Archive for December, 2006

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Free Books Are Blessed.

December 25, 2006

When free books are read aloud by John Hodgman, also for free, they are double-blessed. How it slipped by me, I don’t know (I blame my lack of internet access for the past three days), but apparently John Hodgman’s excellent audiobook version of Areas of My Expertise is now free at the iTunes store. If you finish this sentence without clicking over there and beginning to download your own free copy, then you are a slimy fuckwit without a dram of sense and we have nothing left to say to each other.

Aw, who am I kidding? It’s Christmas Eve. I’ll spot you this one. Just get the free book, you.

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One-Minute Update

December 24, 2006

This is how much I can tell you in one minute of typing*:

I had to drop my MacBook off to get a fan replaced, my parents are in town for Christmas and to pick up this black lab we’ve been holding for them, and I’ve finally been to the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead. This is all from the last two days. In an amazing twist, the Apple store got my machine back to me the very next day (today), so here I am finally typing again. And here’s I’ll be this week, playing catch-up at my desk at home while everyone else is off on holiday vacation. I think of it as my little elf’s-like workshop. Now, if —

Time’s up.

* While being distracted by an episode of Homicide.

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Confessions

December 18, 2006

I confess…

  • I cannot spell the word definitely without checking a dictionary. I don’t know why.
  • I don’t know what a tablespoon looks like. Whenever a recipe calls for ingredients in a number of tablespoons, I eyeball it. I am often wrong.
  • I fall back on the phrase, “I’m from the Midwest, and we…” about 630% more often than I should. This is just since I moved to Atlanta. I learned this behavior from my wife, though, who described several of my “personality quirks” (e.g., guilt) as being “Midwestern.”
  • I bought every damn episode of The Night Stalker on iTunes.
  • I’ve never seen Wall Street and I’ve only seen the end of Fatal Attraction. I grew up in the 1980s, so of course I know basically what happens in these movies, with the insider training and the boiled rabbits, but in my head Michael Douglas goes pretty much straight from Romancing the Stone to Basic Instinct. (By the way, was his character in Black Rain really named Nick Conklin?)
  • A lot of that stuff I said I was going to do? I never got around to it.
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Homicide: Everything

December 7, 2006

At last. Look what I got for Christmas: The complete series set of Homicide: Life on the Street. For the last few years, every season set of the show had been priced to torment at $70-80. I owned only one set, the first one, and longed for the rest. All told, I would’ve spent more than $400 collecting the whole set, and I’d still miss out on everything in this one — not just the $150 price tag.

This isn’t just a cheesy cardboard box with the previously issues season sets in it. This is a clever sliding box built to work like a filing cabinet, with the tabs and a metal handle and everything. Each season has been repackaged into a plastic case (instead of the perfectly fine ultra-thin cases in the previous sets) with the boxed-set text on it. Episode synopses are on those little cardboard tabs that separate the seasons into sets.

Best of all, this set’s got a bonus disc with Homicide: The Movie (the bittersweet two-hour send-off for the show) and all three Law & Order crossover episodes, which aren’t on your individual season sets. Waiting for these sets is sometimes unbearable — I couldn’t have held out for the pretty fabulous West Wing set that’s out now — but sometimes it’s worth it.

Homicide hit me like an electrical charge. Like a bolt from heaven, it activated something in my head and guts. I caught up with the show when Lifetime was airing repeats in late-night, after discovering it in what must’ve been the fourth season on NBC. I watched it in the basement and wrote for hours afterward. It was nectar squeezed from the brains of actors and writers and directors and oozed out of my television.

After Neuromancer, David Simon’s seminal Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is probably the book I’ve read the most. I saw Homicide and immediately started brainstorming and writing my vanity RPG dream-project, Jovan, which I’ve been cultivating, pitching, redesigning and dreaming about for, egads, ten years now. It’ll probably never see the light of day. But I can watch any episode of Homicide I damn well please and enjoy the next best thing to completing a dream project — dreaming about it.

If you like this show, get this set. If you didn’t like Homicide, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Noise: “Woman on the Tier,” Suzanne Vega

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Robbed, While I Was in Fields

December 6, 2006

I would have only a couple of hours in San Francisco. For a long time, it’s been one of my favorite American cities. I can find plenty to do with a couple of hours in San Francisco, but this time I wanted to hunt down a couple of bookstores that I know the Wise Hite has recommended in the past. So I give him a call on my cell in Sacramento and he tells me where to go: Fields Book Store.

