If you know M and I...

...then you may find this week's edition of Unsportsmanlike Conduct to be to your liking.


Reading material

I just finished a pair of books that couldn't have been more opposite. Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End was the perfect book to read over Xmas "break" at the "in-laws". Ferris (it turns out he was born in Danville) writes of a Chicago ad agency in the post-dot-com bust. The company is going under quickly, and the staff is left to deal with the fallout. For me, the subject is very personal, as it currently describes my professional situation well. But the book is far more funny than my day-to-day work life ever could be. In many ways, this book is the perfect marriage of Mad Men and The Office. For those of you longing for either show's return, buy this book now.

I really enjoyed this novel, from it's unique first-person plural narration to the anecdotal storytelling approach. On the latter point, its worth noting that this book does have a traditional plot, but that the plot is rather obvious and isn't really the point. That may sound counterintuitive, but to a large degree Ferris' book is more a collection of short stories and character sketches held hostage by a novel than it is any traditional narrative construction we've become accustomed to in typical novels. The end result is rarely in question; for the reader the fun is in character assassination rather than plot twists. There are some laugh-out loud moments in this book, but the swath of emotions in this book make for an office dramedy. I found myself identifying strongly with certain characters, because I've worked with their near-equals in real life. Other characters I only wish I could say the same for. By and large, it's Ferris' attention to detail that makes for an enjoyable read, as he truly nails the mundane things that define office work and office life: the gossip parties, the absurd personality ticks, the power plays, the ridiculous company policy, the tracking devices. I could go on -- lest I leave out office furniture, so vitally symbolic that it plays a key role in this book -- but you get my drift. This is my favorite novel of the past couple years, for sentimental reasons.

I then transitioned to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the first of his novels I've read. After seeing the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men and listening to M talk up this novel, I was eager to begin. The book is a big departure from anything I've read ... ever. It took me a long while to adjust to the writing style itself, from his truncated passages to the lack of traditional punctuation. The novel is written in such a sparse manner -- McCarthy tells us only what few details he deems necessary -- that it leaves the reader plenty of time to wander around in his or her own head to create scenarios and ponder the past. It's almost like a Mad Lib exercise in some ways, as the reader is left to fill in blanks. The book is a post-apocalyptic tale of a father and his young son wandering "the road" to nowhere. It's a sad, existentialist affair, often touching. But on the whole, I'm not certain if I really enjoyed the book on the level I anticipated. After the hype (self-inflicted and otherwise), I thought I may be setting myself up for a Top 10 book. In the end, I'm not sure if I'm more taken by the book's oddity or the force of the story. Either way, it's worth reading, for sure. I just finished it last night, so possibly some more time away will allow me to come to a more defined stance on The Road. I'll definitely read another of McCarthy's books for perspective's sake. I think I'm going with All the Pretty Horses.

Next up on my list is another huge step in the opposite direction: Rick Telander's Heaven Is a Playground, which comes recommended by Chris. The '70s tome deals with the culture of NYC streetball. I'm expecting to find some insights into the AAU dominance of today's high school game and the revival of urban basketball culture in the media.


10 random comments before the sky falls on me

1) My office space sucks. I have a new office, true, and it is much larger and grander and more private than my previous office. But it doesn't change the fact that my new office only serves as a metaphor for the state of my company. Currently, I sit in my office with five waste cans collecting drips from the leaky ceiling sixteen feet overhead. Yesterday, I heard a loud boom. When I walked down the hallway I discovered a chunk of concrete, probably the size of a fist, shattered across a desk. Granted, no one was sitting at the desk, because no one sits in that hallway anymore, because my company laid off all of my co-workers in editorial and production. But if my former co-worker would have been sitting at her desk, she probably would have been knocked unconscious by the blow. Just minutes ago, a much smaller piece of concrete fell in the loft space in my office. Luckily for me, my new office is in a different part of our converted warehouse. I have ceiling tiles above me -- many of them stained and leaky -- which in theory would break the fall of any large chunks of concrete. In three spots, however, there are no ceiling tiles. Those just happen to be the spots that drip into my office, and from where my piece of the ceiling came crashing down. That, in a nutshell, best explains the place where I am employed. And every time it rains I am reminded of the symbolism.

2) But it's not just at work that I get to enjoy drips when it rains. It happens at home, too. Every time it rains heavily, I can expect drippage in my records room, either from the center skylight or directly above where my records and stereo sit. That means I have to cover my stereo with a towel (just in case) and also lay towels on the wood floor in front of my IKEA shelving. The landlord is fixing these leaks for the second time -- "when it gets dry up there" -- most likely in June. It also leaks in the living room, as water travels down the stove pipe that penetrates the ceiling and collects on top of the stove. So a bowl sits there to collect water on mornings like this. (At least M and I have finally enjoyed the stove for its true purpose -- keeping us warm on 10 degree nights. But it doesn't do us much good on 60-degree evenings in January, like the last two nights.)

3) I started tennis lessons last night at the park district. When I showed up it was just me and my friend and occasional tennis opponent E signed up for the lessons (intermediate level, if you're curious). Shortly thereafter, a couple walked in and our group doubled in size. So far so good on the progress, but the lessons are moving at a slightly faster pace than I had hoped for (especially given the size of the group). There's not enough one-on-one teaching of mechanics. Clearly, the things I know I need to work on -- backhand, volleys at the net -- are my faults. The instructor did say I have the best overhand volley (i.e. "smash") that he's seen in his instructing of intermediate level groups, which is funny because I typically fuck those up in game action. But it's a motion (leaping and smacking the racket down) that feels normal to me, I guess from my time playing basketball. And I can deliver a great overhand volley when the element of surprise is taken away, like when the instructor lobs the ball high into the air for practice. I'm beginning to understand how crucial (in inches) the ball toss is to my serve clearing the net. I need more height on my toss. The instructor also said I should be able to get more slice on my serves from the ad side as I'm a lefty, so hopefully he'll teach me how to do that.

4) I've had a cold now for 3+ weeks. My visit to the doctor's office did not produce a prescription for an antibiotic, which pissed me off. That was well over a week ago. Maybe I should go back, cough in hand, and be more forceful?

5) The holidays were busy, filled with family and recently lots of friends. It was good visiting with everyone, but I'm glad that M and I have our lives to ourselves for a bit. It's nice to begin to settle back into our groove.

6) Speaking of settling, we still have not watched the first episode of The Wire (Season 5). That will change tonight.

7) I'm fairly certain that no one is reading the sports posts at SP, let alone my specific posts. But that doesn't mean I'm going to refrain from linking to them and encouraging you to do so. I didn't expect a sports section at such a site to be all that well read, but I did hope that someone out there would feel the need to check in regularly and leave a comment. As a site, we need to begin the process of earnestly publicizing ourselves to the community at large. A sticker campaign ain't gonna cut it.

8) M got me this game for Xmas. I'm anxious to set aside a few chunks of time to play it. I've chosen the school I'm going to "coach" -- my alma mater, WIU -- and begun play (I'm 1-2). It's a lot more complicated than the last college basketball game I played many years ago. The recruiting process is interesting, if not a bit much to keep tabs on.

9) I found a gem while shopping at Furniture Lounge this weekend: a copy of Prefab Sprout's Steve McQueen on vinyl for $2. I had never heard the band before, and after listening to one side I'm not so sure I'm into it. But nonetheless, it was a great find on the cheap.

10) Finally, I've decided that within a couple months I will own one of these: