Las Vegass


Radio silence last week was due to me being in Las Vegas for CES. It was a resoundingly successful trip if only because I managed to avoid last year’s sharfaganza. It was also successful because I gambled earnestly for the first time and actually enjoyed it. I stuck to the low bet 3 and 4-card poker tables, which are little more than slot machines with a dealer and cards, but it was exactly my speed. In one hand I went from being down $150 to being up $175, which was easily the coolest event of the week. When it was all said and done I went home down $15, so basically I paid $15 for a week’s worth of entertainment. Not bad’tall.

Originally, I started to write about how I have mixed feelings about Las Vegas. My point was that Vegas is a lot of fun, but it represents people and businesses at their absolute worst. The shameless desperation is palpable. But, as I am wont to do, what I originally wrote was flappy-headed and unnecessarily ranty. So whatever, the Vegas spectacle is worth it once every couple years, but it makes me sad for people. I will leave you with two things:

1. What happens in Vegas … is invariably recorded by untold numbers of cameras and microphones. And not just in the casinos. The streets are alive with recorders. Hell, even the cabs are equipped with cameras. Their precious city slogan is largely bullshit.

2. Look at these two pictures:

Road Hazard

Did anyone happen to lose their weird antenna looking thing in the middle lane of I-285 southbound just past Atlanta Road last night? No? Because the right rear tire of Gia’s car found it and it is available for you to pick up at:

555 You Owe Me Four New Tires Street
I Hate You, Georgia 30080

Full set here.

Short story short: I was driving to pick Pat up from the airport so he could give me his treatment and we could stay up until 6AM drinking beer and playing foosball like we’re frigging undergrads or some crap. Cruising along, la dee da, when I’m startled by a sudden BANG BANG, followed by a couple loud knocks in the right rear wheel well. The car starts pulling to the right and I hear a horrible rumbling from the back. Having a pretty good idea what’s going on, I drift into the e-lane AAAAAAAAAAAND we’re stopped. Based on the noises and pulling, I was nay surprised to see a super-flat right rear tire, so I set about changing while 18-wheelers whizzed past inches from my forehead. A couple minutes later I was finished (because I am a super hero) and back on my way.

Side note: I pulled off at an exit down the road to double check that I had tightened the lug nuts all the way. While I was waiting to turn off the ramp, I heard a loud crack like a small rock had hit the windshield. I looked at all the windows for cracks, saw none, and thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until I was at the airport that I noticed someone had shot my back window with a yellow paintball. I mean really. Who shoots cars with paint balls? Come on. Better than real bullets I suppose.

Today I took the car up to the tire place to asses the damage. This was where we discovered Posiedon’s trident up there sticking in the tire. These are the original tires, and as such, they have 34,000 or so mile on them. According to the sales guy and my owner’s manual, because the car has a delicate suspension and all-wheel drive, all four tires must be replaced at the same time or Tony Soprano will turn gay. I run over one little giant spike and all of a sudden we’re looking at not quite one thousand American dollars in repairs. I hope you’re not surprised because I’m not surprised at all. In fact, I was hoping this would happen. I’m taking a nap.

Widening the one-lane road between my face and my brain

One of the things about which I often catch myself flapping my lips is the fact that I read excruciatingly slowly. Constantly referencing this deficiency is very much a defense mechanism designed to make me appear less insecure about the fact that a 350-page book can easily take me over a month to read. “HAHAHA I’m such a slow reader, isn’t that hilarious? I know, right? HAHAHA let’s talk about beer now.” I don’t think I’m officially ADD or ADHD, but my attention span is short enough that reading long books is not something I naturally fell into at any age (unlike my wife, whose voracious appetite for literature could have been one of those lines on the screen in Van Halen’s video for Right NowEvery 12 seconds The Geester finishes a book). I just noticed … one of my other defense mechanisms is deflecting the conversation from how slow I read to how fast Gia reads. Hey, all this free talk therapy is like really helping.

I know what my problems are. When reading, I hear the voice in my head speak every single word as I’m reading it. This is quite simply the natural gait of my eyeballs and brainsludge. I can force myself to sprint, and I can actually read quite quickly when I focus, but just like inserting sprints into a long distance run in real life, it wears me out and ultimately makes me want to stop reading. My other, larger problem is that if I am not totally engrossed in what I’m reading, I get very easily distracted. I think this goes back to speaking every single word in my head. My brain can simultaneously speak every word and (what is usually the case) think about something completely unrelated. Result = Zero reading comprehension.

