Thursday, June 10, 2021

Talking Dark Shadows on the Lovecraft eZine Patreon Podcast

Lovecraft eZine proprietor Mike Davis asked me the other day if I’d like to join him and author/Dark Shadows expert Rick Lai on the eZine’s regular Patreon podcast to talk about...you guessed it...Dark Shadows. You don’t think for a minute I would say no, do you?

It’s tonight at 9:00 p.m. EDT. To access the Patreon podcasts, you need to join up to support the eZine. It starts at only $5 per month, so you’ll probably not go broke getting the goods. Anyway, come round tonight to join the fun. It’s Dark Shadows, fer cryin outloud.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Walt Disney Comics Digest


When I was a young ’un, circa 1968–1969, I owned a bunch of issues of Walt Disney Comics Digest, some examples of which you see pictured here. Although a remarkable number of publications — books, magazines, and comics — have survived the decades, mostly in the attic of Pleasant Hill, apparently none of these did. For me, the October 1968 issue, pictured at left, is easily the most memorable, no doubt because of its Halloween theme. I was most taken with its Captain Nemo comic episode, as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a favorite novel at the time, and I believe had already seen the Disney movie at the theater.

I recently found a few copies of the Walt Disney Comics Digest online, so I decided to purchase them. Happily, the October 1968 issue was among them. I remembered these things being jam-packed with comic stories, ranging from zany to educational, as well as puzzles, mazes, jokes... just about anything an adventurous, inquisitive youngster would find engaging. And sure enough. At 192 pages each, these things are dense, with as much educational material as goofy Disney character escapades. And even the goofy Disney character escapades were generally well-written — entertaining as well as a tad challenging to the young mind. I remember spending hours with these things, and it’s really no wonder. Lord knows, I may end up spending hours with them at age 62.

I don’t know if there are comparable products these days; if so, I’m sure they’re digital. For all the virtues of digital products, I don’t know that they can engage youngsters on the same level these jam-packed adventure comics did back in the day. Maybe so. Kids may find all kinds of benefits in the digital world that I don’t see, simply because that’s not my world anymore. But I am sure enjoying revisiting these remnants of days gone by. And no way am I going to let these particular issues go the ways — whatever those ways might have been — of my old, original copies.

The trio of Walt Disney Comics Digest issues to which I availed myself
A spread from “The Adventures of Captain Nemo: Doom Island

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Uh-Oh!


I’ve not drunk a Manhattan since sometime in the Cretaceous period, but while I was in Martinsville on Friday evening, on a whim, I decided to pick up the fixins and make one. Damn, it was good! And it made for excellent company while I went digging through some entertaining memorabilia in the attic and elsewhere at Pleasant Hill. I dunno that it will become a new staple, but something tells me it won’t be nearly so long until I make the next such cocktail. It sure helped sand the edges of what had been a fairly rough week.

I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with the Manhattan — more the need to get the stagnant blood moving — but there is a good-size dogwood tree in the front yard I have never climbed, and I decided it was as good a time as any. Yep. I climbed the tree and spent an enjoyable while up there taking in the view at sunset. It seemed the place to be at the time.

Bright and early Saturday morning, I rode up Fairy Stone State Park to hunt a new geocache (“A Bench with a View #2GC9BMGC), which I managed to find readily. At that hour, there wasn’t much activity going on, although the beach was open for swimming. A few folks were already wet. As a youngster, I made many trips to the beach at Fairy Stone, but I don’t think I’ve been there for swimming (or paddle boating) for almost a decade, when Ms. B. and I spent a pleasant day on the lake. But for geocaching, Fairy Stone is a favorite and relatively frequent destination. Despite mounting heat and a brutal mosquito attack, I quite enjoyed the brief excursion. As I was going back to my car, I heard what I at first thought was a kid hollering “Uh-oh!” somewhere nearby. But then I realized it wasn’t a kid but a bird. My best information is that it’s a fishing crow, a critter I am fairly certain I’ve never heard before. Play the video below to give the amusing little fellow a listen.
After that, it was back home to get to work on the home renovation — this time, removing, cleaning, and sanding the kitchen cabinets (at least a few of them this time around) in preparation to paint them. We had the new countertops installed last week, and they look quite lovely. Next step is the new flooring, which we ordered yesterday afternoon. What a job this is turning out to be, not that I ever had any illusions it would be anything else.

For dinner, friends Joe & Suzy came over, and we ordered pizza from Marco’s, which is, in my considered opinion, the best pizza in town. Needless to say, there was a wine aplenty, all good, both white and red. We took advantage of a reasonably comfortable evening to eat dinner and hang out on the front porch for a while before the mosquitos finally drove us indoors.
The lighting from our phones provided a weird, somewhat intriguing image of the gang
Hallo, how are you, nice day

Naturally, this morning saw the No-Dead-Weight Irregulars — Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Old Rob (a.k.a. Old Rob), and Old Rodan (a.k.a. me) — getting together for a geocaching outing in Cary, over near Raleigh. We hiked the Hatcher Creek Greenway for several miles, picked up a few caches in other random, nearby areas, and had a dynamite Mexican lunch at Mi Cancun restaurant — literally, some of the best Mexican food I’ve had in ages (street tacos with very hot & spicy chicken for me). There are plenty of caches left in the area to bring us back, so I suspect we will venture to Cary again in the near future for, hopefully, an equally enjoyable encore.

I anticipate the usual work week coming up, but potential stumbling blocks with Mom’s estate loom large, all the more frustrating because they’re neither of my making nor under my control. But if the worst happens, it’s going to add yet more complications to this endlessly complicated ordeal. It is altogether frustrating and unpleasant. I really, truly, cannot wait for this mess to end. To add insult to injury, I have been summoned for jury duty next month. What a fooking treat.

Otherwise, life is.
The No-Dead-Weight Irregulars meet an angel in a graveyard in Cary
Long, elevated boardwalk on the Hatcher Creek Greenway in Cary

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Bill Vickers — Unforgettable


The relentless parade of death marches on, this week taking my favorite and most memorable teacher from my school days. William (Bill) D. Vickers was my tenth grade biology teacher at Martinsville High School (1974–1975), and I consider him among the most positive influences on my life — maybe the most, outside of my immediate family. Mr. V. was, first and foremost, a likable, well-spoken gentleman who showed respect to everyone — even when some of us scarcely deserved it. He didn’t tolerate any guff, but his personality was such that even the worst of us didn’t want to give him any guff.

In class, Mr. V. gave us all nicknames. I was Polo (you know, as in Marco). We had Sir Slab, Ms. Red Nose, Jaypee, Bonneville, and all kinds of other colorful names. In later years, he called my brother “Mark” — not after me, but after comedian Mark Russell, whom he said Phred favored.

Now, I can’t say as I remember shit about Gregor Mendel or the phylogenetic tree of life or the finer points of natural selection. But I clearly remember the labs where we evaluated the merits of evolution vs. scientific creationism (because in those days you could do this without setting off a holy war); debated whether marijuana should be legalized (and to what degree, be it medicinal or in general); and analyzed current social issues (such as whether we favored busing students to distant schools to fulfill integration quotas). Of course, we did actually study the more traditional aspects of biology, and to reinforce our learning, we regularly played games, such as Chalk Talks, which made the subject fun and, above all, memorable.

Later, when Mr. V. became interim principal at the high school, I would on occasion drop in to say hi, and he’d take time out of his busy day just to shoot the shit for a while. One day in the late 1980s, when I was living in Chicago but visiting Martinsville, I saw him coming out of church as I drove past. I stopped the car, we started talking, and that went on and on for some ungodly spell. Again, I’m sure he had other things to do, places to be, and people to see, but he never short-changed anyone his time.

I believe the last time I saw him was in the early 2000s, when his daughter was babysitting for friends Joe and Suzy. When he came to pick her up, once again, we ended up deep in conversation for a ridiculously long spell.

Martinsville Bulletin writer Holly Kozelsky interviewed me earlier today about Mr. V., and she did a bang-up job getting a lovely profile written and on the site in just a few hours. Here’s the link:

Peacemaker Bill Vickers: What He Did Was He Listened

I just wish I had been able to see Mr. V. again before it was too late. At least during those encounters with him after high school, I let him how in no uncertain terms how profoundly he had influenced my life. (I’m still working on those life lessons about showing respect to people who I calculate don’t rate any.) I trust there were many, many folks within his sphere of influence who share my better sentiments.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorable Memorial Day Weekend

Never do I forget what Memorial Day is actually about. Every year, I welcome the reminder to reflect on how those who gave their lives in the service of our country have helped shape the quality of life I enjoy every day, regardless of the trials and pitfalls that being alive inevitably brings. I expect few of us have not known someone, or multiple someones, who died in the country’s service. As a student of history, particularly military history, I believe it is paramount to understand the ideals and sacrifices made by those who have come before us.

