April 2007

At 5:30am on a Sunday, all activities are specialized activities. No one is just up and about for the sake of being up and about. I played blackjack at Katastrophes’ and Mr. Pink Eyes’ place last night, rustled Pants Wilder and The Boyf into the car around 3:30am and drove them home; The Boyf started a pot of coffee for me when we arrived at 4am and then trundled off to bed. At 5:10 I took a shower and changed clothes and at 5:30 I was driving down 55 wondering if the other cars were people up early or up late and further wondering which would apply to me.

I hit the Bojangles drive-through and noticed something interesting: every other vehicle in their parking lot was a truck pulling a fishing boat.

Every single one.

A chicken biscuit and a large Diet Coke later, I was noticing that there was no one else on 54 West as I headed towards Target. I pulled up in their parking lot by 5:50 and thus was there just in time for the morning shift folks to start pulling up and the night stockers to start heading out. I sat in the car and played Gameboy and smoked a cigarette and watched the sky start to get purple around the eastern edge.

At 6:00am a guy who looked completely cracked out strolled up to the doors of Target, pulled out an aqua-green Gameboy and sat down on the ground. I got out of my car and walked over near him and did the same. “Oh, I guess you’re #1 in line,” he said. “I saw you parked over there when I came in and wondered if you were here for a Wii.”

“Yep,” I nodded. I’d had coffee and now soda but I was feeling the pull of the long night. “I can’t believe I’m here this early. I went to a party last night and I’ve not slept.”

“Me neither,” he said. “I went to a party and just stayed up.” We chatted briefly, then a friend or roommate or something of his showed up and joined us.

“I don’t want a Wii,” the friend said. “I’m just here for moral support.”

A few minutes after, a middle-aged dumpy guy rolled up in a pick-up. He was there to buy one for his son’s college graduation present. A man and his twelve-year-old daughter showed up shortly after. Then a woman in her 50’s who expressed stunned surprise that she was doing this to get a video game system for her 20-year-old son. Then a guy and a girl in their pajamas. Then a woman who said her boyfriend couldn’t believe she was doing this for a videogame. Then a well-dressed young woman whose boyfriend had clearly only shown up with her because he was going to catch hell if he didn’t. Then more people. Then more.

By 8am, when the manager had handed out numbers and we’d formed a more-or-less orderly line, there were sixteen people there to get a Wii and the store had eighteen Wii’s to sell. “Those last two,” the manager said with a shake of his head, “They’ll be gone in thirty minutes.”

Today, by chance, is the release day for some new model of the Xbox 360, somehow fancier than the normal one. “Anyone here for the Xbox?” the manager asked. One guy put up his hand, then looked around and asked of the rest of us, “Am I the only idiot who thought there’d be a line for the Xbox? Shit.” That got a laugh.

“A friend of mine who works at Best Buy said he thought people might be showing up early for it there,” one of my linemates replied.

On my way out of Target I drove past the Best Buy and there were two people in front of it. They were employees.

I got a Wii. I just finished running all the system updates on it. Now I’m going to try some games. When I got home this morning at 8:30, The Boyf called out as I climbed the stairs to our bedroom. “How’d it go?” he asked.

“Success,” I said, “But now I’d like to do that thing where I lay down and close my eyes.”

OK, so the title is a joke only gotten by those who knew the phone number of Compound X. Sue me.

I have a hot tip on a place that’s getting a shipment of Wii’s tomorrow morning. I am going to be there at the crack of dawn to try to get one. I’m trying to get Pants Wilder to go with me. Tonight, however, I’ll be playing cards with Busty O’Lipp to send her off right on her big move to Parts West. I will probably have a couple of cocktails in the process of this. All of this is potentially going to make for an unpleasant experience trying to get a Wii – or will it? I’m not sure that being in line at the crack of dawn to buy a Wii can be made worse by the after-effects of a couple of drinks. I think it might help. Heck, I might take a couple of drinks with me.

Also, The Boyf is off at the store getting the last of what he needs to make salsa and I need to try a red velvet cake recipe. Fingers crossed!

Does the fact that I don’t really see the problem with this local guy’s approach to picking up dry cleaning say something bad about me?

Could it possibly be more beautiful today? I would have a hard time being convinced of that. I am blogging from the back porch because the very thought of going inside kind of hurts me.

