Thursday, October 31, 2013


My earliest — and most vivid — Halloween memory is probably the Woody Woodpecker "Spook-a-Nanny" special from 1964. I would have been in kindergarten at the time. I'm pretty sure it originally aired on WFMY Channel 2 from Greensboro, as I recall the distinctive North Carolina drawl of the on-air personality — almost certainly Lee Kinard, who was with the station for many decades — excitedly exhorting all the kids to tune in for the "exciting Spook-a-Nanny, coming up next!" That Halloween may well have been my first trick-or-trick outing.

Here 'tis — the first five minutes of it, anyway — and I am glad beyond glad you can find just about anything on YouTube. The full-length cartoon (22 minutes) is also available on YouTube.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter

Sometime in 1976, I heard that a movie called The Sentinel was being made, and it was reputed to be a scary one. Well, yay — one of my favorite things! Shortly thereafter, I came upon Jeffrey Konvitz's 1974 novel in the local bookstore. Since I'd heard of the movie — and the book's cover intrigued me — I picked it up and immediately commenced to reading. Yeah; in short order, I came down with a case of the nightly creeps. So, when the movie was released, I rushed right out to see it. It didn't really disappoint me, but it didn't stand up to the book, and, afterward, the movie didn't linger much in my memory.

Or so I thought. In reality, my brain had packed away much of the film's imagery, and while I might not have been keenly aware of it, I'm pretty sure bits and pieces of it have stolen into some of my own fiction over the years. Since it's been at least 15 or 20 years since I last saw it, The Sentinel struck me as just the movie to watch on Halloween Eve.

I've been a sucker for Christian-based horror since I was a youngster, largely because I was brought up Methodist, and our old church in Martinsville had lots of dark, ominous corridors; a pipe organ that boomed out music fit to wake the damned; and an old parsonage where we had our youth group meetings that could have stood in for any Hollywood haunted house. The Sentinel may not be the cinematic masterpiece The Exorcist was, or offer the visceral jabs of The Omen, but it is one of those sincere 1970s horror movies that both entertains and has the potential to be a little unsettling.

Until tonight, I had no recollection of what a star-studded cast this movie features. Though female lead Cristina Rains, who plays model Alison Parker, never became quite a household name, we do get a very young Chris Sarandon as a sympathetic yet oddly sinister lawyer (maybe because Chris Sarandon is always a bit oddly sinister); Jerry Orbach as director of a commercial in which Alison stars; Eli Wallach (one of my all-time favorite actors) as a quirky police detective; Christopher Walken as Wallach's mostly silent partner; Martin Balsam as a quirky college professor; John Carradine as the blind Father Hallorin; Arthur Kennedy as enigmatic Monsignor Franchino; Jose Ferrer as a seldom-seen secretive priest; William Hickey as a safe-cracker; Jeff Goldblum as a photographer (and whose voice is dubbed, of all things); Robert Gerringer (Dr. Woodard from Dark Shadows) as a police captain; Ava Gardner as a real estate agent; Beverly D'Angelo as a voiceless lesbian who enjoys stimulating herself — quite graphically; Burgess Meredith as Alison's quirkiest, most eccentric neighbor; Deborah Raffin as Alison's best friend, Jennifer; and even Tom Berenger and Richard Dreyfus in teeny, tiny, barely noticeable parts.
Deborah Raffin as Jennifer and Cristina Rains as model Alison Parker
Very young Chris Sarandon as Alison's lawyer-boyfriend Michael Lerman
New York model Alison Parker (Rains) and boyfriend Michael Lerman (Sarandon) are in love but need some space from each other, so Alison rents an apartment in an old five-story brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. She is immediately struck by the fact that a reputedly blind priest inhabits the uppermost floor and spends virtually every hour of every day staring sightlessly from his apartment window. She soon meets her other neighbors, none of whom are even slightly "normal" — including the bumbling, lovable Mr. Charles Chazen (Meredith), who keeps a rather vicious cat named Jezebel and a parakeet named Mortimer; a pair of bizarre lesbians, Gerde (Sylvia Miles) and Sandra (D'Angelo), the latter of whom gives Alison quite a provocative show; and several others whose disconcerting mannerisms cause Alison no little anxiety. Much to her shock, however, Alison's real estate agent informs her that, apart from the blind priest and herself, the building is uninhabited. Indeed, upon investigation, all of the apartments in which she met these strange denizens are now empty and clearly unused.