That said, I feel no compunction about relishing life and the opportunities for joy on this day — or any other, for that matter — and this weekend has offered a welcome respite from numerous stressors, most specifically the brutally sad job of dealing with my mom and brother’s deaths. The resolutions for both estates are progressing in their ways, and the depth of grief, if not truly diminished, is generally more manageable than it was for some long time. Still, this is the hardest, most stressful time of life I’ve ever known, and the accompanying fatigue, both emotional and physical, has at times thrown me for unexpected loops. Add the stressors of the pandemic — now somewhat lessening, thank Yog, since I opted to bear the unthinkable risk of taking the COVID-19 vaccine (yes, that is a dig at you, some of you unconscionable fucks) — and it is fairly safe to say that, at the very least, life is not boring.

As for My World and Welcome to It, I did something on Friday evening I haven’t done in ages: stay up till the wee hours watching movies without falling asleep halfway through. These days, I tend to be vigorous until about 8:00 p.m., zonk for an hour, then get a second wind that lasts until about midnight, give or take an hour. But for whatever reason, the other night, 20-year-old Mark saw a resurgence, and somewhere around 11 p.m., I started John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, which I have not seen in at least three decades. It was about as I remembered: intriguing in its way, but not nearly as polished or engaging as Carpenter’s films that came directly before or after. Once Prince of Darkness was over, undaunted by fatigue, I took to searching the Roku for something entertaining and, eventually, settled on Splinter (2008). This one struck me as the perfect late-night (roughly synonymous with “drive-in”) horror flick. This ran until damn near 3:00 a.m., at which time I contemplated starting something new. Alas, by then, the old body had begun to argue. I shuffled off to the bedroom and slept till almost 9 the next morning, which is not an “Old Mark” thing to do, not by a long shot. Generally, I am up far earlier, despite my most fervent hopes, wishes, and dreams.

Saturday morning, a couple of new geocaches awaited my attention, one of which was dedicated to friend Old Rob (a.k.a Old Rob), placed by devious friend Ms. Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie). This one took some serious hunting, in difficult terrain and oppressive heat and humidity. But find it we did, and thus earned the ever-dubious first-to-find honors. Afterward, I found another of Ms. FDTS’s new hides before returning to Casa di Rodan. Toward evening, Brugger and I drove Burlington way for another nice cache, and then we settled ourselves for wonderful dinner at Simply Thai in Elon. Following, we watched the 2009 remake of The Taking of Pelham 123. We had just watched the original, an old favorite of mine, a while back, so we wanted to compare. The new one wasn’t bad, not by a long shot, but it remains inferior to the original 1974 classic.
American Gothic, the Creeple People edition

Yesterday, the No-Dead-Weight Irregulars — this weekend’s incarnation comprising the aforementioned Old Rob and Ms. Fish — headed to Winston-Salem, first and foremost to put the finishing details on my brother’s house so that it can be listed on the real estate market this coming week; secondly to hunt geocaches. Most happily, we avenged a couple of DNF (Did Not Find) attempts from a while back, and we discovered a loverly trail system in historic Bethania that includes an old mill and a scenic, serene graveyard dating back to the early 1700s. We had lunch at Village Tavern in Reynolda Village, which has, historically, been one of our favorite destinations for mealtime on geocaching days. The food was its typically good self, but service was S.L.O.W. beyond the bounds of reason, considering the place appeared to have more than adequate staff for the number of patrons. Now, I am willing to give any establishment the benefit of the doubt for the occasional unsatisfactory experience, and given the number of places needing help, I wonder if there wasn’t some training of new folks happening at the time. That being the case, I am very understanding of the situation, and I just hope things will improve. No, Village Tavern has not struck out with me, not by a long shot.

This morning, a single Old Rob cache lurked out on the Owl’s Roost trail near Bur-Mil park, so Ms. FDTS and I met at 10:00 a.m. and hiked out to it. We managed to find the little bugger after a relatively brief search. Then we headed over to the nearby Palmetto Trail so I could perform maintenance on one of my really old hides (“No Dead Baby Jokes, Please” [GC2YVWF].