The grass is cut, the kittens have been to the vet for their annual checkup and boosters and such. We are under orders to change their feeding habits immediately. I can’t even really talk about how fat the cats are. Oh my sweet heavens. Otherwise, they’re in perfect health and the assistant was extremely impressed with their teeth. We even got a tutorial on claw-trimming and picked up some legit trimmers while we were there. Though the boys yelled the whole way there and the whole way back, they’ve long since forgotten the ordeal entirely. As I write this they are piled up in the sunny spot on the kitchen floor. Life is pretty good today.

So, here’s the deal with Amtrak: it is a fresh, exciting way to experience new and invigorating problems with commercial travel. If you tire of the annoyances of flying, give the train a try; its annoyances will at least be a change of scenery.

In truth, I actually enjoyed the train a great deal. I kind of wish I’d driven, but only kind of. I kind of wish I’d flown, but only kind of. My main beef with the train is that it was 2 hours late both going up and getting back. Once I was on it, it ran exactly on time; getting to me so that I could get on it, however, was another story.

Even that, however, is something I suspect I could largely have avoided by taking a different train. The one I took was the Silver Star, which runs overnight from Miami to New York (or vice versa). In either direction it has numerous opportunities to get its schedule all fucked up way before it ever gets to me. All weekend, and for days before, the Carolinian (which does a shorter overall jaunt but takes slightly longer to arrive) ran precisely on time. I think I want to take the train to DC again, the next time I go, but I want to take the Carolinian and see how it compares.

In fact, it’s easy to imagine that a lot of the annoyances of the train might be solved by taking the Carolinian: it has a business class car, meaning even more comfortable seats, personal power outlets, the possibility of not having a seat-mate, etc. It stops more frequently, meaning more leg-stretches. It runs at a later hour of the morning, meaning less annoyance about showing up at the station on time to find out the train is running two hours late. Given the tremendous distance covered by the Silver Star, I realized later, it tends to be packed and I imagine the Carolinian may be less traveled.

That said, there were some pretty awesome things to be said for the train. Napping: good. Gameboy when awake: awesome. Having a cocktail: equally awesome. Having a hot breakfast in the dining car: cafeteria food at best, but gods was I hungry and a sit-down meal was right there. Comfortable seating in coach, with two foot-rests and enough leg room to cross even my 6’3″ self’s legs? Check! I was kind of stunned at how comfortable the seating was, to be honest. Reclining seats that really recline! I approve!

Overall, the thing I liked best: traveling by train is a much more honest cross-section of society than flying or driving. Also, there’s a lot more people-watching to do.

The one observation that really stood out for me, though, above all, not as a value judgment but just as, you know, something surprising: the complete absence of security hassles. When I checked my bag in DC, on the way back, they asked if I had anything perishable or breakable.

That was it.

No metal detectors, no taking my shoes off, no standing in line for two hours. To be honest, if I’m going to spend two hours sitting around waiting to leave I’d rather spend them playing Gameboy and sitting down than standing around holding my shoes and waiting for the TSA to finish fisting the granny in front of me. As a result of this, I am now convinced that anyone who ever gets caught trafficking drugs within the United States is a certified idiot. Amtrak is just sitting there, waiting to not give a shit what you bring on the train. They have bigger concerns, like trying to make up two hours between Raleigh and DC in the middle of heavy rains and winds with a bunch of “slow orders,” as the conductor called them, in between.

Kasparov? Seriously, could the Russian government be more stupid? He’s a chess champion, he knows how to play games of strategy and he counted on being photographed and videotaped getting arrested and going off to jail healthy. The Russian media is almost entirely state-controlled or effectively so (an enormous percentage of it is owned by oligarchy Putin-loyalists); yes the story there is undoubtedly spun as That Troublemaker Kasparov or perhaps What Happened To Kasparov That He’d Do This but either way they do have to report it. There’s no way they can just be silent about it. With one protest he managed to force the Russian media to talk about the government cracking down on a protest against government crackdowns, force the media to talk about Kasparov being arrested in the street for speaking, personally demonstrated to any on-lookers what he was saying the government was doing and gotten headlines worldwide.

