of fans. I don’t mean selling out or anything. But Rumored to Exist, the second half-done book in the queue, has satistfied many more fans who think it is genius and funny. I think when it is done, and its sister book is halfway done, some publisher will think it’s the next big deal and get it out there for people to see. I’m not 100% confident, but it’s a decent view to hold when trying to figure out what to work on and how to ration my time.

If anybody ever asked (nobody has, as I’m never on Charlie Rose or NPR or whatever) what my favorite year was, I would say 1992. Everything went wrong that year. I lost a scholarship. I lost my car. I lost three girlfriends and two other women who were mind-numbingly incredible sexual partners, but not girlfriends. I lost a walkman that was like my only child. I lost my first CD player. Me and Ray Miller lost all of our money to a crack dealer in a bad part of Chicago. I lost my mind, many times. But it was my first real year of living. For all of the lows, the highs were incredible. Every one of those problems I mentioned had a flipside that was unsurpassable. I had a scholarship, a car, three girlfriends, two other women into mind-numbingly incredible sex, etc. And I wrote about this whole thing in Summer Rain, or at least the summer part of it. It’s hard to explain, but 1992 was sort of my default year.

And I’ve babbled about 1992 a lot in my writing, and in here. So I’ll stop. It’s still hot as hell. I was going to stay up and work on SR for a few more hours, but maybe sleep is a better option.


War Pigs weather, New Years past

When I was driving to work this morning, the Black Sabbath song War Pigs was on the radio, and it summarized the emotions of the current weather in Seattle almost perfectly. I think I’m suffering from seasonal disorder. Or maybe it’s normal to never want to leave your house and sleep 10 hours a day and still be tired. It’s not like I’m ready to go shoot a bus driver or anything like that, but I really do miss those long July nights. Even if my apartment was 110 degrees and I had to sleep naked in the bathtub with the cold water running.

Today has been a real seige with my account on speakeasy. They changed to a new server, and it’s faster, but everything is broken. I couldn’t use my mail program at all – and still can’t. Ok, after 15 minutes of mid-journal-entry screwing with it, I can read my email. But it will take some time to get everything going to 100% again. I guess I have something to do on my day off tomorrow.

And it’s the new year. Since I haven’t taken any extra time off (except for one day that I got to spend with Marie, this Monday), I haven’t been thinking in terms of holidays like I did when I was a little kid. I don’t have a three week break anymore, and I don’t sleep an hour on the night of the 24th because I know cool stuff is waiting under the tree. Things have become pretty lax, which is both good and bad. I feel like having a full-time job kills a lot of the seasonal aspect of life. When you’re in school, you know what time of year it is because you get breaks and you are working to finish the semester or the summer session or whatever. It makes you more closely grounded to the calendar. Now that I work, I tend to forget what season it is. I think that’s why people have kids and take up seasonal hobbies – it reminds them that summer is summer and winter is winter.

I don’t have new year’s plans tonight, except that I’ll finish the pizza in the fridge, go to the corner store for some junk food, watch Conan, and try to stay up late and get some writing finished. I don’t like to go out for the new year, because it’s always a bunch of amateurs getting drunk as fast as possible – it’s the same reason I don’t pull pranks on people on April 1. Let the amateurs have their day. I’ll be inside, enjoying the three-day weekend without the hangover and massive cash outlay.

I used to celebrate New Year’s with my friend Tom Sample, back when we were in high school and college and had nothing better to do. It was one of our rituals, and must’ve started in my sophomore year of high school. Tom and I didn’t drink back then, so we made the small parties a complete orgy of junk food and horror movies. We’d go to the grocery store and spend 40, 60 bucks on frozen pizzas, candy bars, popcorn, chips, sodas, punch, and other sinful garbage. This was back when I had an ultra-high metabolism – I was six feet tall and weighed about 110 pounds. I could eat two Pizza Hut pizzas and still lose weight. Anyway, the shopping trips were the most fun of the whole evening. For the longest time, I saved one of the receipts in my wallet – it was a foot long and read like the inventory of a convenience store. After that, we’d go to the video place and try to find the worst B-movies imaginable. It usually meant stuff like the Faces of Death series, but we also got some music stuff like Decline of Western Civilization or Rock and Roll High school or whatever.

