Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Goodbye Astoria

The last of the Astoria move-out was completed on Saturday. Now all I need to do is send my keys to my landlord and get ripped off for my entire security deposit. Saturday’s work involved a last trip to the Neptune Diner, and then about three or four hours of clearing out every remaining item in the place. I had some grand scheme of donating things to some charity, selling stuff off on craigslist, listing stuff on freecycle, or whatever else. But when it came down to it, I simply couldn’t deal with waiting on other people and whatever else, so it all went to the curb or in the garbage cans. And as quickly as we could put stuff out there, it vanished. It was like christmas for some poor bastards that hauled that stuff out of there.

The worst of the last stuff were the loveseat and single chair that I bought back in 2000. Because of the weird s-curve layout of my front door, it was like a very bad 3-D tetris game trying to get the couch out of there. It was too wide and too deep, and the depth of the curve made it impossible to take it out long-ways at an angle. I can’t even really describe it, but it was a horror to get that thing out. After clearing everything, we did a real quick sweep of the place with broom and swifter, just to get the big chunks up. Like I said, the landlord’s going to fuck me on the deposit anyway, so there’s no reason for me to get out a toothbrush and go OCD on the place.

As we left, it hit me that I’d never see the place again, and despite all of the horrific problems with it, I’m sort of sad to see it go. I lived in the place for six years, which is longer than I’ve ever lived in any place since my parents’ house. A lot’s gone on there. Every book I’ve published was cranked out while I lived there. (Some of them were started before then, but the ISBNs hit the jackets while I was living in Astoria.) I crossed the millenium there. It was a good run, I guess. I didn’t like the place as much as, say, the 600 7th Ave place in Seattle, but I’m glad to move on, but shit, that’s a sixth of my life. Leaving didn’t blow me away as much as it did to leave the Mitchell Street House in ’93, or leaving Seattle in ’99, but still. End of an era.

We had a good Thanksgiving, too. We went up to Guy and Scott’s, Sarah’s friends, up in upstate New York again. Sarah went up on Tuesday night to help with the shopping and the preparation, and I worked on Wednesday and then took the bus up. The Port Authority looked like some kind of apocalypse disaster movie on Wednesday afternoon, but once I got on a bus and headed north, it wasn’t a bad run. I think I made it to Rosendale in under two hours, door to door, and was greeted at the bus stop by Guy and Sarah, who then took us to a shopping center where we got Chinese and pizza from two different places, and I headed into a Dunkin’ Donuts for a dozen of those, just in case.

Guy and Scott’s friend Beth was there with her two-and-a-half year old son Ian and her dog Gus. Guy already started the dinner preparation, and we all ate and hung out that night, knowing the oven would get fired up in the morning for the big bird. We crashed somewhat early, and in the morning woke to find a couple of inches of fresh powder covering everything outside. Given that this is in the middle of nowhere, it meant there was virgin white snow all over everything. When you live in the city, where snow is immediately smooshed by busses and trucks and turned horrid colors of black and grey by pollution, you really appreciate the pure white of a real snowfall. Gus, a collie/alaskan husky mix, enjoyed it too. He spent a lot of the day outside, running through the drifts, trying to chase the wild turkeys and deer that cross through the yard. He was so happy, he would roll around on his back in the snow and jump around like a kid on Christmas morning.

Guy’s dinner was perfect. I’d put Guy up against anybody’s pefect grandmother’s cooking dinners anyday. He’s totally into cooking way too much food and making all of it great, so you don’t want to get in his way when he’s cooking, but you totally want to be there for the product. Guy’s pre-dinner dinner is better than most dinners, and it’s just a long onslaught of food. It’s like the iron man triathalon of food. I had to pace myself and quit early, before the handmade pies happened. We stayed Thursday night again, and then I had bacon and eggs before Beth drove us back to the city. We got back before 2:00, which meant we had the rest of Friday plus the whole weekend to chill out and do nothing, which we did.