Soon, Alison sees her father (Fred Stuthman) — a vile lecher who recently died — wandering the apartment, and he viciously attacks her. She fends him off with a butcher knife from her kitchen, and he appears to be dead... again. However, the police find no trace of his body. Alison's mental state quickly deteriorates, forcing her to undergo psychiatric treatment; she is considered high-risk because, after learning of her father's depraved behavior, she attempted to commit suicide. Meanwhile, Michael takes the initiative to investigate matters on his own. He discovers that the people she claims to have seen in the apartment are all convicted murderers — and all dead. He also learns that the blind priest once had another name and had attempted suicide before becoming a priest. Not only that, but a host of priests and nuns from his particular church — going back over a hundred years — had attempted suicide before changing their names and assuming their roles in the church. Knowing Alison's background, he believes she is somehow being groomed to follow in their footsteps.

However, Michael's most shocking revelation comes when he learns the apartment in which Alison resides is nothing less than a gateway to hell itself, and the blind priest — and his predecessors, whose identities Michael had discovered — is a "sentinel," whose role is to prevent the damned from entering this world.
Burgess Meredith as the eccentric, all-too-friendly Mr. Charles Chazen
Be sure and stay sharp in case your lecherous dad decides to return from the dead.
Characteristic of movies from its era, The Sentinel takes its time unfolding, allowing the air of mystery and outright eeriness to gradually creep to the forefront. From the beginning, the sense of wrongness about the apartment and its inhabitants is evident but relatively subtle, until — during a birthday party for Charles Chazen's cat — we see that every soul in the place is just a looney mess. Even the more benign characters have their amusing idiosyncrasies — such as Eli Wallach's police detective, who sounds like a cynical, wise-cracking Columbo, and Martin Balsam's absent-minded professor, who delivers a few smile-worthy lines.

As events take us down an increasingly trauma-ridden road, we get a wee smidgen of gore, which isn't all that convincing, though it ups the pace of the film just a bit. Among the most disturbing images are some of the escapees from hell toward the end of the picture, many of whom are actual disfigured and malformed extras. The finale goes a bit over the top, but not to the point of silliness, which has been the curse of so many supernatural-based horror movies otherwise played straight. Novel author Jeffrey Konvitz is the film's writer and producer, and keeps the screenplay reasonably true to the source material. I quite appreciate the nods to the poet John Milton, such as some relevant lines from Paradise Lost and the fact the priest is blind. Composer Gil Melle, of Night Stalker fame, provides a score with lots of familiar motifs that are uniquely and agreeably 1970s, and at times in this film, it would have been damn near fitting for Carl Kolchak himself to break into the scene.

The Sentinel offers some pretty decent Halloween shudders, some memorable scenes (Beverly D'Angelo in red leotard and tights showing herself how to have fun is just one of many), and a fair number of 1970s stars for the money. I give this movie three and a half out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
Why yes, that is Sylvia Miles and Beverly D'Angelo feasting on a down-and-out fellow.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Spirit and Derring-Do

Say hi to Piotr. Piotr is on guard duty at Casa de Rodan, burning the pre-midnight oil. It was going on time to carve some evil pumpkins, so I made that a priority this evening — along with grilling out the perfect rib eye steak, accompanied by a tater and a monster martini. Just to make sure Piotr earns his keep, I trucked his little round non-existent ass up a good ways up the beech tree in the front yard, while his partner, Porter, is holding down the fort from up in the sweetgum tree by the front porch. Between them, they ought to give potential trespassers all kinds of what for.

I'm thinking some scary music in the house is just the ticket. Me, I'm getting the spirit of the season going big time. I hope you, too, will have a happy, horrifying, hellish Halloween.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Horror of the Demon

Always on the list of absolutely-can't-miss-or-Halloween-can't-come Halloween picture shows — right up there with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — is  Jacques Tourneur's 1957 classic Curse of the Demon (or, as it was originally known across the pond and increasingly on these shores, Night of the Demon). Since I first saw it sometime in my teens, I have considered it my favorite horror movie, and each yearly viewing renews my appreciation for it.

That cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland right there. Yeah, that one, issue number 39. That did it to me. Long before I ever saw the film, I saw that cover — probably around age ten — and if you've been reading this blog, you already know I was the world's most terrified kid. That image freaked me out like few other images ever have. Something about those burning eyes, the gaping maw with all those teeth, the horns, the fiery crimson backdrop....

Some people hate the inclusion of the monstrous demon itself in the film; director Tourneur had no intention of any such thing and essentially disowned the movie after the thing was inserted at the behest of executive producer Hal E. Chester. Chester was a showman, a drive-in-monster-movie-type producer, while the film as Tourneur made it was atmospheric, cerebral, and, as far as the existence of the driving demonic force, quite ambiguous. The special effects, masterminded by the ubiquitous Wally Veevers, were done on a shoestring budget, and, in the finished product, it shows.

That's if you care. Me, I love the monster. For all its flaws, it still generates a little shudder, draws the events of the movie out of the psychological realm and drops them squarely into the supernatural. I do so like that. While the film as Tourneur originally made it might well have been a masterpiece, I doubt, seriously doubt, that for me personally, it could ever have been as satisfying as knowing that, within the scope of this motion picture, the demon is real. For all the skepticism of psychiatrist Dr. Holden (Dana Andrews); the rational refutations of all things paranormal; the careful examination of facts, theories, and possibilities under the cold light of reason; and the mounting evidence that the almost lovable villain, Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) is merely playing psychological games with Holden and his attractive young ally, Joanna Harrington (Peggy Cummins), the supernatural forces reign absolutely in this picture — rendering us, as human beings, very small, ultimately helpless things rather than the more highly evolved rational beings we think we are.

Some feel that having prior knowledge of the demon's existence cheapens the drama, making moot the point of the thoughtful investigation, the convincing scientific discourse. I believe it does not. We see the human mind doing what the human mind does best; for Tourneur, this was delving, questioning, weighing evidence. But what it amounts to in the film as it exists is us fooling ourselves into thinking we're smarter than we are — making it, in my view, very much a Lovecraftian story, even if the source material really is not.

From the opening scene of Professor Harrington's drive down a dark, ominous country road; to the revelation of Julian Karswell's multi-dimensioned character; to Holden's scary venture through the woods outside Lufford Hall; to the suicide of devil cult member Rand Hobart; to the final appearance of the gigantic fire demon, Curse of the Demon is all dark atmosphere and a relentless sense of foreboding. It is the perfect Halloween movie.

And my favorite horror movie. Ever.
Dana Andrews as psychiatrist Dr. Holden and Peggy Cummins as Joanna Harrington
The almost-lovable villain, Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) with familiar Greymalkin
Dr. Holden hears eerie sounds in the corridor of his hotel.
"It's in the trees! It's coming!"
Beware the casting of the runes! Dr. Holden at the home of Karswell devil cult member Rand Hobart.
Karswell's attempts to eliminate Dr. Holden appear to have backfired.
What a happy boy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Triffidus Celestus

Come Halloween season, one of my favorite things is to run older movies that scared the pants off me when I was a kidlet. 1962's Day of the Triffids was one of those; in fact, when I was eight or nine years old, it ranked so high on the terror scale that even the mention of title gave me cold chills. I remember going to bed after seeing the movie for the first time, and for what seemed like countless hours I lay there in agonized fear, occasionally drifting off, only to be jarred into awful wakefulness by the faintest sounds in my darkened house.

In my teens, I read John Wyndham's novel on which the movie was based, and while it's very different, it still gave me a fair case of the creeps. By contemporary standards, the 1962 movie, produced by Philip Yordan and George Pitcher and directed by Steve Sekely, might be considered cheesy, but it retains an air of eeriness that overcomes its occasionally weak script and technological limitations. The design of the triffids — giant, venomous, carnivorous, ambulatory plants with a taste for human flesh — was and is nightmarish. In the novel, the plants were terrestrial, probably genetically engineered, whereas in the movie, their seeds are brought to Earth via meteorites. To me, making their origin unearthly serves to ramp up the fear factor a bit. The movements of the puppets and men-in-suits in the film are oftentimes either entirely too clunky or too streamlined, but from another perspective, these unnatural movements actually underscore the alien flora's inherent bizarreness.

