getting lit.


Confession: this post is for me as much as it is for you.

This is our sixth Christmas in our Pittsburgh house. I don’t think I’ve ever hung our Christmas lights the same way twice. And this post is going to help me remember what I did this year — because it was really easy.

For the first few years we lived here, we strung white lights into strands of garland. It looked terrific, but it was an incredible pain in the ass. If a string of lights wasn’t working when we hauled everything out of the attic, I had a choice: find the single bulb that was causing the problem or unwrapping the entire string and replacing it. This process is why decorating the front of the house used to take multiple days.

I gave up the garland two years ago, opting to just wrap the lights themselves around the porch railings. This presented a different challenge: I had to figure out how many strands I needed — and how many times each strand should be wrapped around the railings to make sure we didn’t have gaps on either side of the porch. And should I wrap all of the porch supports? Just the ones framing the door?

(Does anyone else struggle with these questions every December? Just me? OK. Fine.)

Just after the completion of The Game on Saturday, I ran to Home Depot to buy a few boxes of strands to replace the ones that died since last Christmas (How do Christmas lights die when they sit in an attic, untouched, for 11 months?) and hung the lights. It was … easy. The numbers worked out well. No gaps or overhangs (with one exception that I’ll fix later today).

And that, boys and girls, is the actual purpose of this post — I want to remember what I did, so I can do it again next year.


The bushes on the side of the house haven’t actually changed over the years. The little one gets three red strands, while the large one gets four (reminder for 2014: make it five on the large one).


The short side of the porch has always been a puzzler. Wrap the whole railing? The entire post, or just the front? What I did this time: Up the railing’s back post, wrapped once per spindle, down the railing’s front post and then around the front of the porch post. A second strand of 100 lights is enough to up to the porch roof.


Fortunately, the icicle lights have always been easy. Two strands of however long they are. Rinse, repeat.


It didn’t occur to me to light the Japanese maple until last year, when I found I had extra red lights. Three strands of 100 does the trick.


And then there’s the rest of the porch. This is where I’ve changed my mind the most over the years — and I hope I have put that to rest from this point forward. Two 100-light strands, wrapped just once per spindle, cover the entire railing, the handrail along the steps and the handrail’s front post. To do the other porch post that frames the doorway, connect a strand of 100 to the connection between the two icicles, run it along the roof frame until you get to the post and start going down. The one thing that didn’t work Saturday night — I need one strand of 50 to finish that post. We’ll fix that soon.


That’s it. Easy. And it turned out pretty well, don’t you think?

on the record.

When we visited the library last week, Mrs. Crappy found a book she thought would be right in my wheelhouse. And she was correct.

Record Store Days is an ode to the romance of the dingy stores that occupied much of my time — and my money — from about age 10 until fairly recently. When I was younger, I had places close by where I got my comic books, but somewhere around 1976 or 1977, a couple things happened: I was given greater leeway by my parents to ride my red Schwinn 10-speed beyond the boundaries of the immediate neighborhood, and I started to really pay attention to music.

And when I found I could get to the Buzzard’s Nest record store on Henderson Road in about 20 minutes on my bike? I got a backpack big enough to hold LPs, and off I went.

Transportation was a key, here. My parents are exceedingly patient people — and my father, especially, understood the obsession — but I realized quickly that the legitimate number of requests I could make for a ride or a stop at a record store was limited. So the bike — and later the moped and the Pinto, my first car — got me to the nearby Buzzard’s Nest, the chain store (I think) on Lane Avenue and — the Holy Grail — the used-record stores on High Street on Ohio State’s campus.

Especially when I was still pedaling up to Buzzard’s Nest, I know I was in awe of the people who worked there. They were, in my pre-adolescent mind, my people. They knew the disco records, but they were rock ‘n roll guys, long hair, cheesy 70s facial hair, black t-shirts — they were what 10-year-old me wanted to be.

I grew out of the black t-shirt phase at some point in junior high school — that had something to do with discovering the Grateful Dead, which sent me off down a less-metallic path — but my love for the record store never wavered. I enjoy the ease of buying music now — and I will admit that I’m not a vinyl purist by any stretch, because the music itself is still more important to me than the medium — but I miss spending an hour in a store, flipping through bin after bin of treasure and coming across something I’ve never seen.

