Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Day I Burned Up Martinsville

...or damn near.

Getting tagged by a bunch of ornery yellow jackets yesterday brought to mind a particularly dramatic episode from my sordid youth, the consequences of which I might still be paying to this day had things gone really badly. I can't help but suspect I am still here only because of my mom's ever-fervent prayers for the good lord to deliver me from my own stupidity. For most of my childhood, and some would say significantly beyond, I needed as many prayers as any God-fearing soul might offer, perhaps more so than most of my youthful partners in crime.

Witness the following account:

I was about ten, which means my younger brother, Phred, was five-ish. Our house was (and is) surrounded by picturesque woods, about which we did (and still do) love to wander. Apart from Bigfoot, a Wampus Cat, the Zanti Misfits, an Allosaurus, and something called The Ick, I had never encountered anything overtly hostile in those woods, and neither my little brother nor I felt any compunction about roaming them freely. Now, behind the house, there is a sizable hillside, back then completely wooded, now partly cleared for an electrical substation. Phred and I had been out exploring the heretofore undiscovered wilderness a half a block or so up the street. An exciting expedition indeed—until that last fateful moment before we set foot back in our own yard.

We were just making our way down the wooded hill behind the house when my brother stumbled into a hole in the ground and erupted into hellish caterwauling. Oh yes, he had discovered a sizable nest of yellow jackets, and they had discovered him. He came tearing out of those woods as if his head were on fire and his rear end was catching. I recall desperately wanting to rescue him from the swarm, but since there was a huge, seething cloud of the things, I deemed it far wiser to sit back and watch from a distance.

My parents heard the shrieking and came rushing out, and I believe it was Dad who grabbed Phred, swatted him up and down to kill as many yellow jackets as possible, and ran him into the house. The poor boy had I don't know how many stings—dozens, I'd guess. An unhappier camper I'm certain I had never seen up to that point in my young life.

Now, happily, neither of us suffer any severe allergies to critter stings, so after a period of considerable discomfort, Phred made a quick and full recovery. But I found myself guilt-stricken for not having rescued him from that raging swarm, and I quickly began to formulate a plan to dish out some just deserts for the inhabitants of that blasphemous hell-hole.

Step 1 was to pour a large Coca Cola bottle full of gasoline from the can Dad kept in the basement for the lawn mower. Step 2 was to clandestinely procure some matches from the kitchen cabinet. Step 3 was to fill a plastic bucket with water just for good measure. So I hauled myself and my instruments of revenge up the hill until I could see the offending aperture in the earth not far ahead. A few little yellow bastards were buzzing around it, but they appeared to be taking no notice of me. So I crept on up with my bottle of gasoline and, with cool deliberation, poured every last drop of it into the opening. As you might guess, this stirred up a fuss within, and I suspect I was lucky that the gasoline overcame any number of would-be attackers. I took a step back, struck a match, and dropped it into the hole.


I didn't know what had just happened. As if in slow motion, this huge ball of golden-red flame came billowing up at me, and only my youthful reflexes saved me from becoming a human torch. I dropped to the ground and skittered away from the inferno, my foremost thought being "charcoal lighter fluid never went up like that!" (I had lots of experience with charcoal lighter fluid.) My second thought was that I'd better get to that bucket of water with all possible haste. I scrambled over to it, lifted it above my head, and dumped the water straight into the newborn volcano, which extinguished the heart of the blaze and sent a column of smoke roiling into the sky.

But there was lots of dry grass and foliage all around that hole, and the fire was spreading. I thought maybe I could go back to the house and refill the bucket, but by that time, most of the woods and possibly our house would have burned up. Knowing I had little choice, I braved the flames and any surviving yellow jackets—I didn't see any, as they had probably all been blown up real good—and started smothering the spreading rings of fires with the bucket. By some miracle (Mom's prayers?), I managed to get the blazes under control, all without either getting flambéed or stung to death. Once the flames were mostly out, I ran back to the house with my bucket, filled it up, and returned to the disaster area, where I once again drenched the scorched earth. I repeated this procedure at least three or four times, and by the time I was finished, the fires were completely out.

The only evidence of what I had done, at this point, was a massive cloud of smoke hovering over the area and a charred patch of ground roughly ten to twelve feet in diameter. I think I sat out there for a hour or so to make sure the area didn't spontaneously reignite. I remember praying for my mom not to come outside, but I knew my dad would be getting home from work soon. I did my best to shed myself of all signs of panic, get cleaned up, and go back inside as if nothing had ever happened.

After all that, I will tell you that the true miracle of the day was that neither of my parents ever went down to the lower part of the backyard and looked up at that hillside, because if they had, I would not be here now to tell you that story. Had Dad ever found out, I'm pretty sure I would have preferred getting burned up in the inferno or fatally stung by little yellow bastards to what would have surely come down the pike. I've always hoped my little brother appreciated me laying my life on the line to avenge his agony.

And that was the Day I Burned Up Martinsville.
The old homestead, which I'm glad I managed NOT to burn down.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Owls, Yellow Jackets, the Day of the Triffids

So I got this weird design on my arm, see. While I was out and about last night, I saw a bright light, heard a strange voice, and that design just appeared. It's like, sometimes, life is stranger than shit.