The film opens with a meteor shower, which provides a spectacle unlike any other seen on Earth. It's also the last thing most human beings ever see, for the flashes in the sky result in total, permanent blindness for any who witness them. Simultaneously, the triffids begin to appear in increasingly vast numbers and wreak havoc on the helpless, blind populace. The film stars Howard Keel, Nicole Maurey, Janina Faye, Kieron Moore, and Janette Scott as survivors who have retained their sight, and are thus among the scant few capable of combating the endlessly multiplying, man-eating plants. While the novel focuses on the bigger picture of survival and restoration of humanity, the movie presents a gritty man-versus-monster (and occasionally man-versus-man) melodrama that holds up reasonably well, even after all these years.

I have never seen either of the more recent adaptations (1981 and 2009, respectively), which are reputed to more closely follow the novel, but I do anticipate remedying this situation. I'm also rather keen on reading Simon Clark's Night of the Triffids, a sequel that takes place 25 years after the events of the original. For tonight, I have very happily revisited a memorable childhood fear-ground.
Day of the Triffids stars Howard Keel, Janina Faye, and Nicole Maurey
A triffid menaces Janette Scott, who screams through most of the film.
Howard Keel gives triffids some what for with a makeshift flamethrower.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Fall Book Festival at Binding Time

Next Saturday, October 26, Binding Time Cafe & Bookstore in Martinsville, VA, will be holding its semi-annual book festival, featuring a number of local and regional authors. I'll be on hand to sell and sign copies of my books, including The Monarchs, Blue Devil Island, Other Gods, The Gaki, and others. Authors scheduled to appear include Mary Helen Hensley, Lisa Pickeral Chitwood, Gail Hedrick, Graham Gardner, Carol Nolen, Sylvia Pearce, Becky Mushko, Tom Perry, Avis Turner, Stacy and Robert Moody, James Wayland, Melissa Rooney and Camden Campe. The spring festival — the first of these I have attended — had a very good turnout, and I scared lots of unsuspecting patrons. Please come around so that I might do this again. It'll be a fun pre-Halloween fright. For you avid readers who are also geocachers — there are plenty of geocaches in the area to more than make your trip worthwhile.

In addition to promoting and selling books, Binding Time serves great sandwiches, wraps, salads, and coffee. It's located in the Spruce Village Shopping Center at 1115 Spruce Street, Martinsville, VA 24112; The cafe is locally owned and operated; please give it your support.

Rock Castle Redux

Strike a pose. Don't fall down go boom.

Up well before dawn, back home at just about bedtime. Another annual outing to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a full day of it in the area. The restaurant at Mabry Mill has gotta serve the best breakfasts in the south; today's choice was sweet potato pancakes with bacon and some damn fine coffee. Five stars. From there, out to Meadow Creek Trail and then to Rock Castle Gorge, where Kimberly and I went hiking almost two years ago. Today, I was on a mission. On New Year's Day 2012, I found a geocache out in the gorge and left a travel bug — a trackable item whose purpose is to move from cache to cache and travel as far as possible — but unknown to me at the time, the cache had been archived by its owner, who had moved and could no longer maintain it. Well, since that day, the travel bug has been sitting there, unmoved and unmoving, because the cache is no longer listed at Knowing the container — a nice ammo box — was likely still out there, I decided to rescue that travel bug so I could get it back in circulation. Happily, I managed to do this thing, which I expect will make the travel bug owner, whoever that is, very happy. All along the trail, we found dozens of little rock towers, some of them quite intricate, that Mother Nature, surely, on some of her less busy days, had seen fit to erect.

The Blue Ridge Parkway up there — way up there — as seen from the Meadow Creek Trail

The gorge hike was a good three miles-plus, so then it was wine time. This we found at Villa Appalaccia, one of the best wineries in the region, which we've visited a couple of times previously. This weekend is the single busiest weekend on the Blue Ridge Parkway, since the fall foliage is at its peak, so there was a big crowd. We managed a pleasant picnic lunch in a secluded corner of the grounds — where we found ourselves literally surrounded by woolly bear caterpillars. Never seen so many in a single place, but as they are completely inoffensive little critters, we were not displeased by their company.

