Athens in the 1980s

Athens, Georgia in the 1980s was known for being a hotbed of alternative music. The B-52s hailed from Athens. REM was from Athens. A host of other, lesser-known but well respected bands came from Athens. You could go to your choice of clubs around town, the best-known being the 40 Watt, and hear up and coming bands (and some not so up and coming — those were the ones who got to perform on Monday nights) any time you wanted. Someone eventually made a movie about the incredible Athens music scene, “Athens, GA, Inside/Out” which, unfortunately, doesn’t appear to be available for streaming anywhere, or I’d tell you to go watch it.

And there was, a student at the University of Georgia, having arrived in town just when the big push came to up the drinking age to 21. The US government mandated that states raise the drinking age; if they didn’t, the Feds would withhold federal highway funding. Grumbling, states complied. In Georgia, they raised the drinking age from 18 to 19 in 1984, then from 19 to 20 in 1985, then from 20 to 21 in 1986, one increment each year for three years, so those people who could already drink could keep on doing so but those who were just shy of being old enough … well, we got the shaft.

I know, I know, it was for our own good, but it really sucked as far as my social life was concerned. Most of my acquaintances at that time were a year or two older and could go to clubs where alcohol was served, or to the Georgia Theater (the “Carafe and Draft” at that time), but I couldn’t — even though two years earlier (were I the same age then) I’d have been able to. Some clubs let under-aged students in with a wristband or stamp on their hand, but others didn’t let you in at all. And in any event, being the kid drinking Coke when everyone you were with was pounding down one beer after another was really, really lame.

(But on the other hand, I was a whiny little loser that I doubt anyone much enjoyed being with, so if the “sorry, you’re underage, you can’t come in” thing hadn’t been a valid excuse, people would just have come up with another. Can’t blame ’em, really.)

But the long and the short of it was that there I was, in the absolute goddamn epicenter of college rock in the 1980s, and for the most part, I experienced it the same way anyone in any college town would’ve, via the radio.

UGA had a great campus radio station, WUOG (“The Last One Left”, due to its position on the FM dial) and if you kept your radio tuned there, you’d eventually hear everyone who was anyone in the alternative rock scene: REM, Pylon, Love Tractor, Berlin, the Smiths, Bauhaus, XTC, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Beat Farmers, the Dead Kennedys, the Butthole Surfers, the Circle Jerks, the Violent Femmes, the Cure, Depeche Mode, Shriekback, and countless others. WUOG is where I first heard “People Who Died” by the Jim Carroll Band. It’s where I first heard “Elvis is Everywhere” by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper.

Carole, for her part, missed out on all this musical wonderment by virtue of a) being three years younger than me, and b) going to college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Harvard. I assume there were alt rock stations in that part of the world, but evidently she didn’t listen to ’em. (She says “I was busy majoring in boys”.)

I put an “80s Alternative Rock” playlist on today during lunch and all these memories came spilling back. Each song that came on was an old friend to me but completely new to Carole. As we sat there eating, I wound up having to look up the lyrics to Berlin songs (“The Metro”, “Sex (I’m A)”, etcetera) for her, so she could follow along… and a bit later found myself explaining that saying “‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ (by Joy Division) is one of the best known alternative rock songs ever” isn’t oxymoron. As is my wont, I wound up going into much more detail than she really wanted or needed. So, finally, rather than attempt the impossible — catching my wife up on years of alternative rock history in the space of a meal — I simply had done with it and played her “Take The Skinheads Bowling” by Camper van Beethoven. (She loved it.)

That’ll have to do for now. 🙂

Hamburguesas con mantequilla de cacahuete

So I saw an article on Atlas Obscura about a legendary Missouri restaurant and its “guberburgers” — hamburgers topped with peanut butter.

Talk about “bringing back old memories”…

I spent eight months in a s___hole El Salvadoran jail between March and November of 2005. They fed us nothing but peanut butter slathered burgers, grilled medium well, on brioche buns. It sounds appealing at first, but after the second week we’d have cheerfully done anything — anything — for a salad, or fresh fruit, or some Big K grape soda.