Through what I call brute force, but what is really just half-hearted discipline, I have gradually been increasing my frequency of leisure reading over the past couple years. I think finishing Kavalier and Clay may have been both a conscious and subconscious catalyst. Word got out that I finished it and I started receiving books as gifts, whereas before, family members would remark, “For Tony? No, he’s illiterate. Buy him a shirt. He likes wearing shirts I think.” I ended 2006 with a small stack of books to read, I hit the ground running in 2007, and several days before the ball dropped early this past Tuesday morning, I had completed 11 books in 12 months and started but not finished 3 or 4 others. Le Stack:

Rather than attempt something as tedious as even brief reviews of these books I will simply identify each in terms of what topping it would be on a pizza.

How The Hula Girl Sings – Joe Meno – Italian Sausage
You Suck – Christopher Moore – Pineapple
Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans (McSweeny’s Humor) – Dave Eggers (Ed.) – Kalamata Olives
Grab On to Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way – Bryan Charles – Grilled Chicken
Dishwasher – Pete Jordan – Roasted Garlic Cloves
I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell – Tucker Max – Overcooked farm-raised Salmon
In Persuasion Nation – George Saunders – Artichoke Hearts
One Man’s Wilderness – Richard Proenneke – Bacon (the thick kind)
Venus Drive – Sam Lipsyte – Red Pepper Flakes
The Mysterious Secret of Valuable Treasure – Jack Pendarvis – Sweet onions
Then We Came to the End- Joshua Ferris – Pepperoni … or cheese. Hell this one could be sauce or crust. Not that it needs my endorsement, but this book was freakin’ awesome. Anyone who has ever worked in an office should read it.

I have another small stack all ready to go for 2008, so here’s hoping my saint-like, diligent self-improvement continues. The stack above is a pretty good cross section of what I like to read. I will thank you to leave recommendations (and corresponding toppings) in the comments.

DIY Lunch

One of my favorite styles of restaurant is the do-it-yourself stir fry slash Mongolian Grill setup. I was first introduced by Dave when he took me to Chang’s for lunch while we both worked in the same cube farm way back when. A few months ago, a coworker introduced me to The Real Chow Baby on Howell Mill Rd at 11th across the street from Slice. It has since become an almost weekly lunch locale for me and my fellow cube monkeys. I don’t have the time or energy for a full restaurant review other than to say that Chow Baby is doing almost everything right. The main reason for this post is to inform you that I AM VERY GOOD at Mongolian Grill. No, I mean very good. Behold, The Tony Bowl:

Noodles (Lo Mein or Soba or whatever isn’t fettuccine)
Snow Peas
Sliced fresh jalapenos
Red Bell Pepper
Minced Garlic
A bunch of cilantro
Chicken (with ~1TBof the spicy chili sauce)
Two ladles of Lime Ginger Basil sauce.

If you work in Midtown or downtown and have access to a car for your lunch break, a trip to Chow Baby is definitely worth it, but get there early. If you’re in the door anytime after say 12:15, you’re going to have to wait for a table AND wait in a helluva long line for food.

(The proprietors of Chow Baby will wince when I say this, but if you can’t get your lunch brigade mobilized in time, redirect yourselves up to Hot Stix in that new development at Lindbergh (the one with the Taco Mac). It is so similar to Chow Baby I can’t help but think of McDowellss from Coming to America when we eat there. I still prefer Chow Baby when we plan ahead, but Hot Stix is a worthy backup option.)

That's more like it

GOOD THING ILLINOIS AND HAWAII GOT TO PLAY IN BCS GAMES!! THAT’S AWESOME, GUYS!! Obnoxiousness aside, it would be super sweet if there was some sort of accountability at the BCS when matchups result the way the Rose and Sugar Bowls did. Like, as I type this, several people at the BCS building should be sitting in the boss’s office getting their asses chewed. Better yet, it should just go without saying that those responsible for the selections should simply clean out their desks when games result like those yesterday. “Look, Johnson, I am a huge supporter of innovation and thinking outside the box, but MAN did you blow it on the Rose Bowl. And Hawaii? What? The thing to remember when thinking outside the box is that the box exists for a reason. Anyway, let me know if you need a reference or anything.”

For New Year’s, Gia and I ate at M&T with our pals Mark and Dana. Then we retired to the house where, after the ball dropped, Gia and Dana promptly fell asleep while Mark and I stayed up until almost 5AM playing Trivial Pursuit.

Yesterday, I gave SeƱor Chainsaw his first real workout on the oak pile. That saw is a champ. The chronology:

From this:

To this:

To this:

After getting everything cut to appropriate length, I split wood for about an hour before realizing, “Hey, I was up until 5AM last night. I am suddenly concerned I might miss one of these logs with the maul and chop my own leg off. I bet the couch feels good to sit on.”

