Monday, November 11, 2013

Historical Blend, South St. Louis, Missouri

So lately I've been really into photos which blend old, historical photos with recent shots. Since I haven't seen any for St. Louis, I took it upon myself to head to some iconic areas around South City and try my hand at blending.

My first one at Carr Lane Ave and Choteau. 

Looking North on Boadway at the Anheuser Busch Brewery. The photo is from the mid 1910s and was taken while construction on brewery enhancements were happening. Hence the police officer on the left

Another from Broadway and Arsenal showing one of the original brewery offices near the rail line.

The side of Bevo Mill

Bevo Mill before the streets changed

Tower Grove Park Arsenal entrance

One more from the Arsenal entrance of Tower Grove Park

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My Cosmopolitan Gun Store

I do not like going to any gun store for ammunition. I have to park next to some giant dick-compensating pick-up truck, then I have to deal with a bunch of overweight yokels who would have joined the Army, but they have this thing that is vague and sounds made up which barred their entry, so now they just work in a gun store and think that having an extensive knowledge of bangsticks is something to be proud of.

Or they did join the military, got out and are now overweight and working in a gun store. That's even worse.

My last trip to my friendly neighborhood shootin' shop went exactly like this:

Me: "Hi, do you have any bricks of .22 ammunition in stock?"

Sales Guy: "No, but I can sell you a .22 pistol!"

"I have a .22 pistol and two .22 rifles. What I need is something to shoot out of them."

"But this way, you'll have two .22 pistols!"

I don't even know how to deal with that insanity. The ammo I am looking for is very difficult to find right now, and when you do find it, the prices are insane.

A brick of .22 ammo is 500 rounds. That should cost, at the very most, $25. But you can't find it because dipshits all over the country are stockpiling it on the off chance the Muslim in the white house rapes Jesus or something. Fuck if I know how the misfiring synapses in their brains works.

I want to open my own gun store. Something that sits on the edge of the fashionable. I want it to look like a stand alone Apple store with better lighting. You're greeted as you walk in by someone eager and knowledgeable and you can either browse or work with someone who specializes in what you're looking for. Wanting the latest in shotgun chokes for turkey season? Certainly sir, John will be right with you. He loves turkey season! Looking for that perfect beginner's gun for your new lady? Amanda here has been working with all kinds of beginners. She's perfect!

But most of all, I would train my associates to separate the normal gun owners from the idiot doomsday preppers. Maybe a nonchalant question dropped when purchasing some .22 ammo...

"That's one brick of .22 ammo. Got any big plans for it?"

PROPER ANSWER: "Yeah, I have some raccoons to keep out of the trash and I'm hoping to get to the range sometime this week.

IMPROPER ANSWER. DO NOT SELL: "Well, there's a gun grabbing nigger in the White House, and I need to protect my unborn fetuses from his homosexual death squads!"

I'd also give a military discount. You'd be surprised how few militant gun stores offer a discount to actual military people. Especially camping supply places. Bass Pro offers a military discount for one week and it excludes about 75% of their stock. I mean, I don't expect them to sell boats at ten percent off all year, but when you look at the restrictions, there's no real reason to even plan for it.

"In accordance with the Bass Pro Shops discount policy, this 10% discount excludes reels, electronics, firearms, ammunition, reloading equipment, scopes, bows, arrows, taxidermy, gift cards, Tracker boats, Mercury motors, ATV’s, catalog sales, internet sales, restaurant food and drinks, and temporarily marked down items."

You know who does offer a military discount all the time? Lowes. On everything. I even got a discount on the materials when I had my fence built. Love those guys.

I could make an entire generation of soy latte drinkers comfortable with a firearm. Cardigans would come tailored to hold a snub-nosed .38 under the armpit. We'll make special holsters that work with skinny jeans and the gun range would have an espresso machine.

Or the entire idea would crash and burn within a month. I have no idea how the fashionable would respond to a gun store catered to them. Maybe I could hire some designers to add some splash to the firearms and make them more appealing to the young crowd who also wants to be deadly. I am open to suggestions.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Afghan Cows

I have decided to resurrect the Shit Saint Louis Says blog, which means all that delicious traffic of people who want to read racist comments without actually going the the comments section of the local news will be off this blog.