Okay, it seemed the thing to do at the time. A few nights ago, Ms. Brugger indicated she was thinking about getting a new tattoo (she's got a couple of sharp ones, not in plain view), and we got to talking about possible subject matter, and Twin Peaks came up, and then... well... I just happen to know a brilliant young artist named Eliseo whom I used to work with, and he recently got his tattooing license. So, I thought, maybe carrying some Twin Peaks around with me from here on out would actually be a cool thing. I was pretty sure I didn't want "Fire walk with me" inscribed on my left arm, for it might become necessary to lop the whole thing off. It would have been cool to have the entire Owl Cave map tattooed on my back, but I didn't think I wanted to start with anything quite that involved. But the symbol in Owl Cave — the design on the ring that comes from the "other" place in Twin Peaks — well, say no more!

And it's done. I'm very pleased with the work, it didn't hurt, and those owls, indeed, aren't quite what they seem.

Due to all the rain we've had recently, my yard has become a tropical rain forest, and it's only now dried just enough to actually mow it. Since I had spent yesterday getting the ink treatment, I figured I'd better get the damned grass mowed today, lest my neighbors deduce that Triffids have begun taking over the neighborhood. And I did this thing, I went out after work, started to pushing the machine around the yard, getting things all neat and tidy around the old tree stump out back, and then — ZAP! — it's like a little bullet just went into my ankle.

Oh, crap. It's yellow jackets. Lots of them, pouring out of a hole near the base of the stump. One of them tags me on the leg, right next to where the first one got me. One actually gets into my boot and stings me on the ankle. While brushing some off, I get hit between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. To my amusement, I discover that one is stinging the hell out of my boot lace, and he's hung there. Well, that's one ignominious death I get to deal, so score one for the old man.
100 megatons in this little Bloody Mary

Fortunately, the critters didn't swarm me in earnest, and I was able to move away from the nest without being pursued. I figured I'd take care of the nest after dark, so I went on about my necessary business, until... hang it all... the mower shudders, coughs, and dies. It had been sounding a bit off to begin with, and now it was altogether off. Couldn't resuscitate the old thing, alas—carburetor, I expect—so that ended my plan to conquer my yard full of Triffids. Sorry, neighbors, I'll fight that fight at the earliest opportunity.

Yeah, I was feeling a bit sore from the stings, so I was just as happy to come inside, get cleaned up, and make myself a Damned Rodan's Ghost Pepper Bloody Mary. It was a good 'un, and when I finished it, I had plenty to take my mind off the pain in my extremities. A damn fine drink, I can tell you, a damn fine drink indeed.

If you're anywhere near Greensboro, though, keep your distance from my place. There are Triffids.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Hey, Let Me Sign That Book for You

There was a thread on Facebook the other day where authors were sharing their book-signing horror stories, and I decided this was a topic worth broaching on my blog. I'll post this entry on Facebook and Twitter as well so that any authors who care to jump in may do so.

I've done more book signings over the years than I can remember, and frankly, only a few actually do stand out in memory. I've had signings that far exceeded my expectations and others at which the sound of crickets was damn near deafening. Most of them have fallen somewhere in the middle. And though signings are part and parcel of this business, especially when more of your product appears via paper and ink than electronic means, I can't say I've ever been all that fond of them—less because I worry about a lack of attendees than the fact that promoting my work, especially face to face with potential customers, is not my strong suit. Oh yes, I've faced up to this challenge and worked like hell to master it for a long time, but I still don't much like it. Put me in front of my keyboard in my own office, with some mood music playing and a few horrific ideas in my head, and I'll be going straight to town. Ask me to get to work promoting that very thing, and I'm going to start thinking of a whole different kind of horror.

Perhaps oddly, I don't have much problem with public speaking. I certainly do my share of that, whether about writing, geocaching, work-related issues, what have you. That's not so bad. No, it's the act of playing salesman to which I am averse.

But enough of that, I reckon. I do what I've gotta do to the best of my ability. When it comes to actual unpleasant experiences at book signings... well, I might have a couple.

Certainly, the first time no one showed up—I believe that was at a little bookstore in Hertford, NC, in the early 2000s, with a couple of other authors—yeah, that was disconcerting, yet at the same time not altogether frustrating, in that I didn't actually have to try to sell a goddamn thing. The conversation with my fellow authors was enjoyable, at least.

When it comes to more well-attended signings, there are two types of patrons I particularly dislike: 1) those who are simply rude or dismissive, especially in regard to the books' subject matter, and 2) those who never intend to buy a thing but want to chew your ear off about the book they hope to write.

The most memorable example of the first was when Dark Shadows: Dream of the Dark first came out, in 1999. The signing was either in Roanoke, VA, or Winston-Salem, NC, I can't recall for certain. Anyway, I was sitting at my table, happy as the proverbial clam since things had been going well, when this rather brusque gentleman came up, grabbed a copy of the book in his oversized paw, and started thumbing through the pages, taking no care not to bend the book's pages or spine. I quite affably asked him whether he was a fan of Dark Shadows, and his response was, "Shut up, let me just read the cover copy." I was so taken aback, I didn't have any response for him other than, "Yeah, all right." Of course, he didn't buy the book; he just dropped it back on the table and walked off. Being far older and wiser now, in the same situation I'd be more likely to suggest he put my book down and seek out a copy of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior but thankfully, this sort of offender, in my experience, has been relatively rare.

