Friday, November 30, 2007

TicketMaster is the Devil

My girlfriend and I took some friends to the OZOMATLI show at the Fillmore last night. The show was pretty good (they're performances are starting to look a bit jaded), but the ticket service charge from Ticketmaster was outrageous. Tickets were $26.50 each, plus a $10 Ticketmaster charge, plus $3 for ordering tickets online. That's $13 each ticket just in addendum charges, practically half of the cost of the ticket. We bought four tickets, so we spent nearly $50 in extra fees. And on top of that, in order to buy the tickets online you have to give Ticketmaster your email account, and you have to consent to them using your email pretty much however they want (including adding it to their junk mailing list, and even selling it).

So basically Ticketmaster is the devil, and there's hardly any alternative to it. It was a Thursday show (Friday and Saturday were sold out), and our friends couldn't tell us if they could go until Monday. The Fillmore sells tickets for its shows at its box-office, but that's only open for a few hours on Sundays, and on the nights when they have shows. There weren't any shows going on until the night we went, so we couldn't buy tickets from the Fillmore directly (and to tell the truth, I'm not even sure if you can buy tickets for shows not happening the night you go to the box-office). We had no option besides Ticketmaster.

It makes me think of Pearl Jam, back during their early fame, fighting with Ticketmaster, and how that fight basically prevented them from being able to do any shows in the US for a couple years. Amazing that this monopolizing corporation had the power to shut down the most popular band of the day.

If Ticketbastard is the master, it relegates us to subservience.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The End of Books?

The November 26 issue of Newsweek has a cover article on Amazon's new product, a "digital book" called the Kindle. The article barely rises above a hype-spot, but the idea of an iPod for Books has captured my fascination. Turns out there's a technology called eInk that allows a screen to reproduce an image that's closer to ink on paper than any screen yet invented. Apparently eInk works by rearranging elements behind the glass, instead of projecting images with light, which makes it a lot easier on the eye, so you can read something of book-length without frying your irises. It also burns way less energy; one 2-hour charge is supposed to last weeks. The eInk screen isn't illuminated, so you have to read in a well-lit area, and it's only available in black and white so far. I hear it also flashes black each time you turn the page, which some people find disorienting.

This eInk technology isn't new, and there's already a few digital books out there, including a similar product from Sony called the Reader, but I hadn't ever heard about any of this before, so I'm guessing they haven't put as much marketing into it as Kindle's getting. Another unique aspect of the Kindle is that you can use it without a computer, and it's linked directly into the Amazon website; you can download a bestseller for $10 in less than a minute.

A lot of the hype has been directed toward winning over bibliophiles who fetishize the physical nature of books: the feel of the paper, the smell of the glue and ink. For me that's not really an issue, my love of the book is only a sideproduct of my love of the story. In a lot of ways the Kindle sounds cool to me: lighter and smaller than a book, able to store up to 200 texts (which is key for me, because I hate the bulk and clutter of a personal library), able to change the size of the font, and to search for words (probably useful if you can't remember who a certain character is in a longer novel). The key problem, and it's definitely a deal-breaker for me, is that the fucking thing costs $400. And then each book you buy is another $10. You even have to pay to read stuff that's normally free, like blogs and your own personal files. I barely even buy books at the bookstore--like one or two a year--because I hate shilling out twelve bucks for something I'll be done with in ten hours. There is no way I'd ever pay $400 for the right to spend $10 each time I want to read something new.

Which brings me to another topic: libraries are FUCKING AWESOME. The vast majority of the books I read come from the San Francisco Public Library, and they don't cost me a cent. I stopped by the library on my way home from work and picked up nine books I've been eager to read. Nine books! That'll keep me busy with great reading for weeks. And then when I'm done, I can take them back, so I don't have to have them laying around my shoebox apartment, taking up my precious space.