Therefore, I should get back to using this as it was been intended: The place to have brain dumps and tell stories. I hope to be a bit more active here with tales of the military, my city and all the other things I keep telling myself I should write about but never get around to.

Today will be cows in Afghanistan.

Back when I was just a young pup of a Soldier, I deployed to Afghanistan to play the role of roving journalist with a Civil Affairs unit. The goal of CA is to win the hearts and minds of the locals via bribery with medical supplies or building wells and schools or whatever the village is clamoring for. We use government funds to hire local contractors which dumps money into the economy and stabilizes the region. 

If you happened to miss the day of your social studies class which delved into the history and politics of the most middle country of the middle east, I'll give you a refresher. There is quite a bit of trade which moves across Afghanistan that isn't necessarily heroin and destitution. Some of the people are nomadic, traveling all over the country to trade cattle, meat and fur to some of the more agricultural Afghans.

The standard operating procedure at the time when dealing these Kochi tribes was to let the elders know a day or so before our planned arrival where we would be and what services we would offer. Generally the promises were de-worming of all livestock with vaccination for the sheep and goats, as well as some medical checkups for the people. Since many locals relied completely on their goat and sheep herds for survival, they would come in droves for some free medical help.

We Americans would pack up some humvees and SUVs and drive out to the middle of nowhere and wait. We brought our own protection, but the local warlord would send out a contingent to help us out with security. Sort of a good faith measure. 

This was Afghanistan in 2004. The local militia consisted of three dudes high on opium handling AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades.

I assure you there is just regular tobacco in that cigarette
So one of these families brought a couple of cows. Being the helpful person I am, I volunteer to help hold the rope attached to the cow while the veterinarian prepares the deworming solution. The parents wander off to talk with a few other people and I'm just hanging out with a cow, an interpreter and a seven-year-old Afghan kid who looks like he would rather be anywhere else other than on some lame road trip with his parents.

As an American, I'm used to the docile, doe-eyed cows which wander aimlessly around Southern Missouri countrysides, grazing the grass, standing in pools of water and being boring but delicious.

Not from Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, everything is angry. Because it's Afghanistan. It's hot, things don't grow very well, the Taliban has been messing the place up and shit is always exploding on account of all the Soviet mine fields scattered about.

So as I am standing holding on the the lead of this cow, it decides it wants to wander over and sniff some other rock on the ground. The rope slips from my hand as the cow walks off.

I walk with quick strides to get the rope attached to the errant cow.

The cow views me as a possible threat.

The cow trots further away.

I try my best to keep up with the cow.

The cow starts running.

I panic. I have just chased off part of this poor family's income with my negligence! I had to do what was right. I had to chase down this cow. I had to save them from starvation. For America!

Cows, it turns out, can run pretty fast.

I spend about ten minutes on this endeavor to maintain friendly relations between Americans and Afghans before I realize I am about three hundred meters away from any kind of security in what could very well be a minefield.

So I meekly return to the interpreter and the boy. Both have quizzical looks on their faces at the weird American who just attempted to run down a cow. I apologize as much as I can through wheezing breaths about being unable to wrangle the cow.

The interpreter gives a laugh. "It's a cow, where the hell is it going to go?" He asks, sweeping his arm across the broad expanse of nothing surrounding us.

I turn. The cow is standing about twenty feet behind me. The kid walks up, grabs the rope and leads it over to the veterinarian, who also witnessed my ignorance of the mental workings of foreign cows. The look in that kid's eyes told me he didn't hold out much hope for the future of his country with the Americans.

Lesson learned. Cows aren't stupid, and they know to come back to the herd.

But sometimes, like humans, they just want to be left alone.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Tiananmen Square Reenactment

This weekend, we paid homage to the Tank Man. For added authenticity, we used a Chinese knockoff minifig and a Chinese made (is there any other kind?) fireworks tank

Like the people of China, he still stands!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Report: The Human Division

John Scalzi told us he wouldn’t be revisiting the universe he created in Old Man’s War and the three novels which came after it. Part of me was a bit saddened by this news, but I would rather the series end while on a high note rather than fade into mediocrity.