And that brings me around to where I am. Remember why Memorial Day is what it is; get yourself vaccinated, if you haven’t undertaken this ungodly monstrous risk; and try to treat your neighbor better than I do. That can’t be very damned hard.
Old dude’s playhouse? Old dudes will play, after all.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter.
Old feller with one foot in the grave
No wonder the British lost; Cornwallis’s road peters out after just a couple of hundred feet.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Secret Asia’s Blackest Heart


FROM THE PUBLISHER...
To many westerners, Asia might be considered an entirely different planet right here on earth. The ancient wisdom of its many cultures — some of it esoteric and fantastic — has been described by travelers like Alexandra David-Neel (Magic and Mystery in Tibet) and Madame Blavatsky (Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine), who invited Westerners to imagine the existence of Asia’s deepest and most sinister secrets. Sax Rohmer, Talbot Mundy, John Taine, E. Hoffman Price, and so many others attest to this. Nor was H.P. Lovecraft immune to the lore of this fictive Orientalism. For example, the hidden Plateau of Leng was likely another name for Tibet. August Derleth set up his lemonade stand right next door, creating the shunned Plateau of Sung in Burma, where the terrible Tcho-Tcho People planned their mischief. Lin Carter joined the game, contributing his own Plateau of Tsang. There seemed to be room in the vastness of Asia for all of them and more. The title of the present volume is a phrase taken from one of Carter’s Mythos tales, and it nicely sums up the general theme.

Some of these stories are set here in the West, but they derive their horrors from imported Asian traditions. Others actually take place in Asia. All are fascinating and full of wonder and dread. Our gurus of gore and and lamas of lore include the likes of Ann K. Schwader, Stephen Mark Rainey, Don Webb, Michael Fantina, Joseph S. Pulver, Laurence J. Cornford, and Pierre Comtois.

Secret Asia’s Blackest Heart, edited by Robert M. Price and published by Sweden’s Timaios Press, features my story, “The War Lords of Leng.” Check it out at Amazon.com here.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Damned Rodan’s Fiery Thai Beef with Basil

It’s recipe time. I frequently make a Thai dish or two that generally turns out acceptable in the extreme. Granted, my Thai cooking is quite simple, but the results are always satisfying. Here is a rough outline; I always tweak it a bit based on ingredients — and time — I have on hand. The amounts are approximate; all can be adjusted to taste.

Damned Rodan’s Fiery Thai Beef with Basil
What You Need (serves two): 
2 eight-oz. Angus beef steaks, thick cut
1 cup jasmine rice
1/2 cup white onion, chopped
1/2 cup green onion, diced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
2 hot chili peppers, sliced
2 tbsp hot chili oil to marinate; 2 tbsp to cook
1 tsp butter
1/2 tsp garlic powder (or, if you’ve time and inclination, roast your garlic cloves)

For sauce:
1/3 cup chili garlic sauce
1/3 cup fish sauce
2 hot chili peppers, sliced
juice from 2 limes
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar

Prep:
For best results, marinate the beef in hot chili oil, garlic, and a portion of the sauce for an hour or so before cooking. Save the rest of the sauce either for dipping or to pour on individual portions. Make sauce by combining chili garlic sauce, fish sauce, 2 of the hot chili peppers, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, and brown sugar. Stir together thoroughly. Combine basil and green onions in a separate bowl. Cook the rice prior or during beef prep.

What You Do:
  1. Pour hot chili oil into a skillet (preferably wok or cast iron). Heat to medium high.
  2. Place beef in skillet. Sear both sides of the beef — three to four minutes per side. After the first turn, drop the butter into the skillet and add the lime juice, chopped onions, and sliced chili peppers. Note: Your eyes will burn.
  3. When the beef is seared, reduce heat to low. Remove beef from skillet and cut into slivers, against the grain. Place slivered beef back into skillet and cook on medium low to — preferably — no more than medium rare.
  4. Spoon beef, peppers, onions, and reduced sauce onto rice. If you wish, add additional sauce. Top with basil and green onions.
  5. Partake of the goodies and scream in agonized ecstasy.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Rainey’s Orange Cat Wine Bar


In the Better-Late-Than-Never Department: Brugger’s birthday present to me finally arrived. Best present ever, really. I reckon this will be displayed prominently somewhere around the house.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Decompression

Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom) preps the boat for a day on Belews Lake
Last week proved a not-so-easy one, as I had to focus on taking care of several estate matters — both for my mom’s and my brother’s — as well as putting in considerable time on the home improvement front. So I took Friday off and joined geocaching mates Rhodorooter (a.k.a. Dave), Old Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob), and Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom) for a day of boat caching on Belews Lake, a few miles northwest of here. Tom needed to do maintenance on several of his lake caches, so he had offered to take the rest of us out there to claim them. We had hot, if otherwise agreeable weather, and the caching couldn’t have been much more fun. My favorite — “The Lonely Bison in a Tree” — was, in fact, a bison tube in a tree. The tree was too spindly to climb, too stout to bend down to retrieve the cache, so the answer was to use a ladder to get up there and grab. I happily performed the necessary deed, and I didn’t even fall down go boom.
Three of the four old farts on our boat outing: Old Rodan, Old Rhodorooter, Old Rob
Speeding toward the Duke Energy power plant on Belews Lake
After the trip, I went forth to the old homestead in Martinsville, with more estate business to handle. I had not been looking forward to it, but I concluded the matter (I hope) without undue complication (I hope), so on that count, at least, I am satisfied (I hope).

Saturday morning, I hastened back home to Greensboro, where I quickly fed cats and then headed over to Brugger’s place. We then made tracks for the Nelsons’ place in Kernersville, for they had plotted an outing to Roaring River Vineyards and Jones von Drehle Vineyards over near Elkin. At Roaring River, we had a lovely lunch on the deck, which overlooked the Roaring River (why, yes it did). The wine there is so-so, though we did take notice of a couple of the reds. North Carolina vineyards tend to do better at whites than reds, but here, the reverse was true. Having completed our task at Roaring River, we mounted up and moved on to Jones von Drehle. I had not previously heard of this winery, but they apparently have big hopes, for they are doing some extensive upgrading to the property, including constructing a sizable amphitheater for live music shows. The wines here had a little more going for them than Roaring River’s, particularly their Cab Sauv and a blend of Cab Sauv and Norton. Make no mistake — in no way could we claim anything but an enjoyable time at both vineyards, and I would not mind revisiting either or both in the not-too-distant future.

On the way home, Ms. B. and I made a few late-night stops on the outskirts of Kernersville to pick up some recently published caches. I was too late to snag the first-to-find honors, but that really made no never mind; it was nice just to grab a few quick caches at the end of the evening.
The view from the deck at Roaring River Vineyard & Winery
The Wild Bunch in the vineyards at Jones von Drehle: Old feller, Ms. B., Beth, Terry 
This morning, a smaller-than-usual group Socially Distant No-Dead-Weight IrregularsOld Rob (a.k.a. Old Rob) and Old Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott) — joined me for a Chapel Hill geocaching outing. A few newer hides in the Carolina North Woods, which we have frequently roamed and cached, awaited our attention, and we managed to snag all those we hunted. We put in a reasonably rugged five miles, which tired us old folks out something fierce. So we hunted down and killed lunch at The Spotted Dog in Carrboro, which has long been one of our favorite eating/drinking establishments in the area. Scott and I both enjoyed spicy bloody marys (a bit heavy on horseradish!) and we worried a couple of big honking turkey burgers absolutely to death. Thus exhausted, we quitted Orange County and returned home, where I fell over and went bOoM.
How ugly! Old Rodan, Old Diefenbaker, Old Rob
Turkey burger too big even for big mouth!

Lastly — and sadly — I must report the passing of my old friend, Lars Ullberg, who had been one of our regular gang in my Chicago days of the 1980s. I had no idea he’d been having health problems, but apparently so. As of yesterday, he was expected to undergo some rehab, only to be given the news he would no longer be able to walk. Then, this morning, I learned he had passed away during the night. While it was nothing like our face-to-face good times from all those years ago, we interacted regularly on Facebook, and it was always a pleasure when he posted on my timeline. His last post to me was just a couple of days ago. I’ve seen so many friends and loved ones pass away in recent days, I begin to understand the depression my mom was feeling before dementia robbed her of her memories, good, bad, or otherwise. Just last week, at Pleasant Hill, I found an envelope of obituaries she had collected. It was like an encyclopedia of every adult I had known  — and felt close to — since my childhood. Almost without exception, all of Mom’s good friends had preceded her in death. I reckon every living soul has this to deal with in some fashion, some sooner, some later. I figure I’m facing this aspect of life — and where it’s headed — as healthily as I can.

Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention....

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Another Some Week!

Odd old dude at Casa di Rodan
I’m finding time to get on here to blather about my world and welcome to it about once a week now, usually when things are winding down on Sunday evening. Apart from the day job, I devoted most of this past week to home renovation — both here and at my late brother’s place in Winston-Salem — with the merest smidgen of writing and geocaching thrown in. Here at home, I got the stairway banisters painted, the kitchen trim touched up, and the outdoors neatened up a bit. Tuesday after work and on Saturday during the day, Ms. B. and I spent a passel o’ time putting what I hope are the finishing touches on Phred’s property before listing it for sale.

