Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

This is what North Dakota looks like. In July.

I am 40 today.  Actually, at the very minute this blog post is made (10:53 CST), 40 years ago, I was born at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. 40 years.  40 god damned years.  I don’t believe that. I mean, my body feels like I’m 80 most mornings, but I feel like I should be writing this from the surface of Mars after a long morning of jet-packing around with my cybernetic mind reading robot.  Instead, I’m typing away on a keyboard that’s pretty much the same damn keyboard as they used in 1811, except this one has a bunch of stupid buttons to control my music, and it is split in half to maybe prevent my carpal tunnels from fusing together or apart or whatever it is your carpal tunnels do when you type too much.

I’m actually writing this before the 20th, and WordPress will automagically post it at 10:53, which is really 8:53 here.  I don’t remember my flight schedule, but I will either be preparing for the TSA grab-ass or be en route to Las Vegas for my 11th year of going to Vegas to do whatever the hell I do in Vegas.  Not gamble, not drink.  Not eat.  Come to think of it, I think I would have been an ideal employee for Howard Hughes.

So over here, one of my readers gave us a nice 30th birthday list of assorted trivia, and at the time, I thought that was a damn great idea.  And I have no idea how I managed to remember this, but I did.  So here is my somewhat random list of 40 things about me.  I will attempt to make the list as truthful as possible, and avoid all of the things that my long-term readers probably already know about me, which will be hard after a thousand some posts to this blog.  Here goes.

1) I was born and spent my first few months at an air force base that contained 150 Minuteman II missile silos, an ABM facility, and some untold number of B-52 bombers bristling with nukes.  All of this is gone now; the silos have all been dismantled and imploded, and the B-52s were most likely taken to Arizona and cut into pieces. The history of the billions of dollars of hardware installed underground in the middle of nowhere has always fascinated me.  Here’s a good link to get you started on this obsession: http://asuwlink.uwyo.edu/~jimkirk/gf.html

2) When I was in kindergarten, one of my parents asked me if my teacher had died, after reading about this in the newspaper.  They must have read the name wrong, but I spent the rest of the school year wondering if this teacher had somehow been covertly replaced with a clone or android.

3) The most famous person I ever met as a young child was a man who, according to his promotional material, had the largest feet in the world.  This was at the Elkhart County Fair.  His feet looked like large potatoes that had sat in a drawer too long, gnarly and covered with what looked like tumors or growths.  I bought an autographed picture of him.

4) When I was maybe 13, I went to a car show at the Notre Dame ACC with the sole purpose of meeting KITT, the car from Knight Rider.  I wasn’t really into cars at all back then, but I loved me some Knight Rider.  We got there and the line was insanely long, so I did not go up to get a photo or anything.  David Hasselhoff was not there.  I did look into the car from a distance, and a guy standing next to me proclaimed, “that’s nothing but a Trans Am with a bunch of shit bolted onto it.”

5) I spent a good deal of time after Empire Strikes Back convinced I could build my own light saber if I could just get the right lenses.

6) I really dislike salmon, because I had a cat as a kid that would only eat canned salmon food, so I associate the smell of salmon with cat food.  This was probably a bad quirk to have when I lived in Seattle.

7) My school used to have these book fairs where some group would show up and unload all of these racks of new books that you could dig through and buy.  One year, they were going to have the book that taught you how to solve the Rubik’s cube, but when they arrived, there were only two copies.  All of my classmates tore through the books trying to find the two books like Wal-Mart shoppers trying to get a $39 BluRay player on Black Friday.  This one kid ended up getting it, and then could not figure out how to actually do the instructions, which were somewhat involved and used some cryptic notation to tell you what part of the cube to turn.  I later went to a Walden Books and memorized the part that taught you how to get the side pieces in place, but had to wait another year or so to actually get the book out of a library and solve the whole thing.

8) The two periodicals from my childhood that shaped me the most as an adult were probably The National Enquirer and Mad magazine.  My grandmother used to get all of the tabloids, and I would pore over them when we went there on Sundays.  I liked all of the weird UFO/alien stuff the most, so I found the Weekly World News to be much better.  I ended up getting into Cracked only when Mad was not available.