The Human Division was written and released in parts over several weeks. Each installment cost a dollar, and fans of Scalzi were excited about this new format. Being a person who hates cliffhangers, I opted to wait until the book was for sale in its entirety.

This is an interesting way to sell a book to the public. I love having the option to buy a small part of a book and deciding for myself if I want to get the rest of it. No matter the form of media you enjoy, no one wants to get burned by accidentally purchasing a full Nicholas Sparks book.

This serialized release structure harkens back to the day of novellas being released piece by piece in science fiction magazines over weeks and months. The biggest issue the writer must deal with is maintaining reader interest by creating small microcosm stories inside of a larger book. These days you can best see this style in TV shows which have weekly stories set inside of a larger story (Buffy the Vampire Slayer springs to mind)

In this sense, the book did well. Reading the book after every chapter had been released allowed me to appreciate how each section ended without having to wait a week for the next chapter.

Overall though, I feel as though the book fell flat. The ending of The Last Colony gave the feeling of finality to the series. One of those moments where you know there can be more story and the lives of the main characters will continue to be full of adventure, but nothing on the scale they have already dealt with.

Zoe’s Tale, the fourth book in the series, gave us the unique perspective of John and Jane’s adopted daughter Zoe while continuing the story in a different direction.

The Human Division, however, brings us into the unexciting world of diplomacy in the Colonial Union. When you create a universe where all of the soldiers are genetically modified supermen, I suppose you have to give the diplomacy to the squishy humans. Though their bravery and dedication to service is unmatched, it doesn't lend to exciting battles.

It's feel Scalzi wrote this book to test this new style out and kept it in a universe he and his fans knew in the event that it turned out to be a bad idea. It certainly wasn't, and I would recommend the book to anyone who is a fan of the series, but don't expect to have your mind blown by it. It's like reading any Star Wars books that take place after the original movies. The main fight is over. There is plenty more story to be told, but the Empire has fallen. The literary load has already been blown already.

Overall, good installment in the series. The story is solid, the characters are well written and the ending is unexpected. I will say that it leaves me hoping Scalzi keeps breaking his promise and gives us more of the fight between humanity, the CDF and the rest of the galaxy.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Thoughts on Bioshock: Infinite. Spoiler free.

It’s difficult to critique a game that receives a lot of critical acclaim across the boards, especially from one of the few people in gaming journalism I still respect. Adam Sessler of G4 and TechTV fame had nothing but good things to say about Bioshock: Infinite and his love is understandable. The game has an engaging story, interesting characters and level design detail that made me want to explore and find more and more history of the floating city of Columbia. It’s a fantastic mixture of science fiction and fantasy set in the early 1900s that doesn't rely on gimmicky steampunk to drive the science behind it.

However, I have run into an issue where a game’s variety is truly what I look for. I have ten hours logged in Bioshock: Infinite and 86 hours in Borderlands 2. I've played hours and hours of Skyrim, the Fallout series and Just Cause 2 because they give me new and interesting ways to play a game each time I create a character. One of the greatest parts of Fallout 3 is deciding who you want to be from the start, based on various skills chosen by the player in the beginning. You can roll anything from a thief to a tank. Hell, you can even set up your role as someone who only uses high tech weapons and armor, or a guy who goes around and punches the crap out of everyone.

Also present in these games is an open world element that allows the player to step away from the main story line and go exploring. This is a gaming double edged sword though. You can run around the island in Just Cause 2 and see plenty of sights, enemies and towns, but that variety means you aren’t going to have the detail and beauty of Bioshock: Infinite. Columbia is a floating city rendered beautifully. In the distance you can see fantastic architecture filling the screen with slow moving, yet impressive airships. However, that’s all it is. An impressive background you can watch from afar and never interact with unless the story is headed that way.

Things every statue of a prophet needs: Sword and Kraken-like beard 
Interestingly enough, my wife watched me play for a bit and one of her biggest pet peeves of gaming was mostly erased. Namely, the animations of on screen characters. Elizabeth has the look, feel and movements that are only rivaled by Disney animations, but it’s because much of her interactions are scripted. You mostly see her when there is some story to drive, but if you watch her movements during combat or while running from one place to another, she looks like every other on screen character. Basic running movements with little fluidity, hitting doors and walls at full tilt and not bouncing off with a broken nose and awkward looking head movements and steps while walking.