The parties were always at my mom’s house, and were pretty informal. Sometimes a few other friends would be there – Derik Rinehart, Matt Wanke, Joe Gellert, Larry Falli – and we’d watch movies and eat like Atilla the Hun. Sometimes we’d flip the channel at 12 to watch Dick Clark and the ball, but sometimes we’d say ‘fuck it’ and keep watching Hellraiser.

I remember bits and pieces of each year that made it unique. One year, our mutual sometimes-friend Roger Eppich was on leave from a psychiatric hospital and invited himself to the party. Roger was locked up for trying to blow up Tom’s house, so Tom wasn’t exactly nice to him, making covert references to Roger’s insanity every 2 minutes. Another year, Tom and Matt both spent the night. The three of us sat on the couches down in the family room, rating every single girl in our high school from 1 to 10, and getting into these long discussions about our ratings. (I wish I would’ve recorded that). In 1988, our band Nuclear Winter had a New Year’s day gig at this battle of the bands, so most of the people in the band were also at the party. In 1989, I was home from college and my girlfriend came to visit on a Greyhound bus. We fought most of the time, but me and Tom bought a bunch of mixed drink stuff and put together rasberry margarita mix with Hi-C and rootbeer and whatever else was around, making vile concoctions for everyone. He also hooked up with one of my sister’s friends, something that lasted for another five months. I don’t remember much of 1990 or 1991, although we were there for both years and probably cleaned out the snack food aisle of the local Martin’s supermarket both years.

1992 was the first year that the tradition stopped. I was in Bloomington, and Tom was in Elkhart. Since it was dead week and absolutely nobody was around, I didn’t have anything to do. I spent a lot of that break in seclusion – I was still getting over this woman named Cheryl who was very sexy yet very psychotic. And I wasn’t exactly calm and stable either. That day, my friend Cayte Huesman came into Bloomington and hauled me around town for a bit, because I was in the dumps, without a car, and hadn’t talked to another human in almost a week. We ate Chinese food, and I bought a bunch of stuff: a bookcase from Target, CDs from Pungent Stench and Entombed, and the Flight of the Intruder video game. Cayte went back to Indianapolis, and I built the bookcase. I listened to Entombed – Left Hand Path – over and over, while I tried to learn all of the controls of the F-4 and A-6 Navy planes. I had this big map of Vietnam and I was going on all of these missions, dive bombing bridges and fighting MiGs and getting killed every other minute. The CD was on repeat, and was incredible. Before I knew it, I looked at my watch, and it was about 20 after midnight. I missed the whole thing – the song, the kissing, the resolutions, the big ball, Dick Clark counting down… It was surreal, but it didn’t bother me much, and I went back to the game.

So I’ve had a couple of good new year’s parties since then, and I’ve spent a couple doing nothing more than watching the countdown. It doesn’t bother me much, but like everything else, it makes me think of the past.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough. Have a good New Year’s, and please don’t play that Prince song.


Previous xmases

Due to the +3hr screwup on the time, I get to write my happy christmas holiday special (or whatever) even though my watch says it’s the 24th. There’s not a whole lot to write on the day-to-day, since my day was pretty boring. I went to work, and I did a lot of cleaning tonight. It’s pretty uneventful here, just counting down the hours until 11 tomorrow, when I pick up Marie at the airport.

I think that people have kids to remind them of the holidays and the seasons, because sometimes it seems oblivious to me. It’s christmas, but I’m still wondering what happened to summer. I was cleaning out my fridge and poured out some beer that I bought back when I had to start drinking at midnight every night to fall asleep, because the apartment was hotter than hell all night long. Now the wall heater ticks away constantly, and the longest minutes of the day are the ones before my car heater kicks in.

I was trying to think of what significant events happened during various Christmases – I have a habit of remembering anniversaries, what happened 5 years ago or 10 years ago far too well. Last January, I did a pretty good job of remembering what happened on my last ten birthdays. Instead of a linear list, maybe it would be easier to think about random years.

Ten years ago is easy. First, the Camaro sat immovable, parked on the street in front of my mom’s house in Elkhart. It was under a blanket of snow, with a dead starter. I spent the few days after the holiday underneath the beast, melting snow dripping in my face with a salamander heater (which looks like a small jet engine on a stand and sounds like the same), wrenching off the starter motor(s) and having my friend Matt Wanke haul me back and forth to car places while we listened to the new Ozzy album 100 times. I had to change the started three times, but that’s another story. On Christmas, I went to the usual maternal gathering in Chicago, with my grandma and grandpa, several aunts and uncles, and the roughly 2^10*17 cousins I have on that side of the family. We stayed the night in Chicago with my aunt Terry, who has two sons Aaron and Matt, who were a couple years older and younger than me, respectively. After the gathering, we all had money burning a hole in our pocket, so we went to the movies with a couple of friends of Matt’s. We decided to go see Naked Gun, although I hadn’t heard of the movie yet. I’d heard of the original Police Squad show – I saw all of the episodes – but I thought we were going to see some kind of Die Hard movie. The total surprise of it and the great audience put it over the top. And I remember on the way home, I drove back with Aaron in his brand new Mustang, and I was telling him about some girl I liked at work or something, and told me to stop being so passive with her, which I didn’t, and the whole thing blew up about 3 days later, but that’s high school. And on the way back, we were listening to KROK and they played the Metallica song Fade to Black, which fit the mood almost perfectly.

I’m listening to some sappy CD of hippy-trippy solstice songs right now that remind me of 12/25/92. I always consider 1992 my golden year, in that so many people passed through my life, and it was a major transitional point (although almost every hour of 1989-1995 was a major transitional point.) I dated and/or messed around with a beautiful and psychotic woman named Cheryl from roughly thanksgiving to roughly the week before finals, and we had a pretty gruesome split. The fighting left me scarred and reclusive for most of December. I was sort of interested in a person I’d never met; we traded some email and were both going to our respective homes for the break. It was understood that when we returned, we’d meet and see if the letters carried over into real life. They didn’t, but it wasn’t traumatic, and there was still a certain odd magic involved. Also, I was at a very strange spiritual point, where I was going to Catholic church and trying to reconcile a relationship with God, or at least find some nice little Catholic girl to shack up with. Either way, it was the first and possibly only Christmas where I was thinking about the christ part, except for when I was a little kid and it was beaten into me. Since I didn’t have a car, I hitched a ride with a roommate and pulled into Elkhart on the 22nd, and headed back on the 26th. I don’t remember much else about this holiday, except that I was fluctuating between a calm inner peace and a sheer, detox-like depression. Cheryl was a hard habit to kick.

The Christmas before that, 1991, was a little weird, but interesting. I returned to school in Bloomington in 1991, so I actually had to come home for the holiday, in my Rabbit. Getting out of Bloomington was like when all of the X-wing fighters pull out of the death star right before it blew up, for a few reasons. First, I was at the end of my rope with Jo, my girlfriend at the time. We were fighting constantly, the kind of drop-dead fights that end with someone locking someone out of a car in the mall or throwing everything someone owns out of a window. I also had some very heavy classwork, and the last few weeks of the semester consisted of 18 hour programming days, then 8 hour physics study sessions. Anyway, the day after finals, a Saturday, I had to wake up way before dawn, maybe 2 hours after I went to bed, miss a shower and any chance at food, and drive Jo to the airport in Indianapolis. I was already packed and ready to go, so after I said goodbye, I pointed the car north, set at course for Elkhart, and drove in the dark and cold with no tape in the player, quietly laughing and thinking that I finally had some fucking peace and quiet for the next two weeks.