Surprisingly, the only disappointing aspect of our trip was visiting the winery at Chateau Morrisette, which is typically a superlative experience. Today, it was so busy — and they were woefully unprepared for the crowd — we spent several hours just to get what amounted to a pretty unsatisfactory wine tasting. To their credit, they gave it to us gratis for our wait, but that only partially mitigated our dismay, since our visit is traditionally a highly anticipated experience. Had we had an ounce of sense in our respective brains, Kimberly and I would have just wandered over to the restaurant and had a glass of wine at the bar... but no. Flukes do happen, though, so we've certainly not been put off future visits. I do hope they have the foresight to better prepare for a day when they have to know that most of the world is going to darken their doorstep.

Eventually, we made our way back toward home, but the evening was hardly over. Tonight was the "Tour de Haunt" caching event at the Castle of Horror in Reidsville, which I had never previously visited. Initially, we figured we'd just hang out with some other cachers for a bit and then head home, but after seeing some of the sights at the site, we decided to go on in and do the full tour. Am I ever glad we did — it proved to be a most enjoyable haunted attraction. It's a bit too adult-oriented for kids, I think, and by entering, you give them license to make contact with you. It puts a little extra edge on the experience, and because it's a bit smaller than some of the other local Halloween haunts, they give it more of a personal touch. I was impressed, and both Kimberly and I had a great time at the place. Hats off to Christopher Hall, a.k.a. Ranger Fox — or "Safari Joe," as he was dubbed by some of the roving ghouls — for masterminding the event.

I reckon some of the same will be on our calendar next October. Hope so, anyway.

Click images to enlarge.
A couple of the many fun rock castles in Rock Castle Gorge. I can't imagine how many millions
of years it took Mother Nature to create these incredible formations....
One of the Woolly Bears that came round to see us at lunchtime
A sample of the goodies at Villa Appalaccia

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Damned Rodan's FIERY Vindaloo

And here's another recipe — by request, actually. I've been fond of Indian food since I first tried Lamb Vindaloo somewhere or another, many, many years ago. Like most dishes I enjoy, I just have to try my hand at making it, and, like virtually all of these, I always wing it and hope for the best. For this dish, I start with mostly commercial ingredients but doctor up the works until it's deadly. Also, as with everything I cook, this recipe is little more than a loose guide; I inevitably vary things wildly each time I make a particular dish.

What You Need:
1 lb. lamb or chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces (ground also works well enough,
    though I prefer the texture of the cut meat)
1 cup saffron or jasmine rice (makes about 3 cups, cooked)
3/4 cup chopped onion (I like to use green onions or shallots)
10-oz. can Ro-tel (Hot) diced tomatoes with habaneros
10-oz. jar Patak (or other brand) Vindaloo sauce
1/4 cup Patak (or other brand) concentrated hot curry paste
2–3 tbsp. curry powder
2 tbsp. hot chili oil
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. white sugar
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. lime juice
4–6 hot peppers (serrano, ghost, or tabasco are my favorites), chopped very fine
large bowl of fresh spinach leaves

What You Do:
In a wok or large skillet, heat the chili oil at high temperature. When the oil is hot, add the meat; after about a minute, turn temperature down to medium-high. Pour in the vinegar and add curry powder, cumin, sugar, garlic powder, ginger, and lime juice as the meat is cooking. Stir frequently. Once it's close to cooked through, add the Vindaloo sauce, hot curry paste, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and about half the spinach (place the rest on individual plates to make a bed for the rice). Continue to stir frequently. After five minutes or so, turn heat to low and let simmer, covered, for 30–45 minutes.

This is a good time to prepare your rice. Once it's done, spoon the rice onto your beds of spinach leaves and serve the Vindaloo atop the rice. Now, you do have a perfectly edible Vindaloo dish, or reasonable facsimile thereof, but it's not really good until the following day, when the ingredients have had more time to get acquainted. If I'm using lamb and feeling particularly smart, I'll marinate it the night before in rice vinegar, soy sauce, and just a splash of lime juice. (I rarely think that far ahead.)

