Tuesday, September 1, 2015

You Gotta Have Heart

Working on my best "get-me-the-hell-out-of-here-
right-the-fuck-now" face.

Surprise of surprises. I've just spent the past 36 hours in the hospital, after having been hit with severe chest pain over a prolonged period starting last Friday. I didn't figure it was a heart attack, since I keep up a pretty good cardiac exercise routine, but for the fact I also experienced some symptoms that were unusual for the chest pain I've suffered from acid reflux in the past, and I do have some hereditary risk factors. So, yesterday morning, with a pain level exceeding one I could reasonably ignore — against my better judgment, since I generally won't go to the ER unless I'm spewing copious quantities of blood — I asked Kimberly if she'd be kind enough to haul me to the ER to be checked out. Well, after seven hours in the ER, featuring some exquisite bloodletting and several EKGs, for the first time in over 31 years, I was admitted to the hospital as an in-patient. Yeah, there was a shitload of testing — including more EKGs, even more copious bloodletting at regular intervals, a treadmill stress test, an ultrasound, four different doctors, countless nurses and radiology techs, blah blah blah.

Dammit, all I really wanted them to tell me was whether I'd had a heart attack or not. All that other shit, they could have kept.

Long story short, I'm fine. All the results showed not only no heart attack, but no blockages, "exceptionally good" heart strength, and I don't have to follow up with a cardiologist at this point, just my notify my primary care provider. The most likely culprit for the pain is the stress of having to deal with my mom's deteriorating physical and mental condition, as well as a host of expenses way beyond the norm (of which this little vacation will help not at all). I'll tell you this, the endless waiting, the general hospital noise level (thank Yog I had a private room), the endless waiting, the round-the-clock schedule for getting stuck with big needles, and the endless waiting turned me into possibly the grouchiest (but surely most polite) son of a bitch in that entire hospital. Despite the maddening tedium of the experience, for the most part, I can't fault the hospital staff. They were at all times professional and amiable, and I did feel that, if nothing else, I was in good hands (even if I wanted them all the hell off me). And that lovely Ms. Brugger — without whom I would have been pretty far up the creek — she proved herself the bestest girlfriend in the world. (I already knew that, of course.) And thanks to Mr. Shannon Newsome for the visit.

I fear that you, my lovely herd, are likely to be stuck with me for some time to come.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Fine First Fest

Ms. B. proved to be the main draw at my table.
I think I'll keep her.

As I had posted last week, Brewed Awakening Café in Danville, VA, formerly Binding Time in Martinsville, VA, hosted its first annual book festival yesterday, continuing the tradition it had begun at its original location several years ago. I have participated in each, and while I miss having the shop in my old hometown, the owners — John and Bonnie Hale — appear to have made the right decision by relocating. Since its grand opening last week, the café-slash-bookstore has already made an indelible mark in town, generating remarkably positive publicity and drawing substantial crowds since day one. All my copies of my novels Blue Devil Island and The Monarchs sold out quickly. I kept replenishing my stock with various books lurking in my devilish bookbag, and those, too, departed post haste, all having been rightly devalued with my distinctive John Hancock.

Brewed Awakening, at 610 Craghead Street, Danville, VA, occupies an old brick warehouse building, one of many that has been renovated after years of disuse in what had, decades ago, been a thriving industrial district. With tobacco and textiles, once the city's economic foundation, now moribund in the southeastern US, Danville has taken admirable steps to rebuild its infrastructure and its image, and while it still has a long way to go, its efforts are showing measurable results. There are numerous new, upscale restaurants, taverns, and shops, a first-class library, countless historical buildings and monuments, Averett University, and parks and trails that are unrivaled in the region. Not only did Brewed Awakening's book fest draw a bigger crowd than the past two or three fests in Martinsville combined, the economic benefit spilled over to other businesses in the area. After the event, Kimberly and I visited the new, nearby Golden Leaf Bistro to celebrate with a couple of glasses of wine, and who should appear but veritable hordes of festival attendees — including writers and patrons — all but storming the castle.

One of many distinctive old buildings
in Danville's warehouse district
If you like antiques, you could have yourself a rectangular spasm in Lou's Antique Mall at 231 Main Street, Danville, VA. It's located in what appears to be a typical, mid-size retail store on a downtown street corner, but what you get is a three-story labyrinth of goods from countless ages past, of varying quality and prices. I am admittedly not so much an aficionado of antiques and such, yet I couldn't help but be sucked in by the sheer quantity of wares both familiar to me from my youth and just outright neat/fascinating/weird. Now, some of the items I saw were priced way beyond what I would have ever considered paying, but the proprietor was friendly and attentive, and even insistent that we not pay full price for whatever items caught our eye. I did end up leaving with at least one Christmas present that I think will be quite meaningful for the recipient. And finding that, I must admit, meant the world to me.

And geocaches? Danville is full of them; in fact, there's one at the farmer's market directly across the street from Brewed Awakening — "The Crossing," (GC1BR2C), and another, "The Forgotten Door," (GC5PKJ2) which is particularly memorable for me (story here), just two blocks away. My favorite recollection of the book fest was talking to a rather striking and most assuredly engaging young lady who turned out to be the local library's book acquisition manager, who is also, of all things, a geocacher. As fate would have it, there just happens to be highly challenging geocache — which I have not yet found — inside the library where she works. We enjoyed trading a few stories about books, writing, local history, and geocaching, though, when I suggested she might be able to shed some light on the location of the cache, she went close-mouthed as if her lips had been sewn together with barbed wire. However — ha! — I have years of experience, well over eight-thousand caches to my credit, and more than a passing familiarity with the cache's setting. Make no mistake, I will surmount this geocaching challenge, and our reticent young book acquisitions manager shall bear witness, this I promise.