9) When I first got my own place on Mitchell Street in 1991, I went through a long run of thinking that if I cooked a woman dinner, she would like me or something.  I knew how to cook maybe three things at the time (tacos, spaghetti, fake Chinese food with some kind of spices in a packet.)  I wish I could find all of the people I had cooked dinner for, interview them, and splice it all together into a short film showing my stupidity.

10) I am apt to use the numbers 768 and 863 semi-randomly to indicate a large quantity.  Those are the number of shades that were available in Montgomery Ward 10-year and 15-year interior latex paint, which I sold back in high school, and those numbers are now somehow fused in my head.

11) The oldest thing in my Amazon account is an order for Hunter S. Thompson’s Generation of Swine, which I ordered on September 26, 1999.  That is not the oldest order I’ve ever placed with them though; it’s just the oldest in their system.  I think the oldest thing I ordered there was in something like 1997 or maybe 1998 and it was an old out-of-print book on the history of Indiana University.  I remember when I got it and first opened it, I was sick for a week because it was filled with invisible dust mites, and I have a horrible allergy to them.  I put the book in the freezer for ten days and then was able to read it.

12) The first thing I ever published was in 1990 or 1991.  I wrote this huge screed to the IUSB student newspaper editor about how I was sick of everyone talking about tying yellow ribbons on things about the tropps going to Iraq.  I expected that at the most, they would publish it in the letters to the editor, but they made it an article, and I got a ton of shit for it.

13) I tried joining the Air Force Reserve when I was 17, thinking I’d be able to get some cool job either working on planes or computers.  When I went to the recruiter to talk to him and schedule the physical, I unknowingly wore the Megadeth shirt for “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying”.  I’m not sure he noticed.  He looked at my ASFAB scores and offered me any job I wanted from a binder, but all of them looked somewhat stupid and none of them said “Top-secret F-117 Stealth Fighter mechanic” or “MX Missile Nuclear Warhead Arming Technician”; I think the closest was the guy who rotated the tires on Patriot missile launchers, so I never took the physical, which I probably would have failed anyway.

14) Other foods I refuse to eat: olives, mushrooms, beets, cauliflower.

15) Of the first five cars I owned, four ended up getting sold to junkyards, inoperational in some major way. My first car (the Camaro) was the only car I sold to someone in functional condition until I returned my lease car in 1998.

16) I went to computer camp, I think the year before 6th grade.  It was a day camp held at the junior high, and we typed BASIC programs into Apple II computers and then played that pioneer game where you always died of dysentery.  I remember it was the summer that ET came out, and when my dad took us to see it, it was sold out and we saw Wrath of Khan instead, which is of course where I got the name for this blog, because every damn smart-ass in the world has made the same joke, so I decided to run with it.

17) I dated someone in my freshman year of college that had the same first and middle name as my youngest sister.  (I did not do this intentionally.)  She was obsessed with Billy Joel and we used to fight constantly, until my shrink helped me write a script to use to break up with her over the phone.

18) My current computer is 1520 times faster than my first computer, and contains 2,000,000 times more RAM.  I guess that’s not a fact about me, but it tells you something about how computers have aged in my lifespan.

19) One winter, I think in 1992, I had a few days before school started, so I went to the main library and looked up every book and article on two random things that I knew nothing about: the Jonestown massacre and the movie Deep Throat.  I spent an entire day in the stacks of the library, sitting on the floor reading about both of those things.  I think if that happened now, I’d probably just read about them on wikipedia or google them, but there was something comforting about being buried in the eleven floors of books on a cold winter day, reading about events from the distant seventies.

20) I had some obsession as a teenager with sitting down and listening to all of Rush’s albums in order, which I never did, although I tried a few times and usually got bored around mid-Caress of Steel.

21) I have a scar on my right hand from when I fell on a nail and it went through my hand.

22) I go through, on average, a keyboard a year.  I’d like to brag that it’s because I type so damn much, but the truth is, I eat a lot of meals at the computer and spills are a constant problem.  My current keyboard of choice is the Microsoft Ergo 4000, but I wish I could find a good ergo keyboard with less sloppy keys that were not as spongy as these ones.

23) I spent most of the late 90s revisiting hobbies from my youth, mostly because of eBay.  This included buying an Atari 2600 and a fully loaded Commodore 64 setup.  I also spent a lot of time and money building model rockets and then losing them at this rugby field north of Seattle.