The second is the more common type. Now, I don't mind shooting the shit with someone who is genuinely interested in writing, but I'm not fond of people who have no interest in my product but will not hesitate to monopolize my time and blithely occupy the space that other, possibly paying customers might wish to occupy. At a couple of my more recent signings, I had just such encounters; at one of them I managed to divest myself of the offender by indicating there were other people trying to get to the table, and in the other case, a fellow writer was kind enough to come and rescue me because the patron was clearly not picking up on the not-necessarily-subtle signals I was sending that, as far as I was concerned, his time, truly, was up.

The flip side of this is that, far more often than not, there are plenty of folks who are kind enough to take an interest in my work and even part with some of their hard-earned cash, only to have me devalue a book with my signature. It's these folks who keep me keeping on, and I sincerely thank all such fine folks.

Okay, authors—if you'd care to share any your own tales of book-signing terror, you are most welcome, either here, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Sign away!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Beyond the Devil's Tramping Ground

Gracious, did that cross painted on the road just cause Bridget to burst into flame?
Several years ago—in July of 2010, to be precise—my friend Bridget (a.k.a. Suntigres) and I went down to Chatham County, NC, to The Devil's Tramping Ground to hunt a night cache called "Hell on Earth" (GC1GZNP). Night caches tend to be smashing fun, as you get to go out in the woods with flashlights and follow glowing markers to get where you're going, and this cache in particular made for a memorable adventure (see "Hell on Earth" for the blow-by-blow). It's rare that I revisit a cache I've already found, but Bridget wanted her significant other, Gerry (BigG7777), to experience the joy of night caching, and since there was a newer cache at the Tramping Ground I hadn't yet found, she wondered whether I might wish to accompany them. Well, shoot yeah!
BigG7777 and Suntigres at the Smokehouse Bistro in Liberty
So off we went. First, a nice dinner at the Smokehouse Bistro in downtown Liberty—an excellent burger with jalapenos and homemade chipotle-habanero sauce for me—then a handful of park & grab caches on the trip to ye accursed circle of land, located just off Devil's Tramping Ground Road near Harper's Crossroads. We arrived at the site just before sunset. The place appears innocuous enough—just a clearing in the woods set back some distance from the road—but there are distinct signs of something a little different here. There's a large cross painted on the road near the opening to the forest. Numerous trees have been etched with crosses and other religious symbols. Graffiti denigrating Satan in the rudest of terms has been sprayed on the pavement and on trees. And clear signs of wild partying litter the entrance, though once you get farther into the woods, there are few signs of human incursion.

Our first order of business was to make our way out to the cache called "Beyond the Devil's Tramping Ground" (GC5Y9KA), which proved easy enough to find. But then I discovered, deep in these dark, deserted woods, a large electrical cable running along the ground and extending out of sight. Then somewhere in the distance, I heard a faint, high-pitched "Woo-woo-woo-woo" sound, which led me to suspect I might have come upon a conduit to The Black Lodge. I didn't encounter any of its inhabitants, at least that I'm aware of (sometimes I'm not too sure about Bridget), but I reckon this was as apt a location as any to find an entry point.
Hunting "Beyond the Devil's Tramping Ground" just before sunset. Wonder if that length of electrical
cable out in the woods is a conduit of sorts to the Black Lodge....
One more cache under our belts, and the sun just about down, we turned our attention to "Hell on Earth." The first thing we realized was that, unlike when Bridget and I had gone after it back in 2010, we could see no glowing reflectors in the beams of our flashlights. Well, that was seven years ago, and trees have grown, reflectors have fallen out of trees, and our memories are anything but photographic. We ended up stumbling around in the dark for a while without success, but then, happily, BigG came upon a reflector, a considerable distance from our starting point. From there, we were able to pick up the trail, though we did lose track of the reflectors any numbers of times as we journeyed farther. At one point, I did wonder whether we might have come upon an anomaly of time and space, à la The Blair Witch, wherein the woods seal themselves up tight and refuse to permit escape. Eerie bird calls filled the night, and distant frogs and other critters had commenced a lulling chorus. But after some searching, circling, and hollering back and forth, we reconnected with the trail, and at last—voilà—BigG was able to lay his hands on the cache.

Then the fun began. Since we hadn't marked GPS waypoints on our outbound trek, and there was no clear trail at this point, we had to figure out our own ways back to the starting point. And just because Bridget and I had already done this thing once, it didn't mean we could navigate the woods with any sort of assurance. We had the parking coordinates marked, of course, but taking the most direct route out oftentimes does not constitute the best route.

Briers! Ticks! Poison ivy! Unknown things whispering and gibbering in the darkness! Oww, motherfucker, oww, motherfucker, OWW!

At last, there it was—the Devil's Tramping Ground once again, and what a welcome sight. From there, it was back to the vehicle and back to our respective home ports—and rather late, it turned out. Much satisfaction for all, of course: BigG had claimed his first night cache, and Suntigres and I added a few pelts for ourselves.