Of course, this is very nitpicky of me. There are some great combat mechanics added to this game, mainly what you can do with the skyhook, and Vigor powers range from very useful to downright confusing, but you can pay to advance your favorites while ignoring the rest. The same goes for firearms, of which there are numerous choices. You can only hold two at a time, but I generally rotated between four unless Elizabeth wasn't so great on finding ammunition for me during a fire fight.

Why yes, there are several racist, machine gun wielding George Washington robots peppered throughout the game
I suppose I've been spoiled by open world games these days. I may or may not do another playthrough of Bioshock: Infinite in a year or so. I figured the game would be mostly story driven based on the two games that came before it, which makes writing a review difficult. It’s easily one of my recent favorites, and the great story and atmosphere makes up quite a bit for the linear driven storyline. I may have been a bit happier had I gotten it on a Steam sale, but I don’t regret buying and playing something that will easily be a contender for game of the year.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Breaking the internet funk

Of late, I have been trying to break myself out of being too much of an internet junky. I find myself mindlessly zoning out and scrolling through reddit and fark links without truly consuming what’s being presented. Once upon a time I would read through scientific papers published on line, and now I skim a paragraph or two before moving on. This is not good.

So what’s the plan? Give up my favorite websites? I don’t think it’s gotten to that point yet. Mostly, I need to get back into creative mode. If you aren't creating, you are consuming and giving nothing back. Even if I’m just giving back terrible rehashes and blatant rip offs of bad science fiction, I am creating. I’ve had a book in my brain for years (As does any person who has ever fancied themselves a writer) and I have this blog.

Some things I am doing better. I’ve been reading the Lord of the Rings for the first time since my teen years and really enjoying it, which tells me I haven’t lost my ability to read and comprehend complicated text. And while it helps to have watched the movies, the way I see much of the scenery from the text is different than how Peter Jackson portrayed it.

But I can be using my time better. I’m using my spare time to study for my N+ networking certification and want to stop using my laptop while watching TV shows I care about (you really don’t have to pay attention to Pawn Stars like you do True Blood).

I’m sure I will also be posting about things I hate when it comes to the internet in coming weeks to keep me on my path, but it’s a little at a time.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Keeping your stuff safe in South City

A few helpful tips if you want to live in South City and continue to own things. Most people would suggest leaving for some boring suburb filled with white people acting white. I do not condone such actions. You will not find more entertaining people anywhere around the City or County.

That being said, here are some things to know to keep yourselves and your things safe in the City.

1: Get a gun

They are fairly cheap and easy to get, legally or illegally. What you'll need to do is occasionally go into your yard and shoot a few rounds into the air to let people know you own a gun and are pretty dangerous. It doubles as a New Years noisemaker as well. Some people may tell you a shotgun or smaller gun will be good for home defense, but honestly you just need noise and the biggest gun possible. You'll want to go handgun because they look cool as well.

2: Get a dog

My dogs will bark their heads off at anyone walking by the fence. I generally let them go with it. It's like gun that can lick you and your wife won't yell at you when you play with a dog when drunk.

3: Keep up appearances.

If you see that and then notice the high amount of dog crap that hasn't been picked up in the bark yard, are you really doing to break in? This is a two part step: Keep your outside looking like crap and don't own nice things. Case in point: The quality of these photos.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Why aren't you supporting live wrestling?

Seriously, I've been going to more local wrestling events and it is fantastic. You can get hammered for cheap on Busch products and watch spandex clad dudes throw each other around.

What you can't see is the Save Ferris tattoo across his "abs".
Now, I'm basing this on being someone who finds the pro wrestling on TV to be annoying and full of assholes talking about nothing and give you very little action. When you go to a Knights of Columbus in Alton Illinois, pay fourteen bucks to get in and a dollar per beer, you are going to have more fun than you know what to do with. Seriously, I got four hours of fun and entertainment this weekend and managed to keep it to budget.