The last two months were the worst. I spent those hallucinating conversations with a large, hairy tapir of some kind who kept promising me valuable investment tips but kept on raising the price I’d have to pay to get “the really good stuff”.

Finally they let me go when the local mayor (this was in Las Vueltas) needed the space to imprison his in-laws after a particularly ugly Carnaval de San Miguel party spun totally out of control. I was sent stumbling out into the alleys outside the prison with only a stick and a used VHS tape of “Air Bud 2: Golden Receiver” and left to fend for myself. When I finally made my way to the American embassy sixty miles away, on foot, I had lost most of my language skills and was only able to say “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was.”

TL;dr — peanut butter on hamburgers sounds appealing at first but can get old really quickly

WE JUST LIKE SIGNS

Vermont’s not doing much, election-wise, in 2019. We’ve got select board and school board voting and we’ve got to vote on town and school budgets, but this isn’t really a “wallpaper the area with campaign signs” year.

That said, there’re a few signs still up from last fall’s election cycle here and there around town, and Carole and I periodically comment to one another, speculating on how long it’ll be before the last one finally disappears. (Probably not until the new crop go up in late 2019 and early 2020 for the 2020 fall elections.)

I keep wanting to order up some signs of my own to put around town one of these years… just to mess with people’s heads. Something like this:

Double-sided yard signs with the wire frames for mounting on lawns and curbs and things are fairly expensive in small numbers. If you order more than 50 the price starts to really drop — $4.55 each for 50, $3.29 each for 200 or more, etcetera. That said, $250 for a random experiment in surrealism is kinda outside our budget, but I can still dream.

Jury Duty

Our local independent weekly newspaper has a column called “WTF” that attempts to answer questions about local weirdness (e.g. “what the heck is that weird building down on the southern end of Dorset Street?”). This week’s WTF question was “WTF: Why Are Some People Called for Jury Duty While Others Never Are?

I’m 51 and have never served as a juror.

I registered to vote when I turned 18. I was a freshman in college down in Georgia when I received a jury summons for service back in my home county in Virginia. I filled out the response form with “off at college, kthxbye” and that was that. Never received a peep since.

Carole’s never been called at all, in any way, shape, or form.

I’m 51, and she’s 48. Between the two of us, zip, zilch, nada in terms of juror service. Neither of us has ever not been registered to vote, so you’d think our number would come up now and then, right?

But hey, probability says situations like ours must exist (as the WTF article linked above explains). Knowing that doesn’t stop me from feeling kind of … I dunno, left out.

Admittedly, it would be kind of a headache if I did get called because my work involves very frequent travel scheduled far in advance, but at the same time, it’d be an interesting experience… for some definition of “interesting”. It’d be nice just to see what goes on.

On the other hand, I understand that it’s not uncommon to get empaneled, make arrangements to have time off and get day care and stuff, only to have the case in question get plea bargained. Everything gets plea bargained these days, or so I understand.

Still. Even if I got called to be a juror for a case involving jaywalking in a blizzard at 2 am on a Sunday and it got pled down to fourth degree mopery and dopery, at least then I could puff out my chest and say “I’ve done my civic duty.”

Wide Net

I’m like many of my peers in having a “wide net” that sweeps in all manner of trivia, facts, obscure details, and what-have-you and stores it away against a time when said knowledge will randomly come in handy. If you’re reading this and you know me, you probably have a pretty wide net as well. The people I know well all tend to have this in common.

I sometimes wonder, however, if mine is atypically wide — I have a bizarre set of interests that you don’t always find in the same brain. In the last 24 hours, I’ve been able to supply the names of two of the major players in the unification of Italy in the 1800s (Garibaldi and Cavour) and I’ve found myself using “DUUUVAL” as the meeting password to an online meeting with a customer located in Jacksonville, Florida. Sports geekihood and regular geekihood don’t always coincide.