Today, at 2:00 PM, I have a presentation on geocaching and horror writing to give at the Greensboro Public Library, Glenwood Branch. That's less than a couple of hours from now, but I expect to see some of you dear readers in attendance. There will be at least one new cache nearby, just waiting for someone to grab the coveted First-to-Find honor. Might that be you?
Lost highway

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Go Ask Alice

Moviemaker Myron Smith, who with his brother, Mat, co-produced and directed the indie films Young Blood and Invasion of the Killer Cicadas (both of which I took part in), has in recent days gone out on his own to make "Sweded" versions of well-known movies, such as Night of the Living Dead, Return to Oz, and Nightmare on Elm Street. Sweded films are the ultimate in amateur moviemaking, generally very short, oftentimes hilarious, and always made on a less-than-shoestring budget. Myron has now turned his directorial efforts to his own version of Alice in Wonderland, and yesterday I had a blast taking part as one of the playing card soldiers in several scenes, including Alice's outrageous trial, which was filmed at the old courthouse in my old hometown of Martinsville, VA. Due to schedule conflicts, I'd had to turn down the more substantial role of the King of Hearts, but I did enjoy being able to slap around a few peasants and lead them off to have their heads removed by an irate Queen of Hearts.
Director Myron Smith goes over the script, the
the White Rabbit takes a smoke break, and the
rest of the cast prepares for the day's shoot.

Alas, yesterday proved to be a regular pain—literally—before things settled onto something resembling an even keel. First thing in the morning, I woke up to a call from Wells Fargo and discovered that my bank card had been compromised for the second time in just a few months. Fortunately, the bank caught what was going on and all the bogus charges were declined, but still, having to deal with the aftermath of this kind of thing is a bitch in heat. Would that such thieves—not to mention the endless stream of scam artists who have devoted themselves to defrauding my less-than-healthy mother—could be transported to a real-world counterpart of yesterday's movie set, so that I might joyously lead them to their royally deserved headless futures.

Okay, so at last I'm on set and outfitted in my costume, but before shooting can begin, one of my glasses lenses makes a distinctive popping sound and, zoom, there it goes, flying through the air like a Frisbee. Yes, the screw holding the frames together had pulled loose, but again happily, the lens wasn't damaged, and I was able to put things back to right once I got home. Lord, but I do hope these glasses will hold together for the foreseeable future, as they're not that old, and I sure don't need to be replacing them just about the time their warranty expires.

Then comes Strike Three for the day: late in the afternoon, near the end of the shoot, that accursed prismatic pattern appears in my field of vision, the undeniable proof of a migraine setting in. Damnation, I had only just suffered a migraine two days earlier, though fortunately a very mild one. The light show for this one was particularly spectacular, but once again—I say with a big sigh of relief—the accompanying headache was relatively mild and proved to be more an inconvenience than a debilitating condition, which is too often not the case. Still, it was most frustrating, as I had committed to going with Ms. Brugger to a friend's birthday bash last night, and I can assure you, handling a sizable, noisy party with a migraine, however mild, is not a welcome prospect. However, around 9:30 PM, after resting a bit, particularly my eyes, I had begun to feel more or less human again, and, serendipitously, Ms. B. texted me to see if I might feel up to joining the group for a while. So I did, and though a bit weak and washed out, I managed to hold up without causing myself—and hopefully anyone else—any undue agony.

So I guess one could say that, despite being a somewhat dicier Saturday than I would generally wish on anyone—except perhaps scammers—it proved far better than a total bust. At least I didn't lose my head.
When her wicket collapses during the croquet game, Alice becomes irate, though perhaps a bit less so
than the Queen of Hearts, who orders the wicket's head removed.
In the courtroom, the White Rabbit reads charges against Alice, while director/cameraman
Myron Smith films the scene.
Pick a card. Any card.
The jury is in. Or out. Or something.
Catching some shade and refreshment between takes. The sun about blistered my poor bald head.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Forty Years Later, and It's Not a Reunion

Photo courtesy Jim Frith
The Martinsville High School Class of 1977 — it was forty freaking years ago we graduated high school, and some of our number have retained enough brain cells to remember it (certain of us, I'm not so sure about!). Some time ago, one of our illustrious classmates had the idea that those of us who were physically and mentally able should meet in Martinsville, not for a reunion per se, but an informal gathering of old friends who might not do grievous harm to one another on sight. So, the "Not a Reunion!" event came together, held last night at The Third Bay restaurant, which is owned by one of our old classmates and is just about my favorite place for dinner, not just in Martinsville but anywhere.

Approximately forty members of the Class of 77 converged on The Third Bay last night, and I'm pretty sure I felt my heart stutter a bit. Some I barely recognized. Some hadn't had the courtesy to age a day after all this time. We'd had reunions at 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 years, but we missed out on a 35-year gathering. A shame, to be sure, as a lot of these folks I'd not seen since the last reunion, and several others not since our actual graduation.

In those days, I was probably too young, too brash, too naive, and too close to see what a superlative bunch of people the Class of 77 comprised. (Of course, back then, any of number of us yet had plenty of room for our brains and hearts to grow!) Some of us were great friends. Others of us were barely casual acquaintances. But we saw each other every day. Speaking for myself, and no doubt certain others, we took the school, the town, and the people somewhat for granted; for those of us who'd grown up in Martinsville — the majority of us, I believe — everything and everyone in town were the ultimate in familiarity, and you know what they say about that word. But getting back together now, I can safely say these folks are exceptional. Many of us traded stories about old times as well as what we're doing now. Much of what I heard humbled me. So much selflessness, compassion, and all-around human decency, all gathered in that little restaurant — and I gotta tell you, from some of these people, that blew my mind.

Okay, I jest. At least a little. But I came away last night feeling a sense of pride, and a deep respect for so many classmates I haven't so much as spoken to in way too many years.