My big Christmas present that year was that one of my best friends in the world, Tom Sample, was returning from a semester in China. We exchanged a few airmails back and forth, but it was still good to see him. The summer before, we were very close, working at the same factory and spending a lot of free time driving around in the Rabbit, listening to the Sex Pistols or Anthrax or King Diamond or whatver we listened to in the summer of 1991. He showed up looking like a POW that spent time in the Hanoi Hilton. Tom’s not a big guy, but the diet and walking made him lose some serious weight. We worked on reversing that with pizzas and Hot and Now hamburgers, and he gave me a watercolor painting from China that’s still on my wall.

Reunion #2 was with Jim Manges, a friend of mine since childhood, who had just been paroled from prison. Jim and I were very much alike as kids, and we still think very much alike, but we followed very different paths. While I chained myself to the Apple II computers in junior high, Jim started drinking and doping and stealing and everything else. Then, in 1988, he was high and beat the shit out of a guy and his wife with a 2×4, which eventually got him an attempted murder conviction, and a 4 year sentence. After about 2.5 years, he was back, and I can’t say our first encounter was incredible. He went from a reckless youth to a drunken skeptic in only a few years. We met back up in 1995, after he spent another year or so in prison for a parole violation, and he was a lot more positive then. But, that was Jim – you’d run into him and he’d be in AA, working, living with his folks, buying a car, thinking about trade school, and then a few months later, he’d be living in a shithole with a 14 year old speed addict, selling bad dope and spending all of his cash on tattoos.

Reunion #3 was with my ex, Becky. We had what could be considered a bad breakup in the spring of that year, when I told her I didn’t want to settle down and I wanted to go back to school. She took the news okay at first, and then she destroyed everything I owned while I was at work. So, to say the reunion was dicey was an understatement. I think she knew that Jo and I were almost history, and maybe… hell, I better not speculate, since if there is one thing I know, I cannot predict these things. Anyway, we spent a little time together, and she gave me a leather diary to replace one she destroyed, since I didn’t give a fuck about anything except my journal. I didn’t write much in that journal, except everything that happened over the break.

Which was… well, I had my first PC with me, which was a total frankenstein machine with which I dialed up to Bloomington, and edited some letters on a floppy disk which I still have. I had a possible interest while the Jo thing was dissolving, someone that looked a lot like Molly Ringwald and seemed interested in me when I wasn’t interested in her and vice versa. I bought a new keyboard in South Bend, and Tom bought me a cheesy porno mag one night we were out running around Mishawaka. I bought the new guns and roses albums on tape and spent a lot of time listening to them. I also spent the bulk of my cash on a very expensive Aiwa walkman, which didn’t leave my side for about the next ten months, until I lost it. On the day of Christmas, we were in Chicago, and I remember my cousin Matt had his daughter there with him – she was only a few months old. He kept telling me that the new Skid Row album was almost thrash, and I ignored him. Jo and I fought on the phone a few times, and I knew we were at like Defcon 1, if that. The six-month relationship ended when we both got back into town.

My mom married her second husband, Tom, when I was a Freshman in high school, but they’d been together for a few years before that. I spent a lot of holidays with his family, and a lot of my memories of the 25th and especially the 24th center around them. His parents were both around, and so was his grandmother. She was married on the 24th, so it was a family gathering day, mostly to have a drink or two, take pictures, and maybe eat a dinner. I typically loathe family gatherings, because people always struggle to ask me the stupidest possible questions about computers or whatever. Since I don’t have a wife or kids or medical problems I’m willing to discuss or any of the other traditional things that people talk about at these gatherings, my best strategy was to bring a good book and sit away from the football game on TV. Although I wasn’t keen on their choice of food or the discussion (this was like Johnny Carson’s ideal demographic) I still remember going there a lot.