Having such a wide net can be kind of a curse. Carole, who graduated from Harvard and who competed on Jeopardy nonetheless assumes that she can ask me virtually anything and I’ll know the answer. I’m her human Wikipedia. On those (admittedly rare) occasions when I don’t know the answer, she’s dumbfounded… and just asks again, much as one would rephrase a Google search that failed to find what you were looking for the first time. It couldn’t be that I actually don’t know … it’s just a matter of rephrasing the question so my brain will cough up what she’s looking for. When I tell her that I actually don’t know the answer, she gets vexed with me. “I don’t always know the answer, Carole” I say, and she says “Once in a blue moon, sure. But you usually DO.”

No, this isn’t a humblebrag. As I said, I know a lot of people with the same blessing/curse, the curse of knowing everything. It’s just kind of weird, is all. A lot of times I have literally no idea why I know something. Just that I do.

Update From The Front Lines

I spend almost all my time traveling for work — until this week I’ve been on the road every week so far this year: Texas, Texas, Texas, Arkansas, Texas. It gets lonely on the road sometimes, especially when I’m one or more time zones away from home and when Carole doesn’t get home until late due to rehearsals (choir and orchestra on consecutive weeknights).

So I get a little attention-starved now and then. And so once in a while I try to do or say something via email that will get Carole’s attention. (It’s awkward to send a telegram-like email that says “I AM LONELY AND ATTENTION-STARVED STOP PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO ME STOP”, so I have to use subtler methods.)

Last week I did this:

Carole wrote me this morning and told me that I should do a screen-shot and post it here. Apparently she found it amusing enough that she looked back at it days later. So, hey, I guess I can call that “success”.

Aloha

In a couple of days, I’m going to deactivate my social media accounts (again).

Q. Why?

A. I feel fairly guilty about the way in which I use social media.

I wish I could say I sign in to social media to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances, but that’s not really true. I mean, I’d love to know about the truly significant stuff, but the signal to noise ratio is so low that … well, I just don’t care enough to sort through it all. If something important happened in your life and you could have used my sympathy or support and I didn’t provide it, I’m sorry. I probably missed it completely.

Mostly, when you’ve seen me using social media, it’s been me engaging in attention-seeking behavior. And I’m embarrassed as hell to have to acknowledge that. I acknowledge that even the act of posting this is attention-seeking behavior. Why not just vanish, and say nothing? Well, I’m embarrassed as well about the prospect of just having done with it and ghosting the entire planet. I figured I should at least say why my accounts are going to go zot.

I care about y’all, but at the end of the day, the negative consequences of taking part in things like Twitter and Facebook and Instagram are seriously outweighing the positive. I’ll probably keep on posting to my blog at furrs.org — it’s kind of a way I keep track of my own thoughts and feelings… but it’s entirely up to you if you pay attention.

I acknowledge as well that this might be temporary, that I might be back in a month or two. For everyone’s sake, I hope not.

Thanks for everything. Be well.

RIP Russell Baker (1925-1919)

I hardly ever post regarding the death of a celebrity; I reason that sufficient other people will take care of the public fawning over the dear departed’s legacy. (And that, in any event, it bothers me that we seem to care more about the lives of famous people who we have no actual connection with than our actual neighbors.)

Today, I’ll make an exception.

Russell Baker, humor columnist, passed away on Monday at the age of 93. You can read the Washington Post’s write-up here.

Mr. Baker managed the nearly impossible task of being wryly funny in print, every week, for years and years. That’s not easy. I loved his dry sense of humor and his self-deprecation. I didn’t grow up reading his columns because our local newspaper, the Roanoke Times, carried Art Buchwald’s columns instead, but I discovered Baker once I ventured out into the world. His columns are worth looking up and reading.

But that’s not the main reason I’m posting here on the occasion of his death. I’m posting to honor the author of an essay so funny that it’s literally been hanging in my kitchen for decades: “Francs and Beans“. You may disagree, but I think it’s one of the funniest things ever written. And so I choose to honor its author by saying “Mr. Baker, thanks for the laughs. You made the world a better place by being in it.”

“You were immense.”

Snowpocalypse 2019 (January 20th edition)

So there was a big snowstorm overnight, with 18″ or more of snow falling here in Richmond, VT.