Whoever came up with the idea for libraries is a hero, if you ask me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reading at the Lab

I got an email yesterday from Gravity Goldberg, of Instant City, asking if I'd be willing to read for them at an upcoming event. I emailed her back saying I would. It took an hour for my heart-rate to return to normal after hitting the send button on that email. I don't like reading, it makes me extremely nervous, and the idea of reading to represent Instant City practically terrifies me. Plus, the venue hosting the event is printing up press releases and fliers for it, so that makes it seem like an even bigger deal. But I know how important readings are in this game, and being scared seems like a pretty lame excuse for turning down an opportunity. I just hope I don't make a complete ass of myself.

The reading's going to be held at the Lab, on Thursday, December 13, from 6 to 8 pm. Small Desk Press will be sharing the stage.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Playboy confirms the death of the book reader

My girlfriend is a total trash-tv junkie. She loves reality shows and pseudo-reality shows, and celebrity gossip wrap-ups, and other horrible stuff like that. A few months ago she quit her job and went for weeks spending upwards of 8 hours a day watching the worst that television has to offer. Now she has a new job and consequently can only dedicate two or three hours a day to her junk-tv habit, and she has to work hard even to achieve that much screen time. She has to multi-task to maximize her exposure to the televisions cathode rays, watching tv while eating breakfast or clipping her toenails or sleeping. She's an expert at time-management.

One of my girlfriend's current favorite shows is "Keeping Up with the Kardashian's," which is like a sci-fi reality show about an ass with a face attached to it. On a recent episode the ass with a face posed for Playboy. My girlfriend was curious about the pictoral, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to buy porn with my girlfriend's consent, so I went out and bought it.

As porn goes, Playboy isn't very exciting. It does have some decent articles in it, though, sort-of. There's a new Stephen King story in the issue with Ass-face Kardashian, so I'm looking forward to reading that. There's also an article about the shootings in Oakland, which includes the idea that white people should train black gangsters how to shoot, so the gangsters could kill their targets more effectively, with less innocent bystanders getting killed. I'm not kidding, the article really says that.

There's also the following statistic, which was printed in the Raw Data section: 27% of Americans did not read a book in the last year.

27%. That's more than 1 out of 4 people who didn't even read ONE book last year. Don't forgot that last year saw the release of some major bestsellers, including the final tome in the Harry Potter series. That book alone got more press than the ongoing Iraq war, and sold more copies than the bible. And even with a book like that weighing in, more than 25% of the population didn't read a single book.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Instant City Issue 5 Release

Last night was the release party for Instant City issue 5. I've got a nonfiction piece in it, and I went down to check the event out, as part of my ongoing endeavor to get more involved with the writing scene.

I'd been ignorant of the event until I stumbled onto mention of it on their website. Sort of took me by surprise, that internet notice, because I figured they'd send me an email to update me on the release of the issue, and when I didn't hear anything, I assumed nothing was in the works (Oddly enough, the same thing happened with issue two of NANOfiction, which is also publishing a piece of mine, and which had a release party the night before Instant City.) Maybe such notices were sent as bulk emails, and catagorized as spam by my yahoo account.

In the end I almost didn't make it. I'd been out drinking in bars the two nights before, and up early to work both days, so I felt pretty worn down come Thursday night. It was hard to get myself up off the couch.

I did though. Got off the couch, jumped onto my moto, and drove down there just in time to catch the start of the reading. Once I got there, the surprises continued.

First of all, there were more people than I thought there'd be, and they were older than I thought they'd be, and less trendy-hipster in appearance, and I recognized hardly any of them. Gravity Goldberg, one of the editors for Instant City, is involved (or was, at any rate) with the MFA Creative Writing program at SFSU, so I figured I'd recognize some people from my time in the Undergraduate program. And I did recognize a few faces (a few as in 3), but that was it.

The reading happened at Adobe Bookshop, which is a tiny used bookstore in the Mission District. I'd been there once before, to read in their "Here Comes Everybody" reading series, and even that event, which drew maybe 30 people, made the shop seemed crowded. With the Instant City party the place was packed, spilling out onto the sidewalk.