The gatherings at my grandma and grandpa’s in Chicago (maternal) was much more jovial. First, I don’t even know how many aunts and uncles I have on my mom’s side. I think it’s like 7 or 8 or 11, but I don’t even know. It’s a lot. And when you figure that my mom is toward the bottom of the tree, and my oldest aunts and uncles and kids that were as old as my youngest aunts and uncles, you’re basically talking about so many cousins that you need some kind of software package to keep track of them. My grandparents lives in the typical Chicago three-story apartment building, and the first floor flat was filled every year for the holidays. I got to see all of my favorite cousins, all of the ones that were just about the age of me and my sisters, and we all had toys with us. My grandfather didn’t give us toys – it was cards with money, in amounts that conformed to this mysterious yet systematic formula based on number of kids, age, and marital status. To us kids, it meant a ten-spot every year, which was fine. And the food – my grandma would cook all day, beautiful roast beef and gravy, real mashed potatoes, beautiful rolls – they had a huge wooden table in the dining room, and it would be filled with hot food that was better than anything you could get in any restaurant. If you were old enough, you got the real plates – the ones with the blue china pattern, and cloth napkins. And after dinner, there were these incredible cookies with powdered sugar. It was impossible not to eat when you visited their house, and Christmas was the pinnacle of this philosophy. There were hard candies, cookies, cakes, salads, breads – the best pumpernickel bread that you could get outside of New York City or maybe Poland itself. And when I got older and the toys got boring, all of my other cousins got older too, and we’d have fun listening to my Grandpa’s crazy stories about the depression or the Cubs or how he worked on O’Hare airport.

Great Christmas memories. It’s weird how I’ve seen so many eras in such a short time. I remember at my Grandma’s funeral, in 1989, when I was in the funeral home with a bunch of my cousins and my cousin Joey say “This means no more Christmases at grandma and grandpa’s. No more of those cookies with the powdered sugar. This is the end of an era.”

But hey, eras begin and end. This is the second Christmas I will spend away from my family, but it doesn’t freak me out too much. It’s the first Christmas I will spend with Marie, and even if we spend the whole day playing Diddy Kong Racing, it will still be cool.

Speaking of which, I need to fold one more load of laundry, and then try to sleep. I don’t know if I will get to update anything over break, so have a good one.


Old CDs, older stories

I spent last night putting my CD collection online. I’m at 273 CDs as of last night. My goal is to get at least 500. If I wouldn’t have sold or traded so many during college, I’d have at least a thousand, I think.

I also went CD shopping last night. The bounties: The Beatles – Past Masters Vol Two, ELP – Trilogy (gold disc), and Queensryche – Queensryche EP. I’m listening to Past Masters right now – it’s a great collection of the late sixties stuff, which is my favorite era of Beatles stuff. Observations about the Beatles that I made last night:

  • It’s annoying that so many commercials use their songs and ruin them for me
  • It’s amazing how many bits of children’s songs are mixed in there
  • The song Paperback Writer must’ve been like Motorhead when it first came out and knocked the shit out of all the American Bandstand, Monkees-looking idiots that were into the “fab four” before then.
  • The track “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” is pretty fucking weird.
  • I need to buy all of the Beatles CDs.

As for the ELP CD, it is probably the best sounding disc in my collection. That album was one of the first CDs I bought way back when I got my first player (in 1987). The original AAD pressing sounds way better than most remasters on the market these days. The gold disc sounds even more incredible than that. It even sounds good on the total piece of shit Koss computer speakers in my office. Of course, when I listened to it all the way through at home, it revealed a lot of the deficiencies in my current sound system. I really wish I could just rush out and drop the cash on a pair of Magnepan speakers and a good amp, but I guess I have to wait on that, probably until after I move.

As for the third CD – I’ve had that Queensryche EP probably since the summer of 1987, before the CD player, but on tape. The CD has one extra song on it, the Prophecy, which was also on the soundtrack for Decline of Western Civilization 2 – The Metal years. That addition means I now have the complete Queensryche discography, barring singles and imports, which will cost more than a fucking house to find.