24) I also spent a lot of cycles in Seattle wanting to become a filmmaker.  I read everything I could find about Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez, bought a camcorder, and wrote this script that was a parody of Apocalypse Now that had to do with finding a parking space in Seattle.

25) I drove from Elkhart to Seattle in 1995 and it took me just 48 hours.  I drove from Seattle to New York in 1999 and it took me 14 days.

26) I was obsessed with model airplanes for probably too long, well into high school.  I mostly focused on 1/48 scale jets, although my favorite model was a 1/35 scale F-15.  I think after I got a car, I stopped building models.  I blame this all on my friend Derik Rinehart, who was even more obsessed with planes and ended up joining the Air Force and working on actual F-15s.

27) When I got my first paycheck from my first real job, I went straight to Elliot Bay Books and bought every Bukowski book I didn’t have.

28) The three things that influenced me to start writing in 1993 were the Henry Rollins spoken word album Boxed Life, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions.

29) I used to get on these kicks about learning a foreign language, and would buy a book or a tape or enroll in a class and then never follow through.  Languages I’ve tried to learn: Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, Swedish, Russian.

30) My lack of Spanish got tested in 2009 when I was in rural Mexico, had a crown fall out, and had to negotiate with a dentist that spoke less English than I speak Spanish.

31) When I was a kid, I won a Huffy BMX bike from Honeycomb cereal. This was not the promotion you probably remember, where they gave away small metal mini-license plates, and if you got some special gold plate or something, you won; it was some kind of stupid activity book where you scratched off various things to solve a puzzle.  I solved the puzzle and my mom did not believe me – she thought it was some thing where you solved the puzzle, sent in the thing, and you’d enter for a one in a billion shot at a bike.  But it was real, and we mailed it in, and after a wait of what seemed like 47 years, a giant box showed up from UPS.  It was a red 20″ bike with gold rims, knobby red tires, gold handlebars, and those snap-on pads that were supposed to protect your junk when you hit the bar, but how much testicular protection do you get from 1/8″ of neoprene?  It also had a coaster brake but also a rear hand brake.  I rode the shit out of that bike, until I eventually got a ten speed in my freshman year of high school.

32) I have an obsession with planes and flying.  I always wanted to get a pilot’s license, but I either have the money or the time, but not both.  I’ve taken flight lessons and have landed a plane (which is supposed to be the hard part) but for both financial and logistical reasons, I’ll probably stick to radio controlled helicopters for now.

33) I took a COBOL class in college. The textbook had instructions on how to use punchcards, but I actually did the work on a VAX using the EDT editor.

34) I usually order eggs over medium, although egg whites scrambled hard has been coming up more lately.

35) I generally avoid reading the news, because I think it’s all bullshit, but also so people who read the news far too much flip out and think I’m some kind of heathen because I don’t read as many ads disguised as news as they do.

36) I’ve never had a problem reading in a car (as a passenger, not while driving), although I keep meeting people who find this amazing because they get horribly carsick when they do it.

37) Calculus II was the demise of my computer science degree in college.  I blame it on a lack of trig knowledge – I think I was asleep that semester in high school.

38) I’m starting to see the occasional grey hair, which means it’s all going downhill from here.  At least I have hair.  I’ve had a receded hairline since, well, ever, but it hasn’t changed at all.  Everyone that used to give me shit about “losing my hair” when I was 20 is now bald.

39) I’ve lived in 7 states and 10 cities (11 if you consider Manhattan and Astoria to be two different cities, which from a tax perspective they aren’t, but if you go by ZIP codes, they are.) I’d like to stay in California, although there are a lot of things about LA I like.  And that stupid House Hunters International show has me thinking I should buy a castle in Estonia for $48,000, but I’m a big fan of indoor plumbing.

40) I can’t believe I could make a list of 40 things, but I can’t believe I have hit 40, either.

So there you have it. 40. Happy birthday to me, and also happy birthday to Bill Perry and all of the others that share 1/20 with us.  Congratulations to everyone who read this far, and thanks for reading this thing in general. And now, I am off to the desert to eat too much and lose a few bucks at the tables.


3 responses to “40”

  1. Belated Happy Birthday!

  2. Do you have a picture of the feet? I want/need to see them, but then again I don't. Three books from 1993 that pulled me towards writing: Sexus, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and All the King's Men.