Last night, we got together with our once-regular Supper Club group — friends TerryBethJoe, and Suzy — for the first official Supper Club event since the pandemic began. Beth prepared a feast for us at their place, and the wine flowed perhaps a little too freely. This, at least, did make for a nice break in the all-but-nonstop work schedule this week.

Brugger and I knew we’d have to replace the range here in the not-too-distant future, but we were hoping to hold off on it for a bit. However, Friday evening, I was cooking up some dead bird in the oven, and when I opened the door to check it, I realized things appeared a bit brighter than usual in there. That’s because the heating element was on fire. Happily, I managed to save the chicken wings and finish cooking them in the skillet. They turned out grand. But the burned-out oven meant going ahead and getting a new range. It was supposed to arrive this afternoon, so first thing after getting out of bed this morning, I headed over to High Point to snag a handful of caches. That done, I entertained thoughts of picking up a couple of more in nearby Thomasville, but I was getting hungry, so I opted to come on home. Good thing I did because I had just arrived back here when the guys from Lowe’s called to let me know they were on their way with the new range. It’s a right nice range, and I managed to operate it this evening without starting any fires. I had been needing to re-season my cast-iron skillet, so I managed to get that done as well.

Brugger came round this afternoon, just after the range arrived, to further the home renovation cause. That lasted well into the evening, so we ordered dinner from Grand China and watched a few episodes of M*A*S*H. I would have said that was a pleasant, fitting end for things, but once Brugger got home, she discovered she has what is likely a septic tank problem. A pretty ugly one, at that. Ick and double ick.

Anyhoo, coming up this week...another rugged-ass week. May the lord bless and keep you and all that.
The nice natural area behind my brother’s place, now much nicer after a devoted effort
clearing out scrub and such
Phred’s patio area, which had been almost completely overgrown, now cleared and ready
for some as-yet-unknown someone to enjoy hanging out and drinking wine

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Some Week!

Today is Brugger’s birthday — which we celebrated at Fleming’s Steakhouse & Wine Bar this past week with friends Stephen and Samaire — and it kind of snuck up on me that it’s also Mother’s Day. Above, you see Mum holding Phred, guarded by a weird little cowpoke, circa 1964. Hard to believe that, of the family I grew up with, I am the last survivor. Never would I have believed such a thing. This week, I’ve reflected a lot on a sometimes tumultuous but essentially rich life. I miss my mom, my dad, and my brother more than words can ever express.

Although, overall, this week hardly seemed much out of the ordinary, it offered a number of unprecedented and/or unusual moments. We began the week with my birthday. Sixty-two great big ’uns, that’s how many of these particular days I have weathered. For my birthday, I bought myself a Godzilla figure — something I’ve done only once in the past four decades. It seemed the thing to do at the time. So, in the same spirit, for Brugger’s birthday, I bought myself a MechaGodzilla (Kiryu) figure. Lord knows, I can’t afford for this kind of thing to become a habit, but at least the MechaGodzilla was pretty much free, due to having all kinds of bonus points to spend at Amazon.com.

Early in the week, a young gray fox came around to visit. I have, on occasion, encountered foxes in the wild, but never one around these parts. It was a lovely critter to see, yet I fear it came over to my yard because the fuckers down the way are cutting down all the woods to make way for yet another goddamn superfluous subdivision. I’m so sick of these shitheads cutting down every inch of green space in this town I could fucking spit. It’s ugly, harmful, disgraceful. You might be forgiven for believing I hold strong opinions on this subject.