There are plenty of places you can see these guys (and girls!) go at it in the squared circle. First off is to check St. Louis Anarchy Wrestling for times. Second is to check the St. Louis Wrestling website for dates at South Broadway Athletic Club and the East Carondelet Community Center.

So now that you have shown up to an event, what should you do? You may need a few drinks your first time to get you in the proper mood, but what you do is you cheer and boo, you yell and holler. It's wrestling and these people want you loud and want you coming back.

Best part is the wrestlers are very happy you came out.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The three best places to drink in South City

I figured I'd give you a run down of where to drink if ever you find yourself in South City. While this is in no way a comprehensive list of all the finest establishments one can get blasted at, it does represent a fair number of people I know and their favorite hang outs. At least, that's where I see some of them.

Number three: The Hideaway

Reasons why you should drink here: You'll probably be the youngest person in the bar.

Reasons why you shouldn't: Smoking is allowed, single females are mostly retirees who outlived their husbands.

Situated next to a retirement home, The Hideaway lounge on Arsenal near Hampton was a haunt of mine for a year while I lived in the apartment buildings staggering distance away. At the time, I was in my early twenties and the bartenders were generally busty women in their forties. The owner certainly has a type.

The drinkers were mostly pensioners and retirees from the nearby home. Often you would find yourself inside next to fathers and sons getting slowly drunk, or the old gang meeting together to talk about wars or politics or how Obama is ruining everything and we're all gonna die.

The other great thing about this place is the blind piano player and the occasional karaoke from the owner as he does his best crooner impression with a drink in his hand. This is a bar that longs to transplant itself back to the days of Sinatra and Crosby, and there is no reason not to enjoy that.

Sadly, it seems the place has been discovered in the last few years, and the clientele has gotten a bit younger, but the novelty of the place wore off the people you mostly want to avoid.  It's an occasional hipster hangout, but I haven't noticed too much of a problem with it. There are much trendier places to be better than everyone else in.

Last time I was there, my friends and I were able to get a table, talk at a reasonable level and get table service from the bartender. You won't get that in too many places.

Number two: The Silver Ballroom

Why you should drink here: Pinball, decoupage band flyers bar, great atmosphere, bartenders and owner, everyone you know is probably there tonight, you lame ass.

Why you shouldn't drink here: Smoking allowed (Though well ventilated), can be loud and packed weekend nights.

I can't say this is the opposite of the Hideaway because most of the drinkers at The Silver Ballroom are probably in their late 20s to early 40s. If you've spent time in the city drinking at bars, you probably know a few people here. If you used to drink at the Hi-Pointe, then you already know about this place and can skip to #1

Other great things you may find there: Australian meat pies and bands. Occasionally a band playing a show in St. Louis will come into the Silver Ballroom before or after a gig. You can tell who they are because while they look lie everyone else, they are generally gawking at everything in the bar. I stood in line for the bathroom with the front man of Puddle of Mudd. I imagine they like the place because they look like everyone else at that bar and aren't treated different by the people. He was a cool guy, but my bladder was not liking the decision to have that fifth rum and coke.

And if you are a fan of pinball, this place has you covered. About twenty pinball machines with occasional rotation in and out (depending on how well a machine is doing or if a really cool machine is purchased).

Finally, the music: You're going to hear Ace of Spades and Where Eagles Dare at least five times on any given night. You're welcome.

Number 1: My couch

They get excited because drunk me likes to wrestle dogs
Reasons you should drink here: Mix drinks are always heavy pours, no smoking inside, lots of TV shows or movies to watch, wireless internet, fun dogs.

Why you shouldn't drink here: Because you weren't invited. Seriously, I have a gun.

As great as any bar is, drinking at home will always be the best. The drinks are cheaper, the atmosphere is whatever you want it to be and you don't have to drive anywhere. Some people are worried that drinking at home on a Tuesday with your pets is a sign of alcoholism. Some people have never truly understood a good weekday evening buzz before bed. You get the buzz, you take a shower, you grab your book and you conk out around 10:30 and sleep like a log.