Okay, it wasn’t really a “snowpocalypse” in the sense of power going out and roads being impassable … mainly because it just never got windy. A quick check of the Green Mountain Power outage map just now showed everything A-ok.

To get real frustration, you need wind blowing drifts right back over roads that just got plowed, and wind bringing snow-laden branches down on power lines. What makes this latest storm stand out is that it’s below zero Fahrenheit, and anyone who lives in a snowy part of the continent knows that you don’t typically get big snow when it’s that cold. I suppose it must have been warmer higher up in the atmosphere.

It was cold enough out that we skipped the Women’s March in Montpelier on Saturday morning even though a friend of Carole’s was one of the scheduled speakers and we’d wanted to go hear and support her. Neither of us felt brave enough to go stand for a couple of hours in zero degree Fahrenheit weather and have to rely on porta-potties if and when the urge arose. I have visions of being frozen into one of those things, and I want nothing to do with that.

The approach of this storm scared people enough that businesses were posting “we’re closed until Monday” notices on Facebook on Friday night. Ditto for churches — we knew as of Friday afternoon that there wouldn’t be services today. That’s actually kind of rare. Mostly Vermonters just keep on going until the power goes out. But five degrees below zero AND snow falling at a rate of an inch or two an hour for twelve straight hours is enough to deserve at least a bit of notice.

We went around last night and double-checked all the windows and pulled down all the blinds. It was damn cold out and we wanted the warm to stay on the inside.

I went out yesterday afternoon before the snow really got going and raked the accumulated ten inches or so of existing snow off the roof of our new gazebo, then did a second pass today. Truth is, I have no idea how strong our new gazebo’s roof is, but I don’t want to find out the hard way that two feet of accumulated snow is beyond its design load.

Looks like it’s time to break down and go buy a proper snow rake with a long extensible handle.

As of 3 pm or so, the snow’s basically stopped and the main roads are all plowed and passable. The supermarket in Waterbury was open, though most small businesses were closed. We drove up to the Bolton Valley ski area, a couple of miles from our house, and the lifts were open and the parking lots were full. Good snow means good business! Unfortunately, they’d also had a water line breakage and at least one of their restaurants was closed. I’m sure they’ll cope.

Long story short, our house is now in full Santa’s-Workshop mode. Cue the yetis, it’s time for a party.

Photo Follies

I travel a lot for work. I have a smartphone. It has a camera. I’m often pretty bored.

The end result of all that is that I take and upload a lot of photos from my travels to the Google Maps photo repository. Google then uses them in location listings.

No one has to upload their vacation snaps and other photos to Google Maps. But once you choose to, Google tends to assume you want to keep on doing so and will send your phone suggestions to upload your most recent shots. As I said, I’m often pretty bored, so I’ve uploaded a lot of photos. I’m a Google Maps “Local Guide” Level 10 user, as a result.

And because I’ve uploaded so many photos and because I’m a Level 10 user, my photos often wind up being the cover photo of many locations on Google Maps (if the business or location owner hasn’t uploaded their own, that is). And that means that occasionally a shot I took in a moment of frivolity winds up being the public face of a theoretically reputable business or tourist attraction or whatever.

The most egregious example of this is the entry for the Friendly’s restaurant in Williston, VT.  Take a look. That photo at the top of some ranch dressing with rainbow sprinkles on top? That’s one of mine. I don’t know why, out of the dozens of photos I’ve taken at that Friendly’s that one wound up being the profile photo. But it did. And it’s been viewed (as of just now) 210,434 times.

And that’s not even my most popular photo. My top two are:

  • My all-time champion, with 508,723 views: A photo of a half pepperoni-and-black-olive/half sauerkraut-and-ham pizza Carole and I shared one night at the Marion’s Piazza in Oakwood, Ohio. Zillions of pizza photos have been uploaded to their Google Maps entry… but which one wound up as the profile photo? Mine. (In my defense, the ham-and-sauerkraut pizza was amazingly tasty.)

It’s a strange world we live in, my friends.