I’ve mentioned Buzzard’s Nest already. It was the local chain in Columbus, and I think it managed to stick around sometime into the late 1980s. I loved my local Buzzard’s Nest, but the real treasure was to be found elsewhere. Here’s a taste of what I remember about my record stores:

Magnolia Thunderpussy. Easily the best name for a record store I’ve ever heard. This campus staple is still around, although it seems like it’s moved at least a couple times since I’ve lived in Columbus. I remember it being the biggest, but not necessarily the best of the campus stores. Thorough selection, but almost as pricy as Buzzard’s Nest.

The one at the bottom of the stairs. This was up High Street a bit, almost to Lane, in a basement spot customers reached via a double stairway on the east side of the street. I don’t recall if this was the Columbus version of Schoolkids Records, but I know it was my primary stop. A good selection of new stuff, and always a reliable flow of used records to pick over, at prices that accommodated my paperboy’s income.

The one above Bernie’s. Was this Schoolkids? The name wasn’t really the important part; the 25-cent and 50-cent bins were. This little place was hit-or-miss, but when you hit, you hit big. Used records were sorted by price per disc — a quarter, 50 cents or maybe a buck if the vinyl was really clean. On a good day, a five-dollar bill was enough to fill my backpack and make my ride back home a little uncomfortable — because of the weight of the LPs and the fact I was in a hurry to get home.

Schoolkids Records, Athens. Last time I visited OU, this was no longer a record store, and that’s a shame — it was a great one when I was a student. They mostly had switched to CDs by the time I returned from the Army, but I had as well, so no biggie. Excellent selection, including some difficult-to-find stuff. They did the midnight sales on Tuesdays for big-deal releases, and I attended a couple of those; once they got to know me, though, they would also hold copies of stuff on the promise I’d be in before lunch to pick it up.

The one downstairs, Athens. This was on Union Street, below a Chinese restaurant and next to the old carryout where I used to buy 12-packs of Weidemann beer for $5. It was small and dark, with used vinyl only. I scored some good stuff there, and was sorry to see it was gone when I returned to Athens after getting out of the Army.

A couple big ones:

Tower Records, NYC. From the moment that Juan moved to Brooklyn after he finished school, I made it clear that the first weekend I visited we would be heading to the village so I could bask in the glory that was Tower Records. I wasn’t disappointed, either. The place was huge, and it had everything. I was smart enough that I showed up looking for a few specific things — records to fill out a catalog of a couple bands, if I remember — and I think I left with nearly everything I was looking for.

ear X Tacy, Louisville. Upon completion of basic training, I was informed that I would be staying at Fort Knox in Kentucky for the remainder of my time in the Army. That was good, mostly; I was a fairly short distance from home, so I could get back to Columbus pretty much whenever I felt the need. But I still needed to explore Louisville a little bit, to find out what my home for the next couple years had to offer. Most of the guys in my platoon recommended the gigantic mall just south of town, but there was one guy who lived down the hall on my floor in the billets who knew better. His nickname was, appropriately, Pig; I met him when I heard astonishingly good banjo coming from down the hall and found him playing in the bathroom. Pig’s advice? “Go find ear X Tacy.” It was maybe the best independent record store I ever came across; killer selection, knowledgeable-and-friendly staff, the perfect vibe. It also served as a community hub in Louisville, or at least it did for me; at the end of those weeks where I was struggling with Army life, I’d drive up to the store on Saturday morning, spend a couple hours and a few bucks and come back happy. The closing of record stores isn’t news these days, but I was crushed last fall when I heard that ear X Tacy was shutting down.

Border’s Books and Music. Yeah, I know. Chain, box store, blah, blah, blah. I don’t care. Border’s — especially the one in Northway Mall — always felt comfortable to me, and when they were able, they were a kickass record store. But I’m including them here for symbolic reasons more than anything else, because the demise of music sales at that particular store was really the final thing that drove me to the world of downloads. The shift, at first, was subtle; if you went a couple months between visits, the music section would shrink by a row or two. The more obscure genres vanished first, and I didn’t really miss the Russian folk music CDs. But when the reggae section vanished? Jazz got reduced by half? The quirkier rock and pop musicians disappeared? At some point I walked downstairs and found that nearly the entire thing was gone; what had taken up nearly the entire floor had been consolidated down to two lonely, pathetic racks in the middle of the sprawling room. And I felt like crying.

We have good record stores here still. I stop in when I think to, but I generally can count on one hand the number of physical CDs I buy each year these days. For me, the hunt these days is in iTunes, at eMusic, on etree or the archive. I get what I need there, and most days, that’s enough. But I miss old version of the hunt: digging through bins, pulling the LPs from the sleeves and grinning when I found a clean one in the fifty-cent stack, pedaling home as fast as I could to give it a listen. That feeling I will never have again.