On a far more intriguing note, last night, Brugger and I spent a most enjoyable evening at the home of our friends (and geocaching buddies) Tom (a.k.a. Skyhawk63) and Linda (a.k.a. Punkins19). We did, believe it or not, partake of some wine, and our hosts provided a superb kabob dinner, followed by (fresh) strawberry shortcake and an intriguing dessert wine. We had kicked back to relax around their newly built firepit when Linda noticed an unknown phenomenon in the sky: a seemingly endless train of lights in the sky, moving at high speed directly above our heads. At first, we though perhaps it was the wreckage of the Chinese rocket that had been predicted to crash to earth last night; these objects, however, appeared far too uniform and perfectly spaced to be wreckage. And soon, we noticed a perpendicular stream of lights farther south. Brugger immediately took to Google, and we discovered this was almost certainly SpaceX’s StarLink satellite train. Now, I tend to keep up with most such technological developments, but I confess that this one had completely eluded my attention. None of us had any inkling about the existence of such a thing. I found it a bit disappointing that this was not the long-awaited Martian invasion, but then, the odds against anything coming from Mars are a million to one, as the quote goes. Unfortunately, the video I took provided only a black sky and a lot of slightly alcohol-slurred exclamations from the group of eyewitnesses. Similarly, my photos (example above) convey the spectacle only slightly. Regardless, it was an unexpected and, at the time, exciting experience for the lot of us.

Comparatively, it may be far more prosaic, but the house renovation continues to progress slowly but surely. Early in the week, we had the downstairs rooms measured for new flooring and the deck stained, the latter courtesy of Carlos’ Paint Company (the same folks who did a bang-up job on our living room). I’ve put in several evenings on various interior projects, and Brugger and I worked most of the day yesterday, she prepping the downstairs bathroom for painting, I painting doors and trim and putting up new blinds.

Now, I can only hope my houseful of giant monsters don’t get loose and undo the labor and expense Brugger and I have put into all this.

I barely managed to touch Georgia: The Haunting of Tate’s Mill, my Ameri-Scares novel-in-progress, but I hope to get more time in on it this week. There’s still a mess of estate business to deal with too, so we shall see what we shall see. And that, I reckon, is that.
Freshly painted doors in the living room
Downstairs bathroom, walls stripped of wallpaper, ceiling blessedly bereft of popcorn,
mirror removed (so now it looks really tiny in there) 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Grass-a-Lot


Today would have been brother Phred’s birthday — 57th, I believe. I found it gratifying to see many of his friends remembering the occasion on social media. I devoted some time to listening to his music, looking at old photos, and reflecting on our lives together.

For at least a fair portion of his Industrial Soldier days, Phred lived in the sticks outside of Blacksburg, VA, following four years and some change at Virginia Tech. Although I believe he wrote “Grass-a-Lot” while he was in college, probably dwelling on campus, he preferred remote, relatively isolated living, which is what his later residence outside of Blacksburg offered him. In the late 1980s, after moving back south from Chicago, I spent a considerable time with him out there in the sticks, and I rate those days as among the best we ever shared. “Grass-a-Lot,” for its youthful, mildly rebellious tone, could have been his musical banner during that period, not to mention the days and years that followed. The sentiment is one he and I have had in common. That sense of belonging to a place — even a time — is as powerful in me now as it was then, and hearing this particular song after something like three decades brings me around full circle, emotionally. Its power comes largely from a youthful perspective that speaks just as loudly to the old fart in at least some of us.

In those days, Phred’s vocals were raw and untamed, but the composition and musicianship, as with everything Industrial Soldier, more than stands up to critical listening.

You can check out “Grass-a-Lot” on Dropbox here.

Grass-a-Lot
©Phred Rainey, Industrial Soldier

Behind this fence we dig our trench
And grab our part of the land
We got here first, and here we are
And now get out of hand

It’s occupied, now we’re on our own
We’ll take it off the map
And place it here
Far as eyes can see

We could give the neighbors something to talk about
Perhaps they’ll make a law someday and make it safe to live loud
Are we far away?
Do we owe them any sleep?
Not today

They come from miles around to see if we are real
If the creeps are in our yard, we’ll down ’em
And bury them in the field
We know what's right and this is why we know what’s at stake
Our lives are here
To a bitter end

We could give the neighbors something to think about
Perhaps they’ll make a law someday and make it safe to live loud
Are we far away?
Do we owe them any sleep?
Not today

Inside the fence we raise our fists and grab our part of the land
We got here first and here we are
So get off our land
Truth to tell, we’re doing well in a place we can call our own
Our lives are here
Our grass is here

We could give the neighbors something to talk about
Perhaps they’ll make a law someday and make it safe to live loud

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Bethania Birthday

Bewilderbeest, Fishdownthestair, Old Rob,
Diefenbaker at “Goliath”

Today was this old man’s birthday, and as birthdays go, it proved right enjoyable. The entire weekend, though, whirled through so fast and hard it barely registered on my radar. Ms. B. missed the lot of it, for she was gone on a crafting retreat in Georgia. Poor thing, that Ms. B.