It was a good day.
All set up and rarin' to go
The local turkey buzzard population must have known something was up because,
just about the time the book fest opened, the scavengers began circling.
Rudolph (apparently, the sun had filtered into the alley sufficiently to scorch one's nose) and ye old
geocaching horror writer at Golden Leaf Bistro, celebrating an excellent book festival
Still life with flowers, a brusque sign, and razor wire

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Reason We've Never Gone Back to the Moon...

Since its release in 2011, I've read very little positive about Apollo 18, another found-footage science fiction/horror thriller à la The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, et. al., but its premise struck me as appealing enough, so I figured I'd eventually give it a look. This evening, eventually came to be, and, while the film is no masterpiece, I am inclined to be a little kinder to it than most reviewers. If the title isn't enough to give it away, it's about an "undocumented" Apollo moon mission following the last official moon shot (Apollo 17 in 1972). The movie is cobbled together from videos ostensibly shot by the crew on its ill-fated mission, and while I tend to look down my nose (way the hell down my nose, as a matter of fact) at endless, dizzying shaky-cam footage, there are enough steady shots and suggestive, weird images to make the visual experience generally palatable.

There be spoilers ahead.

Three astronauts — Mission Commander Nate Walker (Lloyd Owen), Captain Ben Anderson (Warren Christie), and Lieutenant Colonel John Grey (Ryan Robbins) — are sent to the moon on a top-secret mission to place DEW (Distant Early Warning) devices on the lunar surface to detect possible attacks from space by the Soviet Union. Once the Apollo spacecraft, named Freedom, achieves lunar orbit, astronauts Walker and Anderson descend to the surface in the Lunar Excursion Module Liberty, while astronaut Grey remains in orbit aboard the command module. Walker and Anderson venture outside their spacecraft, plant the American flag, place their sensors, and collect some lunar rock samples. During their subsequent communications with Earth, they hear strange sounds over the radio, which they believe to be interference from the transmitters they have placed. Then they find one of their rock samples, which had been stowed away, on the floor of the cabin. On their next outing, in their lunar rover, Walker and Anderson discover human footprints — which lead them to the remains of cosmonaut and a Russian lunar lander. They report their discovery to Mission Control, which orders them to continue their mission as planned.

The next day, the astronauts wake to find their flag missing. Realizing something is terribly wrong, they begin preparation to take off and return to space to rendezvous with the Freedom, but something violently assaults the landing craft and damages it so they can't take off. Outside, they discover the tracks of some non-human entity — and Walker suffers an attack by a spider-like creature inside his spacesuit. Anderson rescues him, but Walker is now infected by an unknown organism that spreads through his system, making him paranoid and irrational. In a violent rage, he smashes the onboard oxygen system. Hoping to find an oxygen supply aboard the Russian lander, they set out in the rover, but Walker again becomes violent and wrecks the vehicle. Anderson realizes the arthropod-like aliens camouflage themselves as rocks, and he is surrounded by them. He manages to reach the Russian lander, but Walker again attacks and attempts to smash the lander's window with a hammer. This time, though, the alien creatures swarm over him and kill him, allowing Anderson to take off and go into orbit.

Unfortuately, as he soon discovers, the lander is filled with lunar rocks....

Before the launch: astronauts Anderson (Warren Christie), Grey (Ryan Robbins), and Walker (Lloyd Owen)
Lunar rover and astronaut on the surface of the moon
The film necessarily focuses on the three astronauts, with Anderson as the primary protagonist. The actors do a capable enough job, and as their faces are not necessarily familiar to the public at large, they convey a sense of verisimilitude that more recognizable actors probably would not. They look and act more or less as one might expect real astronauts to look and act, and Anderson in particular comes off as a sympathetic character. With a blend of actual footage from lunar missions and well-crafted sets — from the claustrophobic spacecraft interiors to panoramic expanses of lunar surface — there is a genuine sense of remote isolation. While the sets and scenery come off as quite realistic, inside the lander, the characters move and operate as if in normal earth gravity, belying the actual location filming; on occasion, however, the use of odd camera angles and quick cutting helps insinuate the effect of reduced gravity.

To get around the absence of sound in a vacuum — without resorting to the totally unrealistic trope of outer space being an ultimately noisy place — the soundtrack often provides low, surreal thumping, bumping, whooshing sounds, simulating the kind of noises the astronauts might hear within the confines of their spacesuits while operating in a void. In addition, the alien noises that emanate from the radio set have an organic, insect-like quality that early on betray the fact that there's something happening beyond mere electronic interference.

The creatures themselves appear mostly as strangely deformed rocks that move. Quick cuts and mere suggestions of something moving at the edge of one's perception work to build a bit of suspense. Eventually, once the creatures appear in earnest, they're still a bit vague — obviously crab- or spider-like, but the camera's eye never quite gives you the full picture. Not a bad way to present them, all in all. There's never any explanation or even supposition of what these things are, which, within the scope of the story, is the way to go. Unfortunately, it's revealed that the government has sent the astronauts up as human guinea pigs, on a mission not unlike the Nostromo's in Alien. It's a tired device, and I suspect the story might have worked better if the mission had been all about detecting Soviet missiles, with the creatures being discovered in the process, instead of the mission being a secret attempt to gain superiority over the Russians by way of capturing and controlling dangerous alien life forms.