I don’t often do this, but I have questions: What was your favorite record store? What made it so?

8. not feelin’ it.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about college football here.

There are a couple reasons for that. Most of what I have to say goes on Killer Nuts Tailgating, the blog I set up for that express purpose a couple years ago.

And then there’s this: I haven’t had much happy stuff to say about college football recently.

Ohio State plays at Nebraska tonight. It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve been waiting for this game since the very day we heard Nebraska might be joining the Big Ten. And now that it’s here … I’m just not nearly as engaged as I should be.

Some of that has to do with my expectations of what will happen in Lincoln tonight. I’m generally OK with the notion that this is going to be a rough season, but that isn’t going to make it any easier to get ready for a game that Ohio State doesn’t have much of a chance to win.

Some of it has to do with what I’ve been calling The Unpleasantness at KNT, and the fact that it hasn’t really let up with the dismissal of Jim Tressel and that other guy who would have been starting at quarterback this year. The newest suspensions, particularly those of players who had already been suspended because of the tattoo thing, is disheartening. I’m not naive, and I know no college football program, including the one I support with everything I have, is completely clean; it’s almost impossible to do. But every single time this year I’ve thought the university has turned a corner and I could get back to cheering for a program that I could also be proud of, something else — cash at charity events, no-work summer jobs — buries me again.

We’re going to a party tonight, a going-away shindig for a very good friend of ours. I’ll do my best to keep an eye on the game — as I would have done if this had been a more typical football season — but I’m not expecting to have to watch very closely.

And I’m not sure I’ll want to anyway.

4. i didn’t die.

It was still dark at 6:45 this morning. A little misty, a little cool.

And not once did I think about going back to bed.

No, I wandered around the neighborhood for about two miles. A little more walking than running. The running part felt pretty good, and when the nice British lady on Couch to 5K told me to go, I tried to avoid lapsing into a shuffle. It worked.

About 35 minutes later, I arrived back at our house. I didn’t throw up in anyone’s yard. I didn’t feel like collapsing in a heap on the floor when I went inside.

And I even thought I might do this again.

Something that helped: The reaction from a bunch of you to yesterday’s post and the links I posted elsewhere. And the reaction I got when I signed up for Daily Mile this morning. I am set up with a list of races that’ll come around at just about the time that I’m finishing C25K, and I already have a couple volunteers to run with me when I pick one. Very gratifying stuff, especially for someone who’s just starting.

And that’s the point of doing it this way. I’ve tried before, but I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing — and that made it way too easy to quit. I know I have a bunch of people watching — and supporting me — this time; and I know they’ll let me have it if I slack.

Again — no promises beyond the short-term stuff. But I feel pretty good about the start.


My relationship with MTV was always a little different.

Once I got past the initial thrill of just seeing the network, which turns 30 today, I was a little dismissive of MTV. There was some remarkable stuff there, sure, but between the endless stream of Top 40 stuff that I never found all that interesting and the fact that MTV largely ignored the music I was interested in — with the exception of 1987, otherwise known as the Summer of Touch — I generally didn’t find much there for me.

As I think about it now — more than a decade after MTV traded in music for crappy reality programming — I wish I had paid a little more attention. There was more good stuff there than I gave it credit for, and some of my favorite musical moments — and some sort of non-musical ones– were a direct result of watching.

I got to watch portions of the revived Woodstock festival — the fun one, not the ugly one a few years later — and seeing the Nine Inch Nails set — remember the mud flinging? — was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen on television anywhere; also, seeing the Allman Brothers set on that Sunday mornings was priceless.

But this is about video, right? I liked Nirvana, but I didn’t love them until I saw this:

The chilling Leadbelly song was the perfect way to wrap up their Unplugged set.

The 1993 VMAs did two things for me: I got the perfect version of “Rockin’ in the Free World” with Pearl Jam backing Neil Young, but that was preceded by something even better:


I can’t find the clip of my favorite REM appearance on MTV, even though I know it used to be available on YouTube. The band did a live set on the network not long after Bill Berry left the band. Before the launched into “Radio Free Europe,” Stipe urged the audience to shout FUCK throughout the song in hopes that MTV couldn’t use it on air. And then the band roared through a sloppy, garage-y and joyful version of the song. This is similar , especially in that Stipe can’t remember the words, but I have to find that clip again someday:

And yeah, the Summer of Touch:

I still love it. Happy birthday, MTV — turns out you weren’t so bad after all.