Friday after work, I headed to the old homestead in Martinsville, where I hosted a relatively mellow evening with friends/fellow writers Stephen Provost & Samaire Wynne. We sat out on the back deck with tiki torches burning, enjoying wine and snacks, until fairly late in the evening. On Saturday, I went straight down to Winston-Salem, where I spent most of the day cleaning out my brother’s house (now technically mine) in preparation to get it on the market as soon as it’s possible. That was a long, ugly job, but with ample help from Phred’s friend/executor Jane and my friends Terry & Beth, we emptied it of the vast majority of its contents. I did manage to snag a couple of geocaches for good measure.

Once back home, I found my former next-door neighbors Paul & Jamie hard at work on their house as they prepare it to be listed for sale soon as well. We partook of some fine beverages and, a bit later, ordered Mexican food from Luna’s, which we enjoyed on my front porch.

This morning, I met friends Old Rob (a.k.a. Old Rob), Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), and Cupdaisy (a.k.a. Debbie, a.k.a. Bewilderbeest) in Historic Bethania, just north of Winston-Salem, for a day of the rigorous hiking and geocaching. We found some fun ones, didn’t find a frustrating one, met a friendly snake, and enjoyed a late lunch (a damned fine burger for me) at The Village Tavern in Reynolda Village. One cache, which turned out to be our favorite of the day, led us to what is surely the most massive (if not the tallest) sycamore tree I believe I have ever seen. And a big old thing it is, with numerous trunks, perched right on the edge of Muddy Creek. We clambered all over that thing, taking in the various views. Of course, we signed the cache log.

After caching, I had to make a last stop (for now...) at Phred’s house to grab a few things that wouldn’t fit in my car yesterday. I didn’t collapse from exhaustion when I got home, but I came about close as one might care to. I reckon that’s what happens when you are no longer on the younger side of old.

Rounding out the nice birthday, I received payment for a short story coming up in a new anthology from Dark Regions, and a contract for another one recently accepted for publication in another upcoming book. I will offer up a big “yay!” for both these things.

I sleep now.
Ermengarde the Snake, named after a character played by Shoffner in a theatrical show some years ago.
Meeting of the half-minds (Natalie, Old Rob, Scott, Bewilderbeest)
 
L) Looking up at one of Goliath's many trunks; R) view of Muddy Creek from Goliath

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Falls Lake Rail Trailin’

The Vaccinated But Still Socially Distant No-Dead-Weight Irregulars
No fire-breathing Tyrannosauruses on today’s geocaching adventure, but we did encounter a fire. The Vaccinated But Still Socially Distant No-Dead-Weight IrregularsDiefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Old Rob (a.k.a. Old Rob), and ye olde fart (moi) — met up at Falls Lake in Durham County to hike one of the area’s rail trails. This one is the long-abandoned Durham & Northern rail line, which dates back to 1887. There are ten caches along this particular stretch, and we set out to find them.

The hike took us about a mile and a half out to a point in the lake accessed by the narrowest of land bridges. The cache out there — “Guardian of the Point” (GC1DN30) — was an easy favorite for us, as the scenery out on that long, narrow strip of land turned out to be pretty spectacular. And we found fish. Dead fish. Many dead fish. They had clearly been swimming around there during a period of high water, and when it receded, they were trapped. Well, that really wasn’t what I would consider a favorite moment, but it was different.
Smoke pouring from hollow tree

One of the caches along our trek — “Loco Fuel” (
GC5K7D4) — may have been the victim of the fire-breathing tyrannosaurus I sought yesterday (“The Lair of a Fire-Breathing T-Rex”), for at ground zero, we found not a cache but a sizable area of scorched earth. It was recent enough that we found smoke belching from the trunk of a hollow tree right at ground zero. Much to our chagrin, we couldn’t come up with even a melted lump of plastic here, though since we do know the cache owner, we took it upon ourselves to replace the container to (hopefully) keep it in play.

Once finished with the rail trail, our crew sallied forth to Hillsborough where we took a tour of several of the town’s myriad historical buildings by way of a recently published Adventure Lab cache. This one proved fun and edumacational. Then we made our way to Hillsborough BBQ Company for the first group lunch we have had in quite some time. Happily, we were able to sit outdoors, which we all still prefer.

And after all that, exhaustion set in. My birthday is coming up, so I may be even more exhausted at this time next week.

That is all.
All that remains of an old trestle
Something fishy
Heading out to the distant point
The view from GZ back the way we had come