One of the criticisms I'd seen that I quite agree with is that, though the film runs less than 90 minutes, it seems much longer. Yes, it does. While much of the drama is effective and the sensory effects produce the desired results, the varying camera angles, the dizzying transitions, the indistinct images, and confusing cuts also tend to produce fatigue. I recently reviewed Troll Hunter, which includes found footage, but it also provides a much smoother viewing experience, with less chaotic camera work, making for a less fatiguing and more appealing movie. If Apollo 18 had gone that route, I expect it would have been better received.

Nope, it's not all that it ought to have been, but Apollo 18 does offer more, drama- and production-wise, than it gets credit for. I'd give it a solid three out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
The remains of a Russian cosmonaut, whose mysterious fate soon becomes all too clear
The Russian lunar lander, whose spider-like contours provide an appealing visual irony
There's something inside Astronaut's Walker's space helmet....
An interesting — moving — rock formation, wot?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Community Dead Zones, Iron Furnaces, and Others

Old Rodan and a pair of Rob zombies
This morning, the original Team Old Fart — Old Rodan, Robbin (a.k.a. Yoda Rob), and Robert (a.k.a. Old Rob, Bloody Rob, Robgso, et. al.) — headed out into the wilds of Stokes County for a day of geocaching in some of North Carolina's most scenic rural surroundings. We picked up a modest ten caches, but today, quality exceeded quantity by a long shot. We experienced lonely, shadow-laden graveyards; the remains of a 19th-century iron furnace; a hidden walkway beneath an old stone bridge, featuring a cache aptly called "Welcome to Jurassic Park" (GC61H34); the ruins of an abandoned prison farm; and the village of Danbury, which is rich in Civil War history, raided by Union General George Stoneman in March of 1865.

"Community Dead Zone #1" (GC2YCZC): a picturesque little graveyard tucked away from civilization — such as it is, out here in the sticks — where you will find the graves of mass murderer Charlie D. Lawson and his wife and children, whom he shot dead in the year 1929. The story is thus (excerpted from Wikipedia):

"Charles Davis Lawson (May 10, 1886–December 25, 1929) was a Stokes County tobacco farmer who is remembered for having committed one of the most notorious mass murders in the state's history. On Christmas Day, 1929, Lawson killed his 37-year-old wife, Fannie, and their children Arthur, 18; Marie, 17; Carrie, 12; Maybell; 7, James, 4; Raymond, 2; and Mary Lou, 4 months.

"Lawson began the slaughter with his daughters, Carrie and Maybell, as they were setting out to visit their uncle and aunt. Lawson waited for them with his shotgun behind the tobacco barn, and when they were in range, he shot them. He then placed their bodies in the tobacco barn.

"Next, he returned to the house and shot Fannie, who was sitting on the porch. Inside the house, Marie, upon hearing the gunshot, screamed in terror, while the two small boys, James and Raymond, attempted to find a hiding place. Lawson entered the house, shot Marie, and then found and shot the two boys. Lastly, he killed the baby, Mary Lou. After the murders, he went into the nearby woods, where he finally shot himself. The only survivor was his eldest son, 19 year-old Arthur, who had gone out on an errand.

"Many people had learned of the gruesome event and gathered on the property when the gunshot signaling Lawson's suicide rang out. The bodies of the family members were found with their arms crossed and rocks under their heads. The police officer who found Lawson's body also discovered several letters to his parents, which he had written prior to his killing spree.”

The serene beauty of this old graveyard provided a most inviting contrast to the macabre story of the Lawson murders. While hunting the cache, which is just outside the boundary of the graveyard, I was standing at a spot that, according to my GPS, was one foot from the cache, looking down. Yoda Rob suddenly hollered, "It's there!" and pointed to where I was standing. When I looked up, the cache container smacked me right in the face. How handy — better, I suppose, than encountering a ghost with a ghostly shotgun.
The Lawson family graves
Not far away, we find Moratock Iron Furnace, which was built by Nathaniel Moody and John Pepper in 1843. During the Civil War, iron from the furnace was used to make swords and munitions for the Confederacy, which was cut off from outside sources of iron. In April 1865, Union General George Stoneman destroyed the furnace’s outbuildings, though they were eventually restored to operating condition, and the furnace continued to operate until the 1890s. The Moratock furnace is one of only a handful of iron furnaces that remain intact in North Carolina. There are two nice multi-caches to be found in Moratock park. No ghosts here; just a pair of Rob zombies, who would not stop following me.

Historic Danbury is a small village at the edge of the mountains in Stokes County, with many restored 19th century buildings still in use today. When General Stoneman raided Danbury in 1865, he set up his headquarters in Moody's Tavern in the center of town. Though the building remains in near-pristine condition, the tavern itself has long since closed; I suspect that if restored, it would do a brisk business. We hoofed it from one end of town to the other, gathering clues to the location of the final cache. Once again, we discovered a scenic, historical graveyard that brought much joy to this geocaching writer of all things horrific.

However, rather sadly for me, this trip cleared out all the caches I had yet to find in and around Danbury. I'd love it if some fine geocacher whose sphere of influence includes this community would populate the area with a few more nice hides so the Old Farts might ride again out that way. Hope shambles eternal.
Moratock Iron Furnace
Yoda Rob and Bloody Rob, inmates at the old prison
The zombies followed me, they did.
Stokes County courthouse in Danbury
Ol' Rodan beating the heat at Moratock Iron Furnace


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

August Book Festival at Brewed Awakening

Binding Time Café & Bookstore in Martinsville, VA, has moved to Danville, VA, and changed its name to Brewed Awakening — in fact, the new location just opened for business this week. For the past several years, as some of you will recall, Binding Time has put on a regular book festival featuring numerous local authors, including the old dude, and Brewed Awakening will be continuing the tradition. The next festival will be held on Saturday, August 29, from 10 AM till 2 PM, and I'll be on location to sell and sign books (yes, my own; I get fussed at for signing other writers' books). I plan to have copies of The Monarchs, Blue Devil Island, Other Gods, The Gaki, and possibly others on hand, so if you are in traveling distance and possessed of exceptional intestinal fortitude, by all means, stop by. I'd love to see you.

Not only does Brewed Awakening sell books, they serve first-class sandwiches, wraps, and beverages (I'm especially fond of their hazelnut latte). And for you intrepid souls who enjoy geocaching as much as braving Rainey's horrifying books, Danville is a geocaching mecca — in fact, there is a cache ("The Crossing," GC1BR2C) directly across the street from the café. Good books, good refreshments, good geocaching. A regular hat trick, wot?

Mark your calendar and join us.

Brewed Awakening Book Festival 
Saturday, August 29, 10 AM–2 PM
610 Craghead St., Danville, VA 24541
(434) 483-2138



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pirates of the Seven Lakes

For me, the best part of geocaching is getting out on woodland trails; discovering the deepest, darkest, most hidden corners of even the most familiar territory; working out the muscles and refreshing the mind. When I started caching in early 2008, I found that, within just a few miles of home, more trails existed than I could have ever dreamed. Miles and miles and miles of them. In those early days, I hiked almost every day, more fired up about exploring the woods than since I was a wee young 'un, when I was a regular woodland troll (a mischievous one too, I'll have you know). In Greensboro proper, there are thousands of caches, a good percentage of which reside on the trails, and since 2008, I've claimed virtually all of them — with a couple of exceptions.

"Pirates of the Seven Lakes" (GCJ37H) is one of the most notable. It's been out there since long before I started caching (it was placed in 2004, as a matter of fact), and after all these years, I've finally scrawled my moniker on the logsheet in that big ol' ammo can in the woods. In its original incarnation, "Pirates" was a multicache with at least nine separate stages, which included puzzles, brain twisters, and all sorts of logistical nightmares to challenge the hardiest geocacher. It was spread out over many miles and many trails, requiring some ten miles of hiking and visiting trails at each of Greensboro's watershed areas. One stage included a DVD, which you either had to watch on a portable player in the field or take home so you could solve the video puzzle to get the coordinates for the next stage. All these challenges resulted in "Pirates" being rated 5 for overall difficulty and 5 for the terrain challenge — the most difficult ratings possible for a cache. Alas, some years back, the original cache owner moved away or retired from the activity, leaving the stages to languish out in the woods. Some went missing, some were destroyed, and during the past few years, a scant handful of cachers have searched for it, and most of those who found it did so by receiving help from previous finders so they could get past the stages that were no longer viable.
One of the clue puzzles to solve along the way — quite useless out of context.
All this has changed, thanks to my old — and I do mean old — caching buddy Robgso (a.k.a. Robert, the Old Trail Dawg, or sometimes Bloody Rob), who has adopted and restored the cache to functional status.

Over the years, I had tentatively arranged to head out after "Pirates" with one group or another, but, for whatever reason, no solid plans ever came together. On at least two or three occasions, I had given the first stage a fair look, yet I just couldn't spy the bloody thing — despite knowing, both from the hint on the cache page and from anecdotal evidence, that I was searching the correct location. Ah, the frustration! When it came to my attention that several of the stages lay in disrepair, for the longest time I ended up just ignoring the cache altogether. However, in recent days, ye old Trail Dawg divulged to me that, because this cache is such an old classic, he was committed to fixing the wayward waypoints rather than archiving the whole sheboygan. At last, I figured, I would be able to take my shot at it. Sure enough, last week, Bloody Rob placed a cache in the woods on his birthday (which he does every year), and my outing to claim it took me to the Nat Greene Trail up at Lake Brandt. So — just on a whim — I gave stage 1 of "Pirates" another look. And this time — holy freaking banana oil — there was the container, plain as day, right where it's always been, in excellent condition. So, on the spot, I decided I'd start working on this cache — but over more than a single trip because I prefer to maximize my opportunities for hiking, what with so few local trail hides to go after anymore. For the past few days, I've picked up a stage or two after work, steadily working my way toward acquiring the final coordinates. At last... done. And this afternoon, I headed out to the trail head, made the near two-mile hike to the final, and, after a relatively brief search, found that great big ol' ammo can. But Sweet Freaking Yuggoth, the humidity! Old Rodan was one sweaty, melty, drippy mess while signing the log. But... by what ethereal dances, by what eternal streams... "Pirates of the Seven Lakes" was at long last conquered.
Buddha tree along the greenway,
near Owl's Roost

Now, to be fair, what was once a near-unthinkable monster in the woods is now more a straightforward multi, with only a couple of field puzzles — perfect for the more simple-minded among us to conquer. While I've no doubt the original experience was a masterpiece of geocaching engineering, this incarnation represents everything I love about caching: getting away from my damn computer (I'm on one most of the waking hours of my life) and out into the woods, exercising my muscles as much as or more than my brain, and stalking that elusive goal until I have conquered the rotten old bastard with the cheapest of ink pens. This one may no longer be a true 5/5, but it is a 5x favorite for this old caching dude. This one is la bombe surprise.

Curiously, while I was unaware of it at the time, several years ago — 2008 or 2009 — I had actually had a run-in with a stage of "Pirates." I was out on the Laurel Bluff Trail, searching for an appealing location to hide a cache of my own, and after much exploration of the woods, I found what I considered a perfect spot — only to a discover, rather to my chagrin, there was already a cache container in that spot. Since it wasn't listed anywhere on the geocaching.com site, I knew it had to be a hidden stage for some multi or puzzle cache, but I had no way of determining which one it was, for the container was empty and unlabeled. The other day, as I was following my GPS to the coordinates to stage 4 on the Laurel Bluff Trail, I knew immediately where I was going to be heading: yes, the very spot in which I had found that empty container all those years ago. This time, the container there contained exactly what it was supposed to contain, and once I worked out the necessary information from the clues it gave me, I was able to reach the next stage — in a secret place I cannot reveal here.

Completing "Pirates" was kind of like revisiting some of my earliest, most exciting days of geocaching, particularly since I haven't been out on some of the watershed trails for way too many moons. "Invigorating" is the word.

That's a really good word.
Saw lots of these out along the trail, no doubt placed by John Many Jars.
That would be some gigantic fungus among us.
Pleasant scenery along the Owl's Roost Trail

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Trollhunter


On a whim, I decided to check out Trollhunter, a 2010 Norwegian horror-comedy offering, presented as a found-footage faux documentary. Happily, because the movie makers in the film itself are reasonably accomplished, we don't have a lot of herky-jerky shaky-cam bullshit, à la The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. The movie is directed by André Øvredal and stars Otto Jespersen as Hans the troll hunter, Tomas Alf Larsen as camera operator Kalle, Johanna Mørck as boom operator Johanna, Glenn Erland Tosterud as director Thomas, and Urmila Berg-Domaas as camera operator Malica. I'm not at all familiar with any of these folks, though several members of the cast are apparently noted comedians in Norway.

The story begins with a trio of college students-slash-aspiring moviemakers out to make a documentary film about a suspected poacher named Hans (Otto Jespersen). The students attempt to interview the man, but he rebuffs them. However, late one night, they follow him into the deep forest, where they see flashing lights and hear a strange roaring sound. Hans comes running back, screaming "Troll!" An unseen creature attacks and bites Thomas, leaving him in pain but not seriously injured. The students soon find their vehicle destroyed by some unknown force. Hans takes them back to their campsite at the edge of the forest, where he informs them that he is a trollhunter. At first, the students are skeptical, but Hans allows them to accompany him on his outings as long as they do exactly as he says. He inquires if any of them are Christian, to which they all reply that they are not. This is most important, Hans tells them, for trolls are attracted by the blood of Christians. Still disbelieving, they proceed into the forest with Hans, only to witness a giant, three-headed troll for themselves. He turns it to stone by using a flash gun that emits ultraviolet light to simulate sunlight, which — as everyone should know — is lethal to trolls.

Hans reveals that he is an agent of the Norwegian Troll Security Service, a branch of the government dedicated to keeping the troll population under control. Recently, the trolls have begun emerging from their own territory in the forests and infringing on human centers of population, resulting in several deaths. It is Hans's job to determine what has happened to alter the trolls' behavior. Using live goats on a bridge as bait, Hans manages to extract a blood sample from a bridge troll via a gigantic syringe. He sends the blood sample to be analyzed but the results will take several days.

The students accompany Hans on an excursion to a farm, which appears to have been devastated by trolls, and from here they manage to follow several of the creatures to an abandoned mine. However, the trolls trap them inside due to Kalle, the cameraman, actually being a Christian. The trolls kill him, and Hans, Thomas, and Johanna barely escape with their lives.

A Muslim woman name Malica arrives to replace Kalle as the camera operator. Thomas, however, becomes seriously ill, and they now learn from the troll blood sample that the trolls have rabies, and Thomas has been infected.

A gigantic, 200-foot troll called a Jontar now emerges from the forest, and Hans attempts to kill it with a powerful rocket that can turn the creature to stone. As the students attempt to flee, Thomas collapses from the rabies infection, and the camera captures a truck coming toward them on the highway. The film proper ends, but an epilogue reveals that none of the students who filmed the footage — found by the truck driver — were ever heard from again.

I had no idea what to expect from this movie, and I'm happy to say I found it delightful. It's a fine mix of eerie atmosphere, beautiful visuals, and tongue-in-cheek comedy. The CGI trolls are whimsical, yet at the same time impressive in their size and ferocity, especially the huge creature called the Jontar. The actors are all capable enough, and I was quite taken with Otto Jespersen's deadpan portrayal of Hans, which serves to add an entirely new layer of whimsy to the story. The Troll Security Service is presented just as if it were any other state bureaucracy, the trolls just another element of nature for which the Norwegian authorities must be responsible.