A "real" reunion is planned for October of this year, hopefully with even more of our class showing up. Thanks in particular to Tim Hall and Baxter Robertson for coordinating this event, and to Tim Pharr for overseeing the one that is to come. To you folks I've known over all these years, whether we've actually been close or little more than memories, I salute you.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Damned Rodan's Manhattan Pancakes

I don't know whether they're really Manhattan-style pancakes, but at one of our local restaurants, that's what they call these guys — they're rolled crepes, basically, stuffed with sour creme. So I decided to try my version of them, and they were flippin' delicious. I used Greek yogurt rather than sour cream, which I think was actually better. They're best with boysenberry syrup, and I have some, except I left it at the office (I like it with oatmeal, one of my typical weekday morning breakfasts), but good old maple syrup is perfectly acceptable on these guys.

WHAT YOU NEED (1 serving; modify as needed):
1/3 cup pancake mix
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (plain or vanilla)
syrup, boysenberry, maple, or otherwise
cooking oil or spray

For the convenience of it, I used your basic Hungry Jack buttermilk pancake mix; one could always go with scratch-made, if preferred. However one does it, you need more liquid than you'd customarily use for pancake batter.

Dump the pancake mix, milk, egg, and vanilla extract into a large bowl. Whisk vigorously until the batter consistency is about the same as heavy cream.

You want your cooking surface to be very flat; I cook on a cast-iron skillet, which works perfectly for this. Heat initially on medium-high, then, just before pouring the batter, turn the temperature down to medium. Before making each crepe, I hit the skillet with a thin coating of cooking spray.

Slowly pour the batter onto the cooking surface and let it spread to a diameter of about eight inches. You want the crepes to be very thin. Cook until the batter is no longer spreading and the surface is slightly bubbly, approximately one minute.

With a very thin spatula, flip the crepe, cook for no more than ten seconds, and then move it your plate. If you've done this right, you'll have a very round, very thin crepe. Scoop a dollop or two of the yogurt (or sour cream if you prefer) onto the crepe and roll it into a nice little cylinder.

Repeat this process for each crepe. With this recipe, I made three, rolled as you see in the photo above. With the maple syrup, they were delicious, but I think next time, I'd better remember to bring home the boysenberry. Good stuff is what that is.

And there you have it: a non-spicy, non-lethal Damned Rodan recipe. What can the world be coming to?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Geocaching and the Horror of It All

Yeah, this is happening, June 10, at the Glenwood branch of the Greensboro Public Library. A little yakking about writing horror and geocaching. Couldn't be a better pairing, far as I'm concerned.

A couple of years back, at Brewed Awakening's Book Festival in Danville, VA, I met a most enthusiastic young lady named Trena Taylor, who worked for the Danville Public Library. She was familiar with my books, which I thought was nice, but the big surprise to me was that she turned out to be an avid geocacher. She was as keen on talking caching as about my writing, which was fine by me, so we had a long, entertaining conversation about both — which we continued on a couple of subsequent occasions, one when I went to hunt a wonderfully done cache (which, unfortunately, has since been archived) at the Danville library, and another at the next Brewed Awakening Book Festival. Then, relatively recently, I learned that Trena has taken a job with the Greensboro Public Library.

So...friend Trena decided there was no better way to scare the local populace than to invite me to come speak about horror and geocaching. How could I say no? So, on the tenth of June, I'll be there, spinning yarns about my adventures in the field and how they have influenced my writing — and vice-versa. There will be a geocaching mini-tutorial, and in all likelihood a new cache hidden somewhere in the vicinity of the library, which the bravest of the brave attendees might care to hunt.

If you've an interest in geocaching and/or horror, show up at the Greensboro Public Library Glenwood Branch on June 10 at 2:00 PM, and you will be at precisely the right coordinates to get a good lesson in fear.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Two Charity Events, Two Trains, One Kentucky Derby, and a Welsh Dragon

Man, the shit is getting real at the Kentucky Derby.
Nice stud, wot?!

This weekend, I attended two charity events in two days, which I expect is a first for me. On Friday night, Ms. B. and I accompanied our friends Joe and Suzy Albanese to the fund-raising auction & gala at Piedmont Classical High School, where Suzy teaches. A few weeks ago, I went to the school to speak to students about writing (see "The Author Speaks," April 18, 2017), and this weekend, Suzy was kind enough to pick up a copy of Blue Devil Island to offer at the auction. Happily, it commanded a good price for a good cause. The school provided live music, drinks, and a massive spread of excellent hors d'oeuvres, which made for an enjoyable and worthy event.