Sorry if today’s post sounds like record collector’s anonymous or something, but I have another bitch, and that’s mass-produced “collectible” stuff. Here’s an example that I told Ray about and he completely agrees to the point of suicide: A lot of the Motorhead albums were remastered this year. Every single one of them had about 3 or 4 rare tracks also included, like B-sides or live stuff, and they all had the original artwork plus some more liner notes. That’s cool if you’re like me who doesn’t have any of their stuff on CD yet, but it is a mixed bag for someone like Ray who owns all of their stuff, and now has to buy all of it again to get the singles tracks, which he won’t really *own*, so he still needs to keep his eyes out for that stuff. Okay, so now Castle decides to put out this 4 or 5 CD boxed set of Motorhead stuff. Now, my question is: should I spend $50 to get this, which doesn’t include all of the albums, just to get the few odd extra tracks, and then should I, in addition, buy all of the reissues too, so I can have the whole albums? The purpose of a boxed set was probably originally so you could say “I don’t have any of their albums, now I can get all of them in one fell swoop, and maybe save a couple of bucks”. There’s a Beatles boxed set that contains all of their recordings, plus the singles, and nothing extra except this cool roll-top wooden box, but you probably save yourself some cash doing it. (I haven’t done the math yet, and I already own enough stuff to make it prohibitive to have doubles). Anyway, what’s a collector like Ray to do about a boxed set like the Motorhead one? He probably has all of the stuff in the set, albeit not remastered and in that order, and not with the package or booklet. But if he says fuck it to buying it, he doesn’t have the complete collection.

All of this makes me think about my collection, and how “complete” you can get. Like the Beatles thing – you can go to any big record store, buy the couple dozen studio albums, the two past masters albums, and you’re essentially “complete”. But you could spend the rest of your fucking life buying singles, 45s, reel to reels, bootlegs, live performances, solo albums, collector’s albums, UK pressings, German pressings, fan club records etc etc etc.

Another artist I’m closing in on with regard to completion is Peter Gabriel. I have all of his studio albums (solo – don’t fuck with me about his stuff with Genesis), but I’m missing the live albums, the compilations, and the singles. (actually, between paragraphs above, I got on line with and ordered 3 Peter Gabriel singles, and the German version of Security). Anyway, this will probably be unfulfilled for a while, because both of the live albums, although pretty good, cost more. And singles – the only singles stores ever carry are Mariah Carey or whatever. I don’t even know what singles Peter Gabriel released in his pre-Sledgehammer career, let alone where I can buy them. Oh, and he has a CD-ROM out too. Maybe he has two?

Nothing else is going on today – it’s slow, everyone is gone or leaving early. I imagine traffic will be pretty gnarly leaving work today. It’s actually nice out, though – the sky is blue and the sun is shining. Maybe I should leave early, too.


(I’m bored as hell, and there’s nothing to do, so it’s time for another weird game of thought association. Since I’ve been babbling all day about CDs, I’ll start there)

I bought my first CD player in the summer of 1987, with my first paycheck from my new “real” job at Taco Bell. Two weeks of stirring giant tubs of cold reconstituted bean paste bought me a Toshiba player that was somewhere between a portable and a full-sized model. It ran on AC power only, and was a top-loader with a tiny LCD display and the basic buttons for operation. I think it had some memory function, and you could see elapsed vs. remaining time. With a metal case and not that much plastic in its construction, it felt much sturdier than most el cheapo models on the market right now. At K-Mart, I paid maybe $99.99 for it, and then went over to Super Sounds in Concord Mall to spend the absolute last of my cash on a single CD. This was when they were half vinyl, half tape, and had maybe two bins with CDs in them. My first choice: Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time. I rushed home on my bike, plugged into my Soundesign rig, and listened away. The beginning of an addiction.