The substantial amount of utterly gorgeous Norwegian scenery captured on film helps make this movie visually stunning. The nighttime scenes in the woods, in particular, generate an ominous atmosphere perfect for scale of the trolls. Certain scenes are filmed using night-vision lenses, and the stark, green-tinged images interspersed with the naturally lit scenes heighten the tension and the sense of being right there on the spot.

Trollhunter isn't perfect. While not an overly long film (103 minutes), it does seem to carry on longer than necessary, mostly due to some drawn-out scenes with personnel from the Troll Security Service. The found-footage angle works pretty well in this one, so much due to the fact you aren't distracted by the frenetic camera work (despite the story not being so bad, I never want to watch Cloverfield again; the overuse of the shaky-cam was not effective but stupid). All in all, Trollhunter is a mighty fun sampling of Norwegian humor and storytelling. Visit it for yourself.
L–R: Glenn Erland Tosterud as Thomas, Tomas Alf Larsen as Kalle, Johanna Mørck as Johanna,
Otto Jespersen as Hans
"I turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone."
"Who's that trap-trapping over my bridge? Oh... that would be me."
Jontar...big!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Perseid Rain

In the wake of my friend Pete Wells's passing, I want to put out a call for folks to have a look at the work of another friend of mine, my old college buddy, Stuart Jewell, with whom I used to play guitar, snow ski, and generally share good times. Stuart is an accomplished and enthusiastic musician, and has released an original song titled "Perseid Rain," which is available on iTunes and Amazon.com for only 99¢. Stuart also has stage 3 lung cancer, and getting this song out for the public has been one of his long-held aspirations. He recently managed to get this done via the efforts of CancerCanRock.org, which is an organization dedicated to supporting creative artists with cancer, as well as helping to get their works out to the public.

Please check out this video, which will introduce you to Stuart and his music: Stuart Jewell at CanCanRock.org. And if you can spare a buck, pick up "Perseid Rain." It's a beautiful, personal song, and the back story, which he relates in the video, is also kind of personal to me, since he and I shared at least some good part of our lives as well as creative endeavors, back when we were learning the ropes of life in general.

There is hope here.

"The shooting stars will stream with wishes bound to fill my dreams."

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Another Good One Gone — R.I.P., Pete Wells


What a terrible year it's been for losing friends.

This morning, I was stunned to learn that Pete Wells, an old friend from my hometown, had died unexpectedly due to complications from diabetes — the same thing that killed my dad, as a matter of fact, back in 2001. Pete, though, was only a year older than I. We grew up in the same neighborhood in Martinsville, VA, in the 1960s and early 1970s, and while our paths crossed with some regularity, we never really became close friends. Still, we knew almost all the same people, attended the same schools, shared countless of the same growing-up-in-Martinsville experiences — even if not at the same time. It wasn't until relatively recent years when we reconnected on Facebook that we ended up getting to know each other, far better than we ever had in our youths. We also both participated in the two Smith Brothers movies, Young Blood: Evil Intentions and Invasion of the Killer Cicadas, both filmed in Martinsville. In 2012, at the premiere of Young Blood, I saw Pete face to face for the first time since high school, and though we didn't get to spend much time together, since then, I don't believe there has been a single day we didn't spend time in each other's online company, sometimes at considerable length.

What a pleasure. What a treasure to have gotten to know Pete over these past few years.

He and I held virtually identical views on politics, religion, and people. He had strong ties to Martinsville, and I have marveled at some of the facts about the town he carried around in his head. He could sometimes tell me things about my hometown that I've never known, even though I still visit Martinsville every few weeks. I've often prided myself on having a photographic memory of certain times and places from the 1960s and 1970s, but his total recall put mine to shame. I remember the 1970s Pete as being much more a rebel than I ever was, which is probably why we didn't connect on a very deep level back then (of course, my memory of those days is sometimes a little skewed). But in these more recent times, I learned he was a warm, intelligent, and very generous fellow. He was perhaps most generous with his wit, and while he delivered his opinions on most any subject with honesty and candor, when he disagreed with others, he could do it while remaining respectful, even jovial, which is a trait I think more of us should at least aspire to emulate.

He often shared bits and pieces of his life in Rome, GA, to which he also clearly had strong ties. In his words — typed words, at that — you could feel his love for his family (whom I have unfortunately never had the pleasure of meeting) and his critters. He never failed to send his compliments to my critters, too, which always meant the world to me.

Pete, my friend, it has been my privilege to know you. From a distance, you've inspired me, and I would go so far as to say that our time together has made me a better, more honorable person. I will miss you the rest of my days.

Taken way too young, Pete Wells.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sounds and Spirits in Asheville

Old Rodan at Paley's "Passion"

This weekend, Kimberly B. and I joined our friends Beth and Terry for an overnight outing in Asheville, NC, about four hours west of here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had been there a couple of times before, primarily to visit the Biltmore Estate, though that was a couple of decades ago. We didn't go to Biltmore this time but spent most of the trip exploring the downtown area. It's become something of a hipster's paradise since I was there last, but it also boasts craploads of goodies for us staid, middle-aged sorts, at least for when we're not burrowing through underground tunnels and clambering up trees and precarious retaining walls.