And now I’m back at work. Which is totally awesome. Seriously.

Newest addition to the family

The nature eraser family.

My affinity for items / processes firewood related is thoroughly documented on this site. Despite all that, I’m not some sort of obsessive collector dork. Here’s my dealio: Who doesn’t love having a nice crackling hot fire when the weather turns bitey? I just happen to find the additional step of gathering and processing the firewood extremely satisfying. Paying money for wood and then lighting said wood on fire is, to put it mildly, fucking retarded. Why not just take the money you spent on the wood and light that on fire, hmmm? Think about THAT for a second. I’ll wait.

I’ll try to keep this short. A couple weeks ago, a strange little man in suede knee-high boots collapsed a very large tree in our yard. During this transaction, our conversation came upon firewood. I said something like, “Boy howdy, I shore bet you come across a whole messa good firewood logs,” or whatever. He said, “I’m cutting down an oak on Monday. You want it? I’ll cut it down and bring it over, but you gotta split it up.” Of course I fucking want it, man, but make sure you cut into meticulously even fireplace-sized logs, kthnks. Or something to that effect.

To be honest, I forgot about the oak firewood as soon as dude left. It scarcely entered my mind until a few days later when I came home to find this at the end of the driveway:

Upon closer examination, it became plainly obvious that these logs were decidedly not fireplace length. In fact, he had basically delivered a giant pile of garbage at the foot of my driveway. There were three, maybe four good trunk logs and the rest was weird limbs and undesireable bits. Oh, and every single piece was covered in a decade’s worth of ivy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the person who had this tree removed decided simply cutting the damn thing down was far easier then dealing with the ivy. This is the world in which we live. At first I was pissed, but after I discovered a reasonable amount of usable wood in the pile, I rationalized the mess by reminding myself that he brought all of this to my house without my help and it cost me exactly $0.

After a couple moments of rationalization I realized, not only was I decidedly not pissed, I was actually quite happy about this pile of someone else’s yard debris now resting in my yard. It meant I could finally justify a chainsaw of my own. Why not just borrow the Duke’s saw like I have until now? Because, according to the Duke, after years of being brought back from the dead, that old 1970s McCulloch has finally gone to the brush pile in the sky.

I never like to cheap out on tools because it invariably bites me in the ass, but a new saw of reputable make with enough gonads for what I want to do starts at about $325. Right after Xmas = not gonna happen. Home Depot has a 42cc Poulan for $100, but I’ve read they’re prone to breakage, and having a reliable source for service and parts is key. Chainsaws require a lot of tinkering, futzing, sharpening, maintenance, etc. Home Depot is not this source. The Ace Hardware two miles from my house IS this source, but they are a Stihl dealer and, as I mentioned, a new Stihl is going to run almost four hunskies.

As a compromise, yesterday I gave $150 to Joey-in-Canton-whom-I-met-on-craigslist and in return he gave me a used Stihl 025 (which Stihl recently renamed the MS 250). I took it straight to the Ace Hardware for a makeover, which is a good thing, because it turns out Joey had managed to fit a 67-tooth chain on a 68-tooth guidebar thanks to the chain being re-he-he-heally stretched out. In addition to the chain, it needed a new spark plug, an air filer cleaning (which I can now do myself), and I picked up a bottle of chain oil.

Long story a tad bit longer, I was now eager to tackle this pile of sheet. Behold, used greatness:

The first step was to separate the wheat from the chaff as it were. I lucked out here because the ivy was so tangled up with itself the majority of it came off in big stiff chunks. It could have been much, much worse.

And this is what I was left with:

I got about four cuts in and the rain picked up forcing me to quit for the day. Today we’re going to have a late Xmas of sorts with my family, so you bitches will just have to wait for the final product. But I’m excited. Are you excited? Because I’m excited.