Before arriving at the event, I'd thought I'd introduce myself to Gravity and Eric (the editors), and I figured there might be the potential to be asked to read from my piece. Once I got there, I realized how unlikely the idea was. There were only four readers, all of whom had plenty of experience reading, and all of whom read on a regular basis at events throughout the Bay Area. Not a place for novices, such as myself. Once I heard the first reader loud-lisping his piece, flamboyant and unrattled, I knew I wouldn't have been able to deliver on a similar level, even had I been asked.

The second reader, Sarah Fran Wisby, was one of the three faces I recognized from SFSU. She turned out to be one of my favorite readers that night, reading from her piece on a double-amputee junkie burglar (sounds outlandish, but the piece was skillfully devoid of quirk or sentimentality).

The third reader was great too, despite my cynicism for white people writing from "black" perspectives. The guy's name was Richard J. Martin Jr., and his piece was an oral instruction on the art of the Three Card Monte. Clever, charismatic, and convincingly authentic--with only one or two awkward "whiteboy" comments.

The headlining reader had the kind of writing resume that makes newbie writers' balls shrivel up--publications in major venues like Esquire and the New York Times (if you get something in Esquire, you're getting paid serious dosh). Pretty big fish for such a small bookshop. He read a parallel piece--a guy in a bondage club thinking of an angry letter he recently received from a past acquaintance--that came to an impactful, if orthodox, conclusion.

After the reading was over, the jam-packed crowd started the process of disassembling itself, and filtering outside for a smoke (sort of like pulling a puzzle back to separate pieces). Waiting for the exitway to open, I exchanged a few comments with a guy that looked like the loudmouth on that Spin City show. When I asked if he liked the reading, he told me he liked "when words are put together." I wasn't sure if he was being clever, or stupid.

I stopped in the doorway, once it had cleared out, to look at the fliers on the wall. Another girl I recognized from SFSU, who'd ben a TA in one of my classes, chatted with me for a moment. She's always been friendly and nice, but I couldn't remember her name. She remembered mine, though, and said she was looking forward to reading my piece.

Like the rest of the store, the entryway is small. Standing there made me feel like I was getting in the way, so I walked outside. Big crowd milling on the street, and I only knew one face. A spark of embarassment and awkwardness burst into flame within me, making me feel hot, turning my face pink. I didn't feel solid enough, after the previous two nights, to brave an unknown crowd. So I shrunk away into the darkness of the night, got on my bike, and headed home.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

buy less live more

In the last post I talked about the obsession my co-workers have with buying stuff. I figured I'd follow up that post with another, because the shopping obsession of one co-worker in particular is turning out to be even crazier than I realized. He's been working a part-time job at Williams Sonoma, on top of the full-time position he has in my office, in order to get the employee discount. I'm guessing he averages upwards of 60 working hours a week. He sees a therapist once a week, and he's taking prescription anti-depressants, and he's still miserable. Yesterday he was feeling particularly low, ranting to another co-worker about how he thinks his roommates aren't pulling their weight in the household, and how the pills and therapy aren't working, and how he doesn't know what to do. At one point he yelled: "Oh god, I just want to go shopping!" (No joke.) At lunch he walked over to Williams Sonoma and bought three cookbooks and a margarita maker. The grand total of money in his bank accounts: $800. The cost of those books and the margarita maker: $380. And he says he doesn't even like margaritas; "Tequila is the devil's water."

This guy is using shopping like a junkie uses heroin.

It made me think of a favorite quote of mine, by Sterling Hayden. The quote was posted on the wall of the head on the Schooner Californian when I worked aboard her as a deckhand. It follows below.

"To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea... "cruising" it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

"'I've always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can't afford it." What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security." And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.

"What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.

"The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

"Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life? "

- Sterling Hayden (Wanderer, 1973)

[The organization that owned the Californian eventually went bankrupt and had to sell it, so maybe the quote should be taken with a grain of salt.]