A few months later, I was at World Records in Pierre Moran mall, right after school on a Tuesday. I picked up a copy of Metallica’s new EP, Garage Days Re-Revisited, and a RYKOdisc sampler called Steal This Disc. I bought it because it was only $8 or something, and every CD helped back then. I piled back into the Camaro, probably turned on Master of Puppets, and left for work. Now I drove, and I had a new job – I was a dishwasher at this Italian restaurant called Columbo’s. My friend Matt Wanke convinced me to bust suds over there, because he worked on the pizza line and it’d be cool to work together. I gave notice at Taco Bell, and they didn’t schedule me for my last two weeks.

The only thing noteworthy to come out of Columbo’s was that I met a guy named John that was even more insane than me, and I kept running into him for the next few years. While we were slamming through dishes from the dinner rush, he’d just stand up from his sink and say “I wonder what would happen if we put angel dust in the mozarella shakers” or “I’m going to go tell customers to leave their tip under the food on the dirty dishes, so we get a shot at the money”.

I also had to close the restaurant one school night a week. I learned how desolate Elkhart can be after 10PM. Sometimes I’d drive all the way to Goshen to get some food at the late night drive through Burger King.

Fuck – my mom called and threw off my whole train of thought. At least she didn’t mention the $450 rental car tab I put on her credit card

I walked out of Columbo’s on a Saturday night, without another job lined up or any money saved. (aside from CDs, I blew a bunch of cash putting a new exhaust on the Camaro). I got a job at Ward’s a few days later, and started a long tenure that took me through high school and beyond.

My first couple of Wards checks (which were my first non-$3.35 checks of my life) went to a new heater core in the Camaro. By that point in time (September? October?) the Indiana fall made driving to school in the morning pretty unbearable. My old heater core was full of holes, so I took the ‘in’ and ‘out’ hoses and connected it together with one hose. I didn’t lose any more of the precious green fluid on the driveway, but I also saw my breath when I drove anywhere in the AM.

The weekend of the heater core replacement also included some other repairs – I think I also installed a manual choke control (aside from freezing my ass off in the morning, the carb also had its problems) and a manual oil pressure gauge. That was actually on Halloween weekend, and I planned on going out with my friend Jia that night. It’s impossible to see the oil pressure sender on that engine (it’s sort of hidden back by the HEI distributor) and I didn’t tighten something enough. I started the engine with the hood open, and it shot oil all over the damn place for a dozen seconds, until I killed the engine. So we had to take Jia’s car.

I think our plan back then was similar to most – we’d drive around in downtown Elkhart or downtown Goshen and hope that some incredibly beautiful and loose women would be walking around and then they’d somehow end up in the car, and the magic would happen, so to speak. This, of course, NEVER HAPPENED. (Regardless, my friend Ray thinks this is 100% feasible and still wants to do this all the time.) The odds of this happening would probably be higher if we were in a crappy Camaro than in his car, a green, four door, Dodge Dart. We went out in his car anyway, listened to Master of Puppets on a crappy jambox, and went to some fairly hidden and now probably completely destroyed video game place, that had a shitload of games and a little cafeteria where you could get a hamburger or some nachos or something. Lots of people hung out there, and none of them were from our school. We played a bunch of Tron Deadly Disks or Spy Hunter or whatever I was into at that moment, and had some heavy discussions about how much stuff sucked in relation to our 16 year old worlds, which seemed infinitely wise at the time, and were infinitely stupid in retrospect.

On the way home (this was Halloween), we got egged and the Dart had no windshield washer solution, so we put on the wipers and drove for an hour, hoping they might scrape enough at the molecular level to remove the egg without any solvent. Then, while driving, swearing, and listening to Metallica, a black cat ran in front of the car, and Jia almost hit it. We both shit our pants and prayed to the reaper, knowing that we’d probably be killed in the next ten seconds.

We weren’t.