Up a tree

The doorbell rings. I was deep in a mid-morning dream that I am in a grocery store somewhere in California. The store has just made a surprise announcement that for the next 2 hours, everything in the store is free. Grab it and leave with it. I ponder the possible business motivation behind such a move. Just as I decide the most plausible explanation was likely an attempt to grossly simplify the early year inventory process, I realize I had better start grabbing stuff or I would soon be standing there grabbing my junk because that’s all that would be left. I overhear someone confirm that, “this shit includes alcohol.” I run to the beer section. There is some dust and cardboard scraps where once stood a sizable Sierra Nevada Celebration display. A good bit of assorted beer remained but it was going quickly. Be cool, Tony, but damnit, Tony, think fast. Only grab what you can’t buy back in Georgia. But wait, shit, whatever you grab you either have to bring back on the plane or ship via UPS/FedEx ($$$). Worry about that later. Though, I wonder if they have some crude luggage for sale that no one has grabbed yet. Ooooo, I’ve never seen that one before. I wonder if it’s any good. Shit, I wonder if you can get it in Georgia. Can’t take that chance. Just find something you know you can’t get, grab as much as you can carry, and let’s go. What is this? What is all this? I’VE NEVER HEARD OF ANY OF THESE!! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DECIDE?!?! Was that the doorbell? Where am I?

Oh, I’m in bed.

I was in bed. It was Saturday morning, about 9:00am, and the door bell had just woken me up. I got out of bed, threw on some pants and a T-shirt and went to investigate. There was a wiry little man with a beard standing on the front porch, smoking. I threw open the door looking very much like he had just woken me up and wearing my best you-have-now-jeopardized-my-Saturday-morning-this-better-be-fucking-incredible look. Oh look, he’s wearing knee-high suede Robin Hood boots. Heh.

Background: A couple months ago my next door neighbor Joe and I were standing on our property line talking about our respective castles. At some point, Joe informed me that he had recently had three trees removed from his backyard. I told him I had a very large tree of my own that needed to come down. He told me what he paid for his three-tree dance party (shockingly cheap) and that he had one more tree to remove at a later date. I told him to make sure to call me when that time came and I’d add my tree to the project.

Fast forward to Saturday. This nice gentleman was on my front porch at Joe’s recommendation to look at my tree. “Meet me around back.” He gave about a thirty-second glance and quoted me a price that was about 70% less than what we had mentally braced to absorb. He was coming back on Monday to tackle the neighbor’s tree, so standing there shoeless, in flannel pajama pants, having only been awake for about 6 minutes, I said, “Great. Let’s do it.” He told me since he wasn’t doing Joe’s project until Monday that h’ed just take care of mine right then. I stared at him blankly for a pregnant second while I pondered how quickly I had gone from having an anxious moment of option paralysis during a riot at an unnamed West Coast supermarket in my head to standing on my back porch with a bearded, Robin-Hood-booted hillbilly talking about rope and chainsaws. I was still not 100% sure whether or not I was actually awake, and here I was committing a few hundred dollars (having done zero research) to a messy, dangerous home improvement project that was set to start right. fucking. now. As I turned to head back inside I said, “Yeah, sure. Knock yourself out.”

He had a buddy with him and the two of them set about setting up various ropes and chains and straps. There was a lot of looking up. Some pointing.

We were out of coffee and, since I was the most out-of-bed and assembled, it was decided that I should head out and get us some coffee. My love of all things tree-felling and chainsaws and firewood is well documented on this website and I was looking forward to seeing how these two guys were going to tackle this project. The tree in question is nothing at which to scoff. It’s a gigantic pine tree (80-100 feet high) situated about 20 feet from the back of the house. If it fell toward the house, we would be the proud new owners of two smaller, much draftier houses. I got in the car and headed to the coffee shop.

I pulled back into the driveway about 15 minutes later to see Robin Hood bundling up his main rope. Huh? I got out of the truck, walked to back fence, and saw that It was over. I had missed the whole thing. They dropped the top 40-50 foot section straight back away from the house and then dropped the rest of the trunk in two large 20-30 foot sections also away from the house (duh). His buddy had the chainsaw and was sectioning the trunk into smaller pieces and limbing the top section. And that was it.

We had talked about taking that tree down since we bought the house four years ago. Here it is barely 10:00am, I’m standing there with a cup of coffee, still not sure if I’m awake or not, and it was done. Beard boots motioned that this is the part where I pay him, and I hesitated because the whole thing was so anticlimactic I was trying to decide whether or not we had been scammed.

I knew before we started that we would be faced with a mammoth clean-up job. Part of the reason for the cheap price was that he would cut the tree down, chop it into smaller pieces, and then leave. He offered (for extra $$) to have his crew move it to the street for us when they come back on Monday. Simply writing another check gave me an uneasy, lazy feeling, so I told him we’d give it a shot ourselves. The Geester and I wrestled with the colossally large trunk pieces for a couple hours and managed to get 15 or 16 of them out to the street. We also started a pretty good pile of branches at the street before it started raining. Today, I finished cleaning up the main crash site and piled the rest into a single mountain in the backyard. Tomorrow I will happily engage the hillybilly’s crew to finish the job, at a discount of course.