And last night, Ms. B. and I accompanied our friends Jenny Chapman and Doug Cox to Autumn Creek Vineyards to attend the fancy Run for the Roses Derby Day, their annual fundraiser for Help, Inc., an organization that helps victims of domestic violence. Derby Day is a fairly lavish affair, with a huge auction, raffles for prizes, a catered buffet, Autumn Creek wine, more live music, and the Kentucky Derby on a huge screen TV (my horse did not win, alas). All in all, a most entertaining and worthwhile experience, and I must say I should enjoy making this a regular tradition.
Beth and Suzy at the Piedmont Classical High School Gala
Ms. B. sporting a fancy-ass hat for Kentucky Derby Day
The crowd gathers to watch the Kentucky Derby at Autumn Creek Vineyards
Once again, I spent part of the weekend helping out my mom in Martinsville, while also managing to get in some hiking and geocaching. Yesterday morning, I took a long hike on the trails at Bryan Park North to pick up some of Night-hawk's new hides, and he was kind enough to offer me a first-to-find opportunity on one of them prior to its publication as a birthday bonus for an old, decrepit man. I rather enjoy the trail there that runs near the train tracks because there you are, out in the middle of the woods, and — what do you know — here comes a big old train rumbling past you. While I was out there, two trains came by, one running north, one running south (not at the same time!). I tend to enjoy train-spotting, as long as I'm not sitting endlessly at a railroad crossing while a long one goes creeping by.
The section of trail of Bryan Park North that runs near the train tracks
Tis far better to encounter one of these while hiking in the woods than while sitting at a railroad crossing
This morning, after running some errands in Martinsville, I headed up to Fairy Stone Park in Patrick County, VA, to go after a relatively new cache hidden there. It proved a quick find at a scenic spot near Philpott Lake, making for find #9,419. I quite love that area, I do, as I spent quite a bit of time there from the time I was a little kid through my college days at nearby Ferrum College. And finally, on the way back home, I stopped in Reidsville at The Celtic Fringe to satisfy my craving for their Welsh Dragon burger, which is a third-pound Angus beef patty simmered in their one-and-only Welsh Dragon ghost pepper sauce and topped with pepper jack cheese, candied red cabbage, arugula, and mayonnaise. (I even like to dip my french fries — which are excellent, by the way — in a side cup of the sauce.) Make no mistake, this is pure, delicious, wonderful hellfire! The flavorful, always perfectly cooked burger, the candied red cabbage, and just a veneer of mayo perfectly complement this sweet but fiery ghost pepper concoction. Inevitably, if you order a Welsh Dragon Burger, your server will ask you if you're aware of what you're getting into, and justifiably so, as I can only imagine the folly of some tyro with a passing fondness for hot sauce going all-out with one of these.

Not a good idea, my friends.

Kimberly's birthday is coming up this week, so more festivities loom — as do sixteen tons of work at the office as well as at home. One of these days, I've gotta get some rest.
Bigfoot's latrine? Near "VSP Get L.O.S.T. at Fairy Stone State Park" (GC6YJVW)
The old dude on the hunt at Fairy Stone Park
Arf'ing hot, man.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Another Day Closer to Death, and All That

Tuesday, another birthday came and went, a 57th revolution around the sun finished up, and the old man moved day closer to death. I think I yelled at some kids to get off my lawn, but I don't remember too well. For the first time since I started geocaching in 2008, I didn't take my birthday off to go caching because I was sick last week and missed a bunch of time from work. But Night-hawk (a.k.a. Tom) put out some new ones up at Bryan Park North, not far from here, one of which was in honor of my birthday, so that was cool. I'll go find it this weekend.

All things considered, it was a decent birthday. I went to work and people did some happy birthday things for me, and then Ms. Brugger took me out for treats: Wine Styles for wine and Fleming's for dinner. Fleming's is the about the best not-at-all-cheap place to eat around here, so it's always good when someone else takes you there for a special occasion. I had fried oysters, the best dead raw cow (a.k.a. carpaccio) in the world, some kick-ass roasted asparagus, and carrot cake that rivals Fern Brugger's. (Most of you have not had Kimberly's mom's carrot cake, and thus you might as well have never eaten. Trust me on this.) I've had carpaccio at other places, but Fleming's is the best, served with basil, lemon, black pepper, capers, red onion, and creole mustard sauce on crostini. Even Ms. B., who cares little for beef, finds this stuff irresistible.

Afterward, she was kind enough to give me some loverly presents, and then we watched Lost Highway, one of my favorite David Lynch movies. Then I was tired because I had gotten a year older overnight. Then I got up the next morning and went to work.

I suppose if fortune smiles, or makes fun of me, I'll be around about this time next year. That would be better than, well, other things.
Flemings' beef carpaccio — surely the best raw dead cow to be found anywhere

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hollering, GeoPutting, and The Stokers

Damned Rodan, Yoda Rob, Suntigres, and BigG7777, 2017 Piedmont Triad GeoPutt Champions
(Photo by Robert Isenhour)
Yoda Rob addresses the ball —
"Hellooooo, ball!" (Photo by
Rob Isenhour)

For me, this was another breakneck weekend, having to fit in serious caretaking on the home front while still getting in gatherings with numerous friends, including some geocaching. For the horror community, it was Stoker award weekend — the festivities being held aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA (which I've had the pleasure of visiting in the past) — and while I didn't win a Stoker Award, I was on the winning team at the 2017 Geoputt Event in Burlington, which involved some serious and very solemn hootin' and hollerin'.