On the 4th of July in 1989, my parents found out that I had several thousand dollars in credit card debt hidden from them, and wanted to kill me, throw me out, and bitch for hours about how horrible I was. I decided to help them out by leaving and going to Jia’s to cool off, so I left the house without telling them where I was going. I found Jia at a tennis court at the high school (I didn’t really know he played tennis), and we hung out at his house that night. I called my parents back and they were crying and all upset over it. My mom expected them to find me dead and penniless under a bridge in Minnesota a few months later, and instead I was looking at porno and listening to Led Zeppelin in Jia’s bedroom a mile away. It was then that I learned I could win almost any campaign against my parents, and I was largely right.

I’m having a hard time remembering when I first started hanging out with Jia – we met in 7th grade algebra, along with Roger Eppich and Larry Falli and the rest of the braniacs. I guess it was at the end of the 9th grade school year. We were riding around on bikes, and to get to his house, we had to go into Ox-Bow park, and then scale some fence to cross the street. (you could’ve just not gone through the park, but it saved like maybe 4 seconds of time or something). Anyway, we went to his house, and he lost a joint that was hidden inside a ball-point pen, somewhere in his comic book pen. He had a cornoary while tearing through all of these old issues of Silver Surfer or whatever, and then found it. Aside from Health Studies class pictures, it was the first time I saw pot, ever. During the whole bike ride, Jia kept talking about all of these girls he was taking to the movies and then later messing around with. We were in a gym class before that and he’d come in with these insane and obviously false reports about his exploits, and always offered to get me a cut of the action. I figured it might be possible, because at this point in time, Jia and I looked almost like identical twins. In fact, Mr. Post, my junior high algebra teacher, signed my yearbook “To Jia..”.

About that gym class – it was made of 49% future pro atheletes – and not just the stupid ones who could run a mile in 10 seconds or shoot a million freethrows in a row – I’m talking about the ones that go to Stanford to be on their rowing team plus study corporate law. 49% of the class were the future license plate makers of America. And the other 5 of us – me, Jia, Jerome, Nathan, and maybe one or two others, were all like Silicon Valley hopefuls. The only reason we didn’t get the shit kicked out of us on a regular basis was because the other two groups were beating the fuck out of each other in basketball games. Most of the year was basketball – the coach was also the basketball coach, and this was when Shawn Kemp was shopping for a shoe contract or something, so he was always doing press conferences with ESPN and we were always playing the always-no-supervision basketball games. By the end of the year I got pretty good at it – all of us Apple II programmers played a 3 on 3 game, and would occasionally have to take in a loser, like this guy Ernie Friend, to round out the teams.

Other memorable gym class moments – we had to do some super-olympic event thing that involved running, jumping, gymnastics, climbing the rope, etc etc and you had to do all of this shit and beat certain goals and you’d get the A. Anyway, I didn’t pass ANY of the hundred-some events. Because I actually tried all of them, though, I still got a C.

About Jia, like a week later he was going to come over and spend the night, hang out, see my place, all of that. (this was at the age when it was still cool to go to someone’s house to see how many cool computer games they had, or whatever). My mom had to go pick up Jia, and when we got there, he was completely stoned. I guess my mom didn’t figure this out, but I knew he couldn’t stay in the house all night, because he was really fucked up, speaking in tongues, etc. So we went outside, and wandered around my subdivision and the once-vacant land to the east of the division. He spent a while laughing and making stupid observations, and then got really serious and started talking about a lot of the same issues that we shared, things that plagued both of us. Both of us were smart, poor, geeky, creative, and somewhat outside the loop within our rich and trendy high school. Jia’s outer shell was more defined than mine, and he had more confidence in many social situations. I never understood how he dealt with it, and it wasn’t until then that I realized that he didn’t deal with it, sort of like me.

Anyway, I got Jia back to my place many hours later. He ate a whole bunch of fairly rancid pizza like it was the best thing on earth, and I found, via note, that I was grounded for leaving the house for so long. After that, we were friends. And I found a secret that he hid from a lot of people – he collected Transformers. Once at his house, I had a strange “two worlds collide” experience when a fellow Transformers collector showed up to hang out for a while. He was Ray – known to me as the guy from my electronics class, but now known as one of my best friends.

Talking about high school is boring me, so I should get out of here…