I know, exciting, right?

Listen to this

In order to continue my recent streak of addressing prevalent blogosphere topics a couple days after the intertubes have reached total saturation, I will now tackle the issue of “Year’s Best Albums.” I don’t listen to nearly as much music as I would like. I wear the iPod at the gym (whee), but I usually rely on old standbys in that environment. I can’t crank it or wear headphones at work because I sit in a cube farm and I’m almost constantly in meetings or on the phone. I actually did my best music discovery while sitting on airplanes this year.

I have chosen to post a list not because this year was a particularly strong year for music releases, or because I think anyone cares particularly which albums tickled my nuts more than others during 2k7. Those of you who would like these records are probably already familiar with them. If not, then you suck. What’s up there, sucky?

No, I have decided to throw my list into the mix simply because I am surrounded by Best of 2007 lists seemingly written by deaf Germans who have been cryogenically frozen since 1988. Jesus Facebooking Christ you people listen to some garbage. Yeah, you. All of you. I am boxed in on all sides by idiots. I hate the internet.

In reverse alphabetical order by the second letter in each album title:

MaseratiInventions for the New Season
I have long been a huge fan of Jerry Fuchs’ drumming and this album simply reinforces the fact that I have fucking awesome taste in everything. If you have a plane ride any time in the near future, take this one along to escape. I don’t like it so much for exercising, but I see how some people could. These guys are from Athens and I met Matt at Corndog-o-rama this summer, but I’ve yet to see them live. Bitches.

PelicanCity of Echoes
I keep letting this record slip through the cracks, but every time it comes back around I’m all like, “Dude. Awesome.” As a result, I’m not nearly as familiar with it as with the others, but I’m including it anyway because I’m all like, “Dude. Awesome.” The fact that the two records at the top of the list are both instrumental is pure coincidence and should be ignored. Aside from City of Echoes, the other great thing Pelican produced this year is their Golden Girls T-Shirt printed in gold ink. Which I also own. God, I’m awesome.

Battleseses’ first two EPs were a tad bit hard to get into for me what with all the math and the noise. But Mirrored is far more accessible, which translates into far more listens by slopey-browed rubes like myself. My favorite part of this record is the balance between free-form, math nerdery and galloping grooves. Usually the nerdery leaves everything choppy and disjointed, but Mirrored is like having warm maple syrup poured over your naked body while Pee-Wee Herman plays saxophone in another room. Yeah, that’s the stuff.

High on FireDeath is This Communion
I got into HoF last spring and Death is This Communion is the only record of theirs I have. Marty insists Blessed on Black Wings is better, so I should probably check it out along with the rest of their catalog. Looking over the list, this is really the only record I picked up (aside from Botch’s American Nervoso re-issue) that the Geester flat out refuses to listen to while in the car. Ugh — I’m getting all soft and old.

Chuck RaganFeast or Famine
Do I still wish Hot Water Music was together and Chris and Chuck had big huge beards and they were making records like Fuel for the Hate Game and Forever and Counting and playing Atlanta three or four times a year? Of course, dummy! But people grow up and bands break up and now Chuck is living in Northern California with his wife making gruffy, folksy, bluegrassy, Americana rock and that’s fine because it is awesome. Go and get this record, you doofus. He already has another one recorded (Bristle Ridge, recorded with Austin Lucas), so you’ve got some catching up to do.

Arcade FireNeon Bible
This is the one softball on my list. My main gripe with most of these music lists is that they’re chock full ‘o music that, while not “bad” by any stretch, has been hammered into my face by everyone at every turn all year long blah blah blah. OH, RADIOHEAD HAS A NEW RECORD OUT?!?! AND THEY’RE LETTING PEOPLE DOWNLOAD IT FOR WHATEVER THEY WANT TO PAY?!?! WELL POOP ON SHOES I’M GOING TO DOWNLOAD IT TWICE!!! I just get so jaded so quickly when everyone squirts pee-pee into their undies about all this low-hanging fruit. Everyone shut the fuck up about Radiohead already. See what you did? How did an Arcade Fire review end up being about Radiohead? AAARRGH!! Neon Bible is a really really great record and everyone on Earth agrees so just give in already. I did. I watched their Austin City Limits performance on the DVR last night. It’s great. I wish I would have seen them live on this tour.

Other music released this year that I liked but didn’t listen to enough to list included: Animal Collective, Deerhoof, Dr. Dog, Dan Deacon (live), Robert Plant / Alison Krauss, Spoon, and Wilco.

The end.