Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

After Forever

So the failed run at NaNoWriMo has put a major crimp in any journal activity here, and it’s been hard to get back to work.  After I don’t write here for a while, I enter this weird limbo where I don’t know what to write, and I overthink things, and I start giant essays that I later kill because they become too half-assed or whatever.  If I spend too much time thinking what this is supposed to be, I never write.  The truth is, this isn’t supposed to be anything except writing, and when I obsessively think about what I should be doing here, it’s a lot like staying up late at night with insomnia, and trying to have a focused, quantitative analysis about why you aren’t sleeping; you will just make it way worse.

So I’m here and it’s cold and it’s 49.  But I ran out of the regular aftershave lotion I usually use, and realized I have this face sunscreen Neutrogena junk that is SPF 20 suntan lotion, but it’s also aftershave lotion, so I used that.  And of course the smell is an immediate reminder of the summer, and specifically the only time in the summer when I am outside, i.e. baseball games.  It makes me wish that instead of a cold almost-December day, it was a blistering June day, and I was dragging a ton of photo gear to a 100-level seat to swelter and smell fresh-cut grass and obsess about the best pitch to follow a fast ball-inside,curve ball-outside sequence.  But there are four months until opening day, and there’s a lot of bad trade decisions by the O’Dowds to wring hands over between then and now.

I’m also wondering what will happen to the Oakland A’s.  Right now, it looks like they will move to San Jose, but there are some last ditch plans to throw together a stadium proposal for Oakland to keep the team.  The current plan is down to a location near Jack London square, which is just a couple of miles from our house, and would be a major win.  The bad news is they are just starting to talk about it, which means they are years behind the San Jose proposal.  And I don’t know much about Oakland city planning, but the one thing I am learning is that it’s horribly conflicted, and it’s impossible to get anything done.

One example of this is the grocery store situation in West Oakland, which is considered a “food desert”, because there are no grocery stores except for a few dozen liquor stores, and if you don’t have a car to go drive a neighborhood over to shop at Safeway, you’re eating ring-dings and pork rinds for dinner, which is probably why like 98% of the West Oakland population has adult onset diabetes.  Kroger has been trying to build a store on Grand Street maybe a mile east of here an it has been a clusterfuck of red tape and argument.  A lot of West Oakland is abandoned warehouse property, where it’s cheaper for the owners to do nothing with it and hope for a giant project like this to buy them out, but it started this huge argument about eminent domain because nobody wants to sell out and hopes that if Kroger today asks for a million an acre, maybe if they wait a year, Wal-Mart will offer a million ten an acre.  And all of the pro-protestor groups come out to argue about Kroger sucking money out of a poor community, and the lack of local produce, and the lack of local jobs, and demanding that they have full unions and composting toilets and be LEED certified and have the Dalai Lama design the Feng Shui layout for the vegan organic produce section.

It’s a fucking Kroger, and the neighborhood should be happy they want to build there.  And if they keep up with it, Kroger will eventually come to the conclusion it’s much easier to clear-cut some land in East Oakland or San Leandro or whatever else and go there.  And as far as the “money being siphoned away” argument, it’s not like diabetes medication is locally sourced, and if you don’t come up for a solution other than people eating at McDonald’s ten times a week, that’s where all of the money will go.

[Disclaimer: I know nothing about public planning.  And I was probably exaggerating about 98% of the neighborhood having diabetes.  It’s probably in the low-80s.]

We had Thanksgiving dinner here, which was awesome.  It’s probably the first time we’ve hosted any kind of dinner since New York, mostly because we’ve been living out of boxes since then.  But we got the place cleaned up and cooked a turkey breast and stuffing and gravy and salad and a fruit crisp.  A came over with two pies, and Jason and Al came over with lamb, broccoli, and an awesome curry soup.  I need to have dinner here more often.  The only downside is I’m going to be eating turkey leftovers for a while.