It started on Friday evening, at the end of a long and ugly bout with a sinus bug that kept me out of work for a couple of days. I was scheduled to make a racket at the third Songwriters' Showcase at The Daily Grind in Martinsville, as I have at the past two. I felt a lot better, but my voice was about shot from several days of snorting and hacking. Regardless, I went for it and somehow managed to crank out three songs without choking. Dunno if it scared anyone away permanently, but the audience was loverly, and no one hurled nasty things at me. Score one.
Wailing on "Nova," one of the songs I wrote back in my college days (Photo by Kimberly Brugger)
Saturday, after handling necessary business on the home front, Kimberly and I headed down to Stonefield Cellers in Stokesdale to share some wine and tall geocaching tales with friend Suntigres (a.k.a. Bridget) and her S.O. BigG7777 (a.k.a. Gerry). The wine and company were great, of course, though the prodigious heat and humidity would have had a devastating effect on my hair if I had any. Ms. B. and I eventually made our way back home for dinner and a movie, and I would love to say this was all very relaxing — it actually was — but certain states of affairs about which I won't elaborate online have cost me countless hours of sleep in the past few months, and last night was no exception. Virtually no sleep. Very, very exhausting, it is.
The notorious Night-hawk,
Putt-Putter extraordinaire
(Photo by Robert Isenour)

But sleep deprivation cannot derail certain trains, and thus it was that Old Robgso, Suntigres, and the BigG met up this morning for a day of geocaching and the annual Geoputt event in Burlington. Our first destination was Siler City, where we put in a few miles of trail hiking — again in hair-curling heat and humidity — and snagged somewhere around twenty caches before heading to Burlington for the Putt-Putt event. For the big tournament, which brought thirty or so geocachers out from all around the region, I teamed up with Yoda Rob, BigG, and Suntigres. Now, back in the dark ages, I was an avid golfer — although Putt-Putt and golfing are almost mutually exclusive activities — and my team put in what appeared to be a pretty respectable showing. And at the end of it all, it turned out that we were indeed the winning team of the event. Woohoo! Wahaa! Hooooey! I even brought home a nice trophy for this astounding achievement. The notorious Night-hawk (a.k.a. Tom) won the individual best score, for which he was awarded an entirely too-small orange vest.

And that, ladies and germs, is why we play.

And in the horror fiction category, several authors of my acquaintance and of unspeakable talent took home their own haunted house trophies for superior achievement at the Bram Stoker award ceremony in Long Beach. The winners were:

Novel: The Fisherman, John Langan
First Novel: Haven, Tom Deady
Young Adult Novel: Snowed, Maria Alexander
Long Fiction: The Winter Box, Tim Waggoner
Short Fiction: The Crawl Space,” Joyce Carol Oates
Fiction Collection: The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror, Joyce Carol Oates
Anthology: Borderlands 6, Oliva F. Monteleone & Thomas F. Monteleone
Non-Fiction: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, Ruth Franklin
Poetry Collection: Brothel, Stephanie M. Wytovich
Graphic Novel: Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe, James Chambers
Screenplay: The Witch

My congratulations to the winners, all quite deserving of the recognition.

For me, tonight's aspiration to actually get a decent night's sleep, for it's going to be another long week. I do turn a whole year older on Tuesday, don't you know.

One of the day's most intriguing geocache discoveries, all hand-knitted
and constructed by Sull427 (a.k.a. Jean)
"Go that way. No, THAT way. Dammit, ball." (Photo by Robert Isenhour)
Punkins19 and Skyhawk63 (Photo by Rob Isenhour)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

From Brewed Awakening to Galaxy Express

Extensive road and sidewalk construction in the district, not to mention the ever-present threat of rain, likely kept at least some patrons from Brewed Awakening's Spring Book Festival yesterday in Danville, VA, but it still drew a respectable crowd, and I moved enough scary books to ruin a good night's sleep for any number of folks. Since its early days as Binding Time in Martinsville, the café/bookstore, under the proprietorship of John and Bonnie Hale, has hosted the multi-author book event at least once, usually twice each year. I have missed one or two for various reasons, but as a regular participant, I have always enjoyed attending the festival, and — best of all — it has been, without exception, a profitable venue for me.
Jill Van Horn, author of Sheep Eaters, and friends

While I miss having the café right up the street from Mom's place in Martinsville, I certainly appreciate the newer location, in the restored tobacco district in Danville. There's still a lot of work going on in the area; in fact, until 24 hours prior to the festival, the sidewalk where a number of us set up our tables was non-existent — just a big old patch of mud (and there were plenty of big old patches of mud remaining all around the establishment). Happily, while some serious rain came down both before and after the event, the weather cooperated sufficiently to allow those of us who had set up outside to remain there, although the serious humidity did have a less-than-desirable effect on some copies of our books.

In addition to reading material, Brewed Awakening offers a fine selection of sandwiches, soups, coffees, sweets, and other treats that have earned them the 2016 Best of Virginia award, among others. For lunch, I had a delicious roast beef on naan sandwich, with BBQ mayo and jalapeno jack cheese, called The Dibrell, with literally the best potato salad I've ever tasted. And their coffee... oh yeah, it rocks.
Photo by Bonne Helms-Hale

The nice thing about the location in Danville is that it's close to a number of other attractions for both Ms. Brugger and I — namely, 2 Witches Winery and Brewery, which we enjoyed sampling; Vintages by the Dan, a classy little wine shop offering a fine selection of spirits and free wine and beer tastings; the extensive Lou's Antique Mall, where Ms. B. can get lost for hours; and Golden Leaf Bistro, where we had an excellent dinner last night and which we have enjoyed on any number of visits.

After all this, Kimberly and I returned to my place for a showing of Galaxy Express 999, which likely remains my all-time favorite example of classic animé. I've been a fan of Leiji Matsumoto's creations since discovering them via Space Cruiser Yamato (a.k.a. Star Blazers) in the late 1970s, and I've recently been watching the 2002 animé series, Captain Harlock: The Endless Odyssey, which I'd not seen before. While it may not be the best of the series, it has served to reignite my somewhat dormant interest in all things Harlock.