As for the worry about alcoholism, I stopped smoking and don't take any mood or mind altering prescriptions. I feel I can have one vice a few times a week without worrying about the dark path alcohol is leading me down. Like kissing my wife, playing with my pets and reading books with reckless abandon.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dogs in Afghanistan: The Drop

I love my dogs. I have a German Shepard mix and a Lab mix. They are adorably goofy and scare the hell out of strangers, which is what you look for in a dog in South City.

I was not always this keen on dogs, however. Being raised with cats trained me to regard household animals as they do me, occasional furniture that can feed me in a pinch. When my wife and I bought a house and moved in together, I began to live with a German Shepard. Then we got the Lab mix and he became my favorite animal that I don't have an eventual cooking plan for.

But there was a time before. A time in Afghanistan when I was 20, friendless and constantly on guard.

There are three stories involving dogs in Afghanistan I will eventually tell on this blog. I will do this through lego and photoshop while drinking rum.

Story 1: The Drop.

So this is me

Wearing eye pro and everything!

I am a journalist for the Army. You can tell by the camera in my hand. During a humanitarian mission I was covering in Afghanistan, a man brought by his heard of camels through a dried out river bed near our position. Generally, we would go out into the middle of what seemed like nowhere and setup shop. People would bring by their animals and themselves for medical attention.

So yeah, here comes a guy with a bunch of camels.

Imagine this, but in what amounts to a really deep ditch
Being the photographer that I was, I decided to climb down the embankment to the other side of the river bed to take photos. I needed to get the same shots of the same camels from the other sideIf you are a photographer, you will understand why it makes sense. Each side was about ten feet down of loose dirt.

You know, maybe it wasn't an actual dried out river bed. Maybe it was just a weird ditch that was really deep. I don't have the actual photos. This was a time when I didn't truly understand "backing up data" as some may call it. I think I only came out of Afghanistan with about thirty photos. Thankfully, important ones survived. 

Seriously, it was the god damn wild west back then
Anyway, as I stood there taking photos, I hear a barking in the distance. Here comes a giant dog barreling directly for me, ready to protect the hell out of whatever the people around there had to protect, which amounts to mostly dirt and opium.

Phoenix would like me to clarify that she is a
very good dog and is only here as a stand in.

But hey, that dog was way off in the distance. I had plenty of time to make a leisurely escape back across the ditch. The camels had moved out and I attempted to maintain my composure.

Now, it's important to note at this time that Afghanistan was pretty loose in 2004, especially when it came to Civil Affairs missions with the local populace. There was a laid back atmosphere to the Americans. Keep in mind, this was way before IEDs became a thing to worry about.

I tell you all this because it sort of explains why I was running around without my body armor and my weapon, the M9 pistol, shoved down the back of my pants. There will be some Soldiers who will say that was irresponsible, but don't worry, I kept it on safe and rarely had a round in the chamber.

So as I slide on down one side, trot across and start to climb the other side. Before climbing, I casually turn and HOLY SHIT THE DOG IS AFTER ME.

I have created a visualization.

Here's the next problem, pointed out to me by the Soldiers holding security: I dropped my weapon.

Don't just move on to the next photo, I dropped my god damn military issued 9mm pistol. This is not something that a soldier just allows to happen. My main defense weapons system was now on the ground.

And it is now between myself and the dog. A ravenous, blood thirsty terrorism dog!

He's coming right for us! With terrorism!
Here's a better graphical representation of what was going on.

I'm sure it wasn't as bad as I remember. The brain is a stupid thing that freaks the hell out when you're running from the Afghan Cerebus. 

So the dog is tearing down one side, teeth gnashing and the blood of its last victim frothing from its lips and I have a decision to make. Leave the pistol or fight for it. The soldiers on the .50 cal machine gun were no help. How could they? They could have hit me!

So I run, I grab the gun and wheel around to throw myself at the side of this ditch and scramble up. When I get to the top, I realize I was being chased by some kind of dirty ankle biter of a dog. I was also being mercilessly mocked by some battle hardened infantry Soliders.

More than likely, it  was more along the lines of this.

Afghanistan is raw

Memory is a funny thing. Also, those guys were assholes. The Soldier, I mean.

And the dog