Along the way, we stopped at a couple of decent wineries — Lake James Cellars in Glen Alpine and South Creek in Nebo, both of which made very strong showings in the dry reds department — which, for me, is what it's all about anway. Lake James currently offers only three dry reds — a Merlot, a Chambourcin, and a Barbera — but they're all superior by NC standards. South Creek's dry red list is more extensive, not to mention pricier. They specialize in Bourdeux-style (all French grapes), and their reserve wines, at least, are top-notch. To me, though, the highlight of our South Creek experience was the Poor Man BBQ food truck, from which I got a beef brisket sandwich with very spicy sauce that about sent me clear over the moon. A great combo with South Creek's wines.

In Asheville proper, we checked out several bistros, pubs, and wine bars, not a one of which put us out even a little bit. Of special note were The Cork and Keg Bar at The Weinhaus; Sante Wine Bar in the Grove Arcade, which is a beautifully restored public market building, originally opened in 1929, full of eclectic shops and bistros; and, my absolute favorite, The Marketplace, which we visited early this afternoon for things like fried doughnut holes, music, and — wait for it — a bit of wine. What nailed it for me here was the live music by Ben Hovey, trumpet/keyboard player, synthesist, and sonic scientist. He plays electronic fusion — soul, dub, jazz, hip-hop, and world music — that, honest to god, put me straight into musical heaven. Below, I'm embedding a recording of one of his 2012 shows, which runs over an hour. His work can also be streamed for free at Soundcloud. That hour-plus we spent today listening to his magic made my weekend.

Of course there was geocaching. Nothing overly challenging or time-consuming since caching wasn't the main purpose of our trip, but most of the hides I found were entertaining, particularly the virtual cache called "Paley's Passion" (GCJKC9), which took me to the sculpture you see in the photo at the top. It's a 37-foot-tall steel construct by artist Albert Paley, created in 1995. I quite liked it. And last night, Ms. B. showed me up by finding a cache called "Pizza, Pool, and the Paranormal" (GC36RJV) after I had overlooked it. The cache location is the scene of a 1906 massacre, where a man named Will Harris shot five people before being killed by police. Rumor has it that paranormal activity is common at the location, including phenomena such as footsteps, voices, and the apparition of a man dressed in black — who some claim to be the town execution from the late 1800s. We didn't experience any paranormal activity, but thanks to Brugger, I did get my smiley.

Do check yourself out some Ben Hovey and see if you're not as smitten as I.


Ms. B. and Old Rodan at The Cork and Keg Bar at The Weinhaus
Terry and Beth, happy!

A couple of fun critters we passed along our way
Some intriguing basement windows in an alleyway, illuminated from within
Looking in the window at the Double-Decker Cafe double-decker bus. The driver
clearly needs to put on some weight.
I don't even know who these people are. They wouldn't leave us alone.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ban The Green Inferno?


Attempts to ban material of objectionable nature have been happening ever since human beings discovered how satisfying it is to be outraged about anything that doesn't fit neatly into their individual, myopic world views. These days, outrage is so in vogue — thanks primarily to social media — that if you're not pissed off about something and laboring with religious fervor to rid the world of the source of the outrage, not just for yourself but for others, you're not being a good little tool (or, in the current vernacular, a social justice warrior). Don't get me wrong; clearly, social injustices exist, as do noble causes worth pursuing, and anyone who takes the initiative to set obvious wrongs to rights ought to be applauded. That's not at issue here. What's at issue is the burning need for the morality police to to dictate what you may see or experience, by way of boycotts, petitions, legislation, or any means that will further their own agendas, which may have even had roots in some honorable sentiment. But there's nothing honorable about "protecting" others by attempting to dictate terms you have no right to dictate. Such attempts are especially egregious when the subject in question is a work of fiction. The specific case I'm addressing involves Eli Roth's movie, The Green Inferno, due for release in September. There's at least one petition going to get its release canceled, which — at least at the moment — does not appear to have garnered much support.

It's here: Petition to Cancel the Launch of Eli Roth's Dehumanizing Film The Green Inferno. The accompanying article is written by an individual whose sentiments, in and of themselves, may have some validity. Working to save the Amazon rain forest and ascribe dignity to its indigenous people is an honorable — indeed, much needed — endeavor. Where things get foolish, however, is the point at which the organizers(s) go beyond communicating their own statement and attempt to stifle an artist using his medium to make his. Just because they don't like what it says.

I'm no great fan of Eli Roth. Every one of his movies that I've seen has been, for me, an abject failure. Except for a few amusing moments, I detested Cabin Fever; Hostel started out on a promising, disturbing note but devolved into ridiculousness; Hostel II went much the same way. At one time, when a friend who knew my feelings about Roth's movies asked whether I'd sell the rights to Blue Devil Island for a million bucks — on the condition that Roth was the director — I said it was doubtful. (Of course I was joking, or at least half-joking; I'd probably take a million bucks for Blue Devil Island without giving the first flip who made it.) But I've got to tell you, the premise of The Green Inferno appears intriguing enough (in a nutshell, it's about some characters who go to the Peruvian rain forest for humanitarian reasons, only to face becoming chow for the indigenous cannibals), the trailer looks fair, and I'll almost certainly want to check it out. Who knows — Roth may have finally hit on all cylinders. Maybe.