A much-needed good day, and we thank you.
Preparing for the opening (photo by Bonnie Helms-Hale)
Author Tom Perry, who specializes in volumes of Virginia and North Carolina history
A busy alley!
For me, tasty flight of local brew from 2 Witches: a sour wheat ale, a triple IPA, a coffee stout,
and a scotch ale; and for Ms. B., a glass of traminette

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"The Author Speaks" (or "How to Drive Dozens of Young Innocents into the Pit of Despair")

The author offers words of wisdom to prospective young writers: "I hear there's a lot of money
to be made servicing HVAC systems." (Photo by Stephen Varsi)

My good friend and educator par excellence, Suzy Albanese, recently invited me to speak on the subject of writing to her English and Creative Writing classes at Greensboro's Piedmont Classical High School. Now, I'm always honored when someone considers me worthy of sharing some wit and wisdom to a class full of impressionable young minds, but I will admit to having some trepidation about the prospect, for at various times in the past, I have taught and/or given presentations to human people of all age groups, from elementary school through college. It's not always pretty. There was that nine-year-old girl in a class at the local art center many years ago whose dad was a lawyer, and she assured me that he would sue the pants off me if I made her complete any assignment she didn't consider fun. To this day, I'm not sure how I managed to keep my pants. On the other hand, when I taught an art course for adults at a community college once long ago, one of my students turned out to be my toughest high school English teacher, and the payback was sweet delight. As often as not, though, I've had to nurse that continual worry about losing my pants, particularly when the students are of junior high to high-school age.

Happily, this most recent adventure rendered my concerns moot, for the crew of students attending my (totally improvised) talk proved intelligent, attentive, courteous, and personally engaging. (I suspect they have some good teachers and — clearly — more than a dash of home training.) Many of them were able to converse knowledgeably about not only the fundamentals of writing in general but about horror in particular. Now, some of them might have been disappointed to learn that I do not hang out regularly with Stephen King, or live in a huge haunted house overlooking an ancient graveyard, or write a bestseller every night so I might travel the world in luxury, but no one appeared to be discouraged from diving into the pit and exploring the various shadowy corridors of their own creative minds. Try as I might, I don't believe I convinced anyone to abandon their literary aspirations for more secure and exhilarating adventures in the world of certified public accountancy. More's the pity, for surely we need more accountants; I certainly do come tax time.

At the end of the scheduled talk, several of the students came to converse with me one-on-one, which I must say I appreciated. All in all, I came out of the school with a bit more faith in at least some members of the younger generation than I had going in.

Thank you, Mrs. Albanese, for the experience was a pleasure.
These young folks are actually listening and taking notes, not fiddling with their phones.
C'est magnifique! (Photo by Stephen Varsi)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

From Burger Warfare to Round Peak and Beyond

It's been one of those nonstop, on-the-go weekends involving lots of socializing, some wine, a bit of travel, occasional geocaching, and plenty of good food — not to mention making considerable progress on my current work-in-progress, the deadline for which is rapidly approaching. All very gratifying, but in the end more exhausting than relaxing, and damn if I don't need some time to rest and recuperate, for I am old.

It began on Friday evening, when Ms. B. and I met our friends Doug and Jenny for dinner at Greensboro's Burger Warefare, a reasonably decent joint with an entertaining military theme that includes numerous giant battle robots situated both within and without. Before we knew it, we were doing the middle-aged barhopping thing, stopping in at the nearby Tap Room to sample their wares, and finally 1618 Midtown, which Kimberly and I had visited several Halloweens ago, only to find ourselves not overly enthused by its fare or ambience. Things have changed there, however, all for the better, and we were both quite taken with the improvements. We shall no doubt return.
A couple of grumpy old people
A somewhat less grumpy couple
Saturday, it was up bright and early to meet our friends Terry and Beth for a picnic lunch at Round Peak Vineyard and Brewery out beyond Mount Airy, home of the beautifully named "Skull Camp" brands, which we enjoyed sampling. Here we found great atmosphere, beautiful views, and good wine, at least by North Carolina standards. From there, it was on to Mount Airy and Old North State Winery, which we've visited a number of times, though in the past we've been more taken with their offerings than the current. Only three dry reds available this time around, one of less-than-stellar taste, two of better but hardly superlative quality. After all that, we headed to Winston-Salem and a pizza dinner at The Mellow Mushroom. Well-stuffed, that would be us.

The geocaching, while not extensive on our western outing, was gratifying, at least. I was most taken with a cache called "Freeman Homeplace" (GC4P3ER), the search for which led us out to a wonderful old cabin on the lonely back roads not far from Round Peak. Years and years back, this was a favorite location for Round Peak musicians to gather and play their old-time music and hold weekly square dances. I can certainly see setting a good, old-time horror tale out in that area....

Today's geocaching outing with Bloody Rob took us out to the Union Cross/Wallburg area, southeast of Winston, where we picked up about a dozen mostly park & grab caches, with a couple of slightly more involved hides thrown in for good measure.

I figure if World War III is on the way, we may as well get in the good stuff now. But I tell you, it's tiring, this socializing thing.

Next week... the Brewed Awakening Spring Book Festival. Hope to see you there.
The Freeman Homeplace
A nice ride for Ms. B.
The view from the porch at Round Peak Vineyard
Terry, Beth, Old Man, and Ms. B. at Old North State in Mt. Airy