We went to the Chabot Space Center last night, which was pretty awesome.  First we went for dinner at this Indian restaurant on Piedmont which was pretty blah.  On the way back to the car though, we found this newsstand – an actual, real newsstand store – not a book store with a magazine rack, but a store that was just magazines.  They even had print zines, which was pretty amazing and nostalgic, so I had to pick up a few things just to show support and as proof that I had not fallen into some kind of wormhole to the mid-1990s.  The guy working there was pretty cool, and I also got one of those 33 1/3 books, the one by John Darnielle about Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality.  (And why can’t I get a copy of that album on iTunes?)

Anyway, Chabot – first, we plug it into the GPS, and it takes us through all of these winding roads way the hell up into the hills of Oakland.  The place is only a couple of miles from us, straight-line, but after a while, I thought we were in Montana by now.  The view was pretty cool, a lot of these cool little houses in the sides of the hills, some with christmas lights already, all of them these cute little single-family bungalows, the places where you’d expect professors from the university to live.  But the GPS’s idea on what constitutes a turn was completely off – like we’d go through some 270 degree Gran Turismo hairpin turn, and it would be robotically saying “keep going straight”.  And then there would be like an 8 degree bear-right, where it would start saying “turn left.  turn left.”, announcing some turn that was a mile ahead.  And then we passed by the actual Chabot sign, with the GPS saying “your destination is 1/4 mile ahead”.

But we got there.  The place is really amazing – it’s way up on the tops of the hills, in an area of old forest, with almost no light pollution and an amazing view of the whole east bay below, with the lights of San Francisco in the distance.  The building itself reminds me of any high-end astronomy equipment, like when you’re in some area of Hawaii where it’s just the desolation of pineapple farms, and all of a sudden there’s this giant steel and concrete structure that looks like a crashed UFO or some part of the Dharma Project.

The whole visit was a constant “how can this be only five miles from our house?”, walking through these giant-ceilinged halls and looking at Soviet spacesuits and giant space capsules with CCCP painted on the side.  I was worried that the place would be overrun with screaming kids, which is always the case when I try to go to a museum like Science and Industry in Chicago, but the place was pretty desolate.  For $15 you get free reign of the exhibits, plus admission to two shows.  So we wandered around the space suits and space toilets and space food (all cool stuff), and then went to two shows.

The first show was in an IMAX-type theater, where you have the dome above you and they project the 270-degree image from 70MM film.  They showed a movie about the sun, which was pretty interesting, and covered everything from how ancient civilizations tracked the sun with Stonehenge-type temples to how the SOHO craft is probing the interior of the sun from its halo orbit between the Earth and moon.  The one thing I liked about the movie was they took great pains to not use any computer imagery for the sun, and did everything with actual footage.  I don’t like when you go to one of these things and it’s a bunch of CGI that looks like a bad PBS program.

We also went to this show called Tales of the Maya Skies in the main planetarium.  I was impressed with the video quality of the screen there, given that in the old days, planetariums were just a bunch of light dots on the ceiling and maybe a dude with a laser pointer, but this was a full-on video.  It was this whole story of Mayan mythology, how the Mayan civilization used astronomy in their culture and calendar.  I found it a little bit cheesy, and sort of disappointing.  I mean, they did a good job of providing this alternate viewpoint, and that’s cool.  But I would rather have a center like this pumping kids with propaganda about how we need to look forward to the future and get our asses to Mars instead of talking about old mythology.  I guess it’s good to have context, but the whole thing was a little too politically correct for me, I guess.  Also, how can you have a 30-minute movie about Mayan astronomy without a single mention of human sacrifice or the theory that aliens gave them the technology?

The last movie got out and we had exactly five minutes to go to the actual observatory, so we sprinted up there and got to the roof just in time for them to close it.  So we absolutely need to go back to check it out.  We did get a glimpse of one of their three telescopes, though.  And while we were on the deck outside, we had a stellar view of the stars, which was pretty damn amazing seeing as we’re only miles from so much light pollution.  It was something to look up and see the big dipper and Orion’s belt, even if I was freezing my ass off.

Going to New York next week, by the way, which will be weird.  More on that later – I will probably just bring the work laptop and the iPad and try to keep writing that way.

[2020 update: Kroger never built the grocery store. The abandoned warehouse they were trying to buy is still empty.]