But that's irrelevant. The Green Inferno is fiction. It's a story clearly not based in reality. Now the movie may feature stereotyped, dehumanized characters, and it may be quite vile. Or it may be an insightful commentary about stereotyped, dehumanized characters. (Given Roth's typical displays of depth, I'm doubting the latter). But I would like to go see the movie and make up my own mind about it. Roth himself had this to say, and I respect it: "I want to make a story about kids who don’t really know what they’re getting into. They get in way over their heads... and then the irony is, on their way home, their plane crashes, and the very people they saved think that they’re invaders, and just dart them and eat them. And make them the food supply of the village."

Entertainment Weekly featured a somewhat overwrought article in response to the call to boycott, but it features a very salient line: "...the public in general often can’t differentiate the nuances between commentary on a stereotype and just perpetuating the stereotype." Just because the story is about some nasty cannibals in the Peruvian rain forest, it hardly insinuates that the population of the Peruvian rain forest consists entirely of cannibals. That's a wrong-headed assumption, just as wrong as the assumption on the part of certain reviewers that I am anti-semitic because, in my story, "Orchestra," a deranged killer targets Jewish people.

That whole Entertainment Weekly article is here, and worth a read: The Green Inferno Boycott.

Me, I plan to watch The Green Inferno. I half-suspect it will follow along the lines of his previous films. But I'm willing to give it a try to experience it for what it is, not what some misguided boneheads tell me what it is. If you want to see a movie such as this go away, I'll tell you the most effective means to reach me: write a solid, well-reasoned review of the movie, pointing out exactly where and why it goes wrong. I take intellectually honest reviews seriously, and because of this, I've kept my hard-earned money in my pocket on countless occasions when I feel that a movie, book, program, or what have you is not suited to my interest. But tell me, sight unseen on your part, that I don't have the right to watch the product of another creator's vision — however either of us might appraise its validity — and I'll tell you to fuck off, thank you very much.
A perfectly representative sample of the inhabitants of the Peruvian rain forest.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Of Conventions and Culverts

Dammit, Jim, that's my girlfriend!

Con-Gregate is done, geocaches were conquered, the shower is a mess, and I'm off my rocker. For me, between the conventioning and the caching, it was a whirlwind weekend, devoid of much downtime. I participated in several panels and workshops, all of which were well attended, well run, and punctual — something one can't always say, particularly with these smaller, local conventions. Many of the con organizers and staff are longtime veterans of StellarCon and thus know how to run a tight ship, which is a welcome fact for those of us who, as guests, have suffered through conventions that define the term "disorder."

Ms. B. had perhaps too good a time, as you may deduce from the photo above.
The men's room at Thai Herb, now open
seven days a week. My relief is palpable.

During my off time at the con, I made my way around High Point, picking up a few of the remaining caches I had yet to claim in the area. Most were of the quick and easy variety, so today, after stopping for a satisfying lunch at Thai Herb restaurant (at which, I was relieved to learn, the men's room is now open seven days a week — see the photo at right if you doubt it), I went after a particular hide that, for now, shall remain nameless, but which has been on my radar for some time. It's one placed by my friend Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager, and if one were looking for a fair terrain challenge, this one would qualify. In fact, this Diefenbaker hide is evil enough to make me think that, just maybe, Scott ought not be my friend anymore. Because Scott is evil. He is an evil man. This is an evil hide.

The first stage took me into subterranean darkness, but it at least it was possible to remain upright — never mind the fact a bad step could have resulted in mud up to my knees. (Fortunately, because I knew I might be venturing into challenging territory, I came dressed for the occasion.) The first stage proved simple enough, mainly because it stood out in my flashlight beam. Oh, could that be because a bird had built a nest on top of the container? Why, yes it could. Thankfully, at least for the bird, the nest was long-abandoned (the cache has not been found in quite a while). Now, while this stage was a little beyond the ordinary, the real fun was yet to begin. Because the cache's terrain rating at geocaching.com indicated it offered only a moderate challenge, I failed to anticipate the steps required to claim the final stage.

Think human pipe cleaner.

Now, while rating cache difficulty is admittedly subjective, if I were the cache owner, I might bump the terrain rating up from 2.5 stars to perhaps 3.5 (out of a maximum of five). However, since the cache has been out there for a few years, with a good many finds, perhaps we can just conclude that I am a weenie when it comes to terrain rating. Indeed, feel free to call me Mr. Weenie; I shan't mind.

To Scott's credit, he was kind enough to offer me some guidance as I made my way forth, and from looking at past online logs, I think it's safe to say that those of us whose higher brain functions range from marginal to impaired would be hard-pressed to find this cache without a bit of foreknowledge. However, at the end of the day, I got my signature on this cache's log, and I personally know any number of geocachers who couldn't or wouldn't do this thing, no matter how much help they had. So take that from Mr. Weenie!

A few days ago, I undertook a meticulous, much-needed scrubbing of my bathroom. Sad to say, my shower following this cache undid all that. (Go back to that line about human pipe cleaners.)

In all seriousness, Mr. Diefenbaker is a man among men, and I admire his wits, his physical dexterity, and his thoracis. On geocaching.com, you can award favorite points to caches you find particularly impressive, and this one has been so awarded.

I'm wondering whether a second shower might actually be in order.
L: Stage 1 container, complete with bird nest; R: the view facing forward at stage 2
The view facing backward at stage 2, just for perspective
My "Scott is not my friend anymore!" face. P.S. That tunnel in the background is just a walkway.
No geocaches in there.