(By the way, Ken: Acorn closed down in October.)

The drive to San Francisco takes more than a couple of hours. Traffic is bad going into the city. It’s Saturday night. The night after Black Friday. We’re approaching six o’clock at night, the store’s closing hour. We’re not going to make it.

So I pull out the cell phone and see if modern technology can save us. I remember the URL of the Fields website, so maybe I can see if they have holiday hours or something. But the internet’s beats are weak on my phone. The site loads like shit. Technology fails.

So I make half a dozen calls trying to get the 411 operators on my service to get me the phone number for Fields. They can even send the data to me as a text message, it turns out, so I can keep it around. Technology succeeds.

So I call Fields and ask if he can stay open a few minutes, ’cause I’m in from out of town and would really like to spend some money in his shop before I fly back across the continent. He says, “I’ll be shelving books tonight anyway, so I can stay open considerably longer than a few minutes.” I want to kiss him over the phone, but we just met. I thank him, hang up the phone, and report victory to the wife and the mother-in-law, who are with me on this trip.

Then the fuel light comes on. We’re approaching the toll bridge into San Francisco, where traffic never dies. My mother-in-law says it’ll be fine. Twenty minutes go by. We reach the toll plaza, and the nice bloke in the convertible ahead of us seems to have paid our toll. Nice. “People,” we say, “turn out to be all right.”

The ladies drop me off on Polk Street to look for Fields while they drive off to get gas. With Fields’ information in a text message on my cell phone, finding it is easy. It’s a bright, clean store — an ideal example of the small store-front bookseller. I already love this place. Heading in, I thank the wonderful man who stayed open for me and toss a little credit at The Hite for recommending it.

“Oh, is that Prince of Cairo?” the man asks. I say yes. He nods with understanding, as all do who have watched The Hite buy books. I fear I may have made a promise by association to buy more than I am really able.

I’m focusing on Christian/pagan conflicts, Gnosticism, Roman Christianity and, of course, vampires on this trip. Unfortunately, I seem to have all the good vampire books on the shelf in the Mythical Beasts section. (This makes me proud and giddy — my library is coming along.)

The missus and the mother-in-law show up a little bit later, having fueled and parked the car, and I get the suspicious look of a wife who sees too much money about to be spent. I have a stack of books that I’ll never be able to fit into our luggage, not with the 50lb. weight restriction on the bags. “We can ship them to you,” the Fields Man says.[1] So we do that.

Afterwards, we head across the street for some pretty good Indian food. After the chicken tikka marsala Jeff got at Gen Con SoCal, I’d been craving it. Meanwhile, some dudes are jamming a crowbar into the passenger-side back window of my mother-in-law’s car.

I’m washing my hands in the Indian-restaurant bathroom, listening to the sounds of kitchens and accents coming from the air shaft through the open window. They’re bending back the crowbar, trying to pry a rubber-edged window from its place.

I’m thinking how much I miss this kind of city, with people living so close to each other, with windows sharing the same sound-swallowing air shaft, like an aural blender. They’re glancing over their shoulders at the people walking through the orange gloom at the nearby intersection.

I’m drying my hands, feeling wistful. They’re cussing as the safety glass of the windows gives way in its rubber grip and the hook of the crowbar smashes little tinted pebbles into the car and onto the street — so much for subtlety.

I’m flicking the light switch and shutting the bathroom door. They’re grabbing my worn-once backpack out of the car and hauling ass.

I eat chicken tikka marsala, I eat jasmine rice, I drink ice water. They eat the macaroons my mother-in-law put in the bag for me to eat on the plane. I pay the check. They put on my jacket. We head back to the car, hoping I won’t be late for my flight. They dump out the books and CDs I bought in Berkley and the DVDs my brother gave me in LA. We reach the car and find its window smashed into a hole, black glass spattered across the sidewalk. They pick out The Maltese Falcon, drop in the tray of their DVD player, and sit down on the couch with macaroons and weed.