I should throw out a few book reviews for good measure, since I’ve been reading a lot. First, Andrew Smith’s Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth. I’ve been reading a lot of space stuff lately, but this really put a new twist on things, by trying to catch up with the nine remaining Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon. Smith chases after the elusive lunar explorers, trying to bring out more than just the stock NASA facts, but to really determine what happened to these men who had the great apex of their life happen at a young age, and then had the entire country’s interest in space exploration collapse after the moon walks. Some guys are still trying to champion space missions, like Buzz Aldrin, while others turned to religion, philosophy, art, or private industry ranging from beer bottling to football team management. Many divorced and had family problems, many felt betrayed by their country for dropping the ball on the space program. Overall, the backstory is excellent and a great page-turner.

An impulse purchase I greatly enjoyed was Sam Posey’s Playing with Trains. Posey, a former Grand Prix race car driver and long-time race commentator, also spends a lot of time playing with HO trains down in his basement, something that goes back to his childhood and a Lionel train set around the Christmas tree. The first half of the book goes through the fifteen-year saga of Posey restarting his hobby as an adult when he has a baby boy, going through the construction of a massive layout in his basement. During the steps of this journal, we learn a bit about the industry behind the hobby, and the various steps you need to go from a little loop of track to a full-blown system. In the second part, he gets his journalistic background fired up and starts to go out and meet the other people with his obsession, as well as the major suppliers and magazines covering the hobby. He also goes out and tries a 1:1 scale steam locomotive, and makes a few field trips to the crumbling remains of the once-mighty rail system in this country. While I never re-started the hobby (no basement, no attention span), I had the Tyco starter set and a bunch of Life-Like buildings nailed to a piece of plywood when I was a kid, and always dreamed of a giant 1:87 reproduction of some Santa Fe freight line rumbling through a scale city. The book reminded me of all of that, and I’m sure if I did have a basement, I’d be down there right now with $700 of new HO-scale equipment.

Another great one was Michael Harris – The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground. Harris was drafted back in the fifties, and spent a year of his two-year commitment at the Eniwetok Atoll. He was there in 1955 for Operation: Redwing, a series of some of the biggest H-bomb explosions ever. He spent the first part of his stay editing The Atomic Times, a little mimeo base newspaper, which reminded me a bit of John Sheppard’s stories of Army journalism. He later spent time typing requisition forms and destroying carbons for top-secret shipments of nuts and bolts. On the day of the tests, with no morning, the enlisted would get pulled out of bed and ordered to stand at attention, facing away from the blast, while 20 megatons of test-device vaporized islands and ocean water. Much of his story deals with being stuck on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere (a lot like Lost, but no hot chicks) and dealing with the stupidity and pranks of various draftee-quality Army privates removed from their small towns for the first time. A minor caveat on this one is that Harris tends to be a little choppy and informal in his writing, and loves to use incomplete sentences. But the subject matter is great, and it’s a unique look at the history behind the H-bomb.

I also bought the new Vonnegut book, A Man Without A Country. Vonnegut said he’d stop after his last one, Timequake, but he came back to cash in a bit with a thin little volume of retread material. If you’ve seen Vonnegut speak in the last 10 or 15 years, take that stock speech and add in a bit of whining about George Bush, and there you go. Vonnegut’s always been a favorite writer to me, and I love all of his novels and books, but there wasn’t much to this collection except maybe a sly way to get the Air America crowd to rush out and buy it and say “best book ever!” because he compares Bush to Hitler. There’s a really funny example (or 40) of this on the Amazon reviews for the books; all of these people’s reviews are like “Hi, I’m 23 and a college graduate and I’ve never heard of Kurt Vonnegut, but I saw him on the Daily Show, which I think is a real news program, and rushed out to buy his book.” It’s also somewhat sad to see that Vonnegut has been preaching this “the world is ending tomorrow” luddite viewpoint, but he’s been doing it for 40 years now, and the world hasn’t ended. Oh well. Three out of four ain’t bad.

This entry is far too long. Sorry.