What’s funny to me about this is how some of the Russian media is couching it all in “well, they gave him a permit to protest, he just didn’t get the square he wanted so he took over a different one!” Um, yeah, about that? He applied to hold an Other Russia protest in Pushkin Square. Pushkin Square is, as the linked article notes, the busiest square in Moscow. Everyone would have known about that protest because practically everyone would have seen it. The place where the authorities told him he could have it, Turgenev Square? Well, let’s discuss it this way: if you look at a map of Moscow, the central part of the city is a rough circle about 5 or 6km across. The Kremlin is more or less in the center. The White House – the parliament building – is at 10 if you look at the map as a clock face. Pushkin Square is at 10:30 or 11:00. Turgenevskaya is at 1:00 1:30. It’s not just a different square, it’s roughly 60 degrees around the arc described by the road that encircles downtown.

Oh, and Turgenevskaya is not noted for how busy it is. It’s noted for its metro stop and a statue of a dog.

Interestingly, on the other hand, the dog in question is from a story by Turgenev; the dog is the faithful companion and only friend of a deaf, mute peasant. Eventually the peasant drowns the dog on the orders of a heartless member of the gentry who has been mildly annoyed by its barking. I can’t help but think that whereas in America we quietly acquiesce to orders to hold protests in “Free Speech Zones” miles from the objects of those protests, Kasparov looked at the assigned location for his protest and thought, “No, not this dog, thanks.”

I am writing this on Thursday evening but timing it to go up on Friday. By the time this is posted I will be relaxing in DC on a short-notice, surprise weekend vacation. In reality I’m going up to visit Deadblob before he and his wife move to Paris for two years.*

I’ll have access to email but NOT to the email associated with this site. Thus, if you wish to reach me, you should email me at michael at metalab dot unc dot edu; that forwards into my Gmail so I’m reachable anywhere at that address.

I’m taking Amtrak on the recommendation of a number of people and against the forebodings of a couple of other people. Fingers crossed, gentle reader; I’m arriving at the Raleigh train station at 5am on Friday and I really don’t want to deal with a bunch of stupid shit.

*There will be a small box at the door in which you can deposit your envy as you leave.

I’ve had allergies for three weeks. They’re not as bad now as they were, by any stretch. They were, well, terrible. I couldn’t breathe. The Boyf literally had to sneak decongestants into my usual work paraphernalia to get me to end up at work with medication that would make it tolerable for me. I am the luckiest man on the planet, I am here to tell you.

The rain has helped to sort out a lot of my allergies because damn but that pollen has been knocked right out of the air. On the other hand, the weather is kind of cramping some of my various styles: the plants in the flower bed next to the back deck, true to my prediction, bloomed and died very early. The dogwood out front is looking a little rough around the edges. I was going to take an outdoor digital photography class in DC on Saturday, using the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin as the focus, but it’s been canceled and Deadblob tells me I’m not missing much because the weather there has pretty much wrecked the cherry blossoms. Still, breathing! It’s a nice thing to do.

I talked to my dad on Monday evening and found out he’d had the worst allergies of his life this spring. I stopped, after, and thought about his health – triple bypass, colon cancer he survived, etc., etc. – and I consider my own health history compared to his. We both smoked into our thirties. (I still do, but I think I really do want to quit now.) I inherited the weird, very slight tremor in my left arm from him. I inherited my allergic reactions from him. He, too, had better-than-perfect vision (that went away at 35 and thus I, at 32, need to schedule my first regular eye exam). His left shoulder gave him trouble all his life and finally required surgery when I was in high school; the other morning I awoke with my left shoulder giving me fits and prayed that I’d just slept funny. Then, the big ones: he had colon cancer in his fifties and my doctor told me years ago that I would be given my first colonoscopy at 40; he had two heart attacks in his early 60’s and had a triple bypass four years ago.

Add to this all the little behaviors and tics that lead me to realize that when I talk about the persona I call “Work Michael” – the version of me that just wants to get some bitches out of his face and get paid already – I realize that it is largely a manifestation of the work persona my father adopted throughout his career and that what I call “Fun Michael,” the code-switched side of me that’s just laid back and wants to relax and have fun and laugh and tell stories is the persona my father presented at home, eager to enjoy every moment of relaxation he could scrounge out of life. They say we turn into our parents but Jesus H. in the sunshine I didn’t think we really turned into our parents.

So here I am, thinking about his health and my health and the many ways in which mine has tracked along with his and could track along with his and all the little ways I’ve mimicked him and even as I prepare to hit “publish” and go outside for a smoke I am thinking that this has to stop. I have to learn the lessons of his mistakes. I have to live better than he has. Otherwise, what’s the point?