“Your camera was in there,” my mother-in-law says, voice breaking. We both look at my wife. The camera pans. She’s clutching the camera bag to her chest. The camera is inside.

Assuming the insurance covers the busted window, I’m the only one who actually lost out in the robbery. It could’ve been worse: my luggage was in there, but probably too big to be pulled through the window in a hurry. So I lost some things I’d bought or been gifted during the previous eight days of travel, but I was buying books when it happened, so maybe I’d just reached some kind of ceiling on the amount of stuff I’m allowed to come home with and the cosmos was balancing it out. Whatever.

Here’s what I got at Fields, because I know you’re curious:

The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age by Frances Yates. I should’ve bought this book years ago.

Egil’s Saga, from the Penguin Classics series. I’ve been buying sagas and eddas a lot in the last couple of months. I’m way behind in reading them, though.

The Last Pagan by Adrian Murdoch. Most of my reading on Rome, prior to this year, has been about the Republic and the Empire prior to about AD 200. (My interest tends to jump ahead to the Dark Ages once Hadrian dies in AD 138.) This seems like a nice way for me to catch up on the period without losing some personal focus. Plus, the pagan/Christian conflict in here is just what I’m after.

The Secret Commonwealth by Robert Kirk. From the back cover: A facsimile of the 1933 edition of The Secret Commonwealth which was first published in 1815 – a classic, magical text written by Robert Kirk in 1691, discussing the hidden realms of Elves, Faunes and Fairies. Lots of new editions appear to be available now, but I didn’t know that when I bought this one. Still, I’m quite happy with it. From the prologue by Alan Richardson: “In 1692 Robert Kirk of Aberfoyle stepped bodily into another dimension. He has been heard and sensed many times since, and continues to pass on his wisdoms.”

The Rise of Modern Mythology, 1680-1860 by Burton Feldman and Robert D. Richardson, Jr. This is some kind of textbook or something. It’s terribly dry, but also a pretty solid survey, filled with quotes and citations that I’ll use to find other books in the future. Used, this thing was a cheap impulse buy.

The Cults of the Roman Empire by Robert Turcan. An obviously essential resource.

Malleus Maleficarum edited by Montague Summers. This is a 1970 hardcover reprint (not the Dover edition) of the 1928 edition of Rev. Summers’ translation and analysis of the infamous text. This is also the first copy of The Witch Hammer I’ve ever actually owned. It’s in awfully good shape, and I do enjoy the careful lunacy of Montague Summers.

Gnosis: The Nature & History of Gnosticism by Kurt Rudolph. Another survey book. I picked this one up mostly for its one-step-removed voice. This is a less a book of Gnosticism and more a book about it, including the history of its rediscovery.

The Gnostic Scriptures by Bentley Layton. A new, annotated translation of the essential text.

God Against the Gods by Jonathan Kirsch. I took this one with me on the plane and, while it raises some good questions, a lot of the material in here seems either obvious or biased, depending. Maybe Kirsch’s assumed audience and I just travel in very different circles, but he seems to think the reader will assume that paganism is still widely reviled or regarded as a malevolent faith. My experience has been that average folk regard paganism as being either harmlessly crazy or vaguely scandalous, but that most people don’t care or know enough about paganism to hate it with the zeal Kirsch seems to suppose. Still, I keep reading. Ask me later how this one is.


1. Brother, can they. I bought the books on Saturday. They shipped Monday and arrived less than a week later via media mail for less than $7 shipping. They came nestled in bubble wrap, with each book individually wrapped in crisp brown paper. Very classy.

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They Spell It Island, Over There

December 3, 2006

Hey, do you like looking at slideshows of somebody else’s trip to a foreign land? Do you like pictures of ice and snow and rocks? Have a fondness for motion blur and cemeteries? I know you do. That’s why my Iceland photo set is up over at Flickr now. Go and enjoy yourself.

You’ll even see a picture of this dress:

Bjork isn’t wearing it, though.

Noise: The Decemberists, “Human Behavior

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A Robot Walks Into A Bar

December 3, 2006

This is a little out of date now. We were laughing about these in Iceland, which it shocks me to realize was, like, three weeks ago. Anyway, if you like jokes about robot violence against mankind, then click on, friend. The next time I see you, you’d better be ready to do that knock-knock joke.