I can't guarantee this will meet the expectations of your friendly neighborhood chef at the Indian restaurant down the street, but for Ms. B. and me, this stuff is just the ticket when the Indian craving comes a calling.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Between a Book and a Hard Place

Awaiting the green light for the panel discussion to officially begin
This afternoon, I took part in an enjoyable spooky-themed panel discussion at the Eva Perry Library in Apex, NC, along with NC authors Jenna Black, Clay & Susan Griffith, and Lisa Shearin. I wasn't sure whether a Sunday afternoon literary panel would draw much of a crowd, but we ended up with standing room only. From answering the staff moderator's questions about our influences, our favorite authors and literary works, and our work habits to addressing audience questions about our views on self-publishing and how much influence authors' have in the actual presentation of their published works, the lively, hour-long discussion exceeded my expectations all around. The library itself appears to be a well-run, well-stocked facility with a capable staff. I've been impressed with the Wake County library system from previous events I've attended, and I'd be quite happy to participate in any future events they see fit to present. Most pleasant was to see my old friend Greg Hill, once owner of the late, much-lamented Lazy Lion Bookstore in Fuquay-Varina. Haven't seen Greg in the flesh in most of a decade, and it was kind of him and his SO, Mary, to face the horror and visit with us for a bit.

Naturally, a trip over to the Triangle wouldn't be complete with some geocaching and a spot of wine. Much to my satisfaction, there was a cache right there at the library — "Between a Book and a Hard Place" (GC3BEN1). After the panel, Kimberly and I made our way to the Chatham Hill Winery in Cary, which proved excellent, with an exceptional selection of dry reds — the Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Trinity blend being the most notable — as well as a few decent white and sweet wines. Finally, we had a delicious dinner at Ted's Montana Grill, where bison is the specialty and about which I can hardly holler to high heaven sufficiently.

And here comes the bleepin' work week again. Not sure how that happens.

GeoWoodstack II

GeoWoodstack II was a nice little social event around a wee campfire out at geocacher Tom "Night-Hawk" Kidd's place in Oak Ridge, a little way up the road from here. Despite enough drizzle to make things uncomfortable for a while, lots of geocachers attended, all providing a variety of food and drink along with the good company. Thankfully, after a while, the weather became less volatile — at least until we hit the road to make our way home.

Night-Hawk has been building the tower of wood for the fire for many moons, and when that sucker started burning, people in seven states probably knew it. His daughter Kristina, a pro musician and singer from Nashville, sang and played a number of her original songs — and nearly got electrocuted by her own sound equipment, no doubt due to the rain — and then... blammo... ye old man and Ms. B. took the stage. Happily for us, by the time we began our set, all errant electrical charges seemed to have dissipated. There were a few unrelated issues with microphone feedback, but once those were resolved, the little show went fairly swimmingly. I opened things with my original, "Scan in Progress" (see yesterday's blog and video), and Ms. B. joined me on vocals for "Bury My Lovely" (October Project), "Man in the Rain" (Mike Oldfield), and "Don't Fear the Reaper" (Blue Oyster Cult). That was going to be the end of it, but I was pressed into playing an encore ("Leslie Anne Levine," The Decemberists) by some members of the audience who are apparently more tone-deaf than I am.

Most of the caching events I have attended over the years have been enjoyable, but this one rates among the mother's finest of them, as much as anything because we had the additional pleasure of making noise without getting pelted by fruit or other foodstuffs (there were plenty of projectiles to choose from, I can assure you).

About the time we headed out, the sky opened up again, so a Man in the Rain I was.

Click 'em to enlarge 'em.
Night-hawk's friendly Llama, Joe
Release the Kraken! Er... the balloon.
A nice photo of Damned Rodan and Ms. B., taken by Christopher Hall

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Great Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

The weeping and gnashing of teeth... that could be your lot if you watch this sucker all the way through. Old man has been banging on the noisemaker a lot the past few days, so decided to share a little of the pain. "Scan in Progress," words and music by me, ©1983.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Can't Get There From Here

Philomath is where I'll go....

If you were — or are — a fan of REM from the 1980s you'll understand that reference. This is actually a completely random smart phone story, inspired by our HR folks at work, who posed the question "What makes your smart phone not so smart?" on the bulletin board in the kitchen. (They periodically post entertaining questions like this at the office, and the answers can be amusing.) If you own a smart phone, I daresay you have almost certainly had the same or similar experience.

I get out on the road pretty frequently, especially to go geocaching, so I tend to rely on my phone's maps to get me to my destination. I only occasionally use the turn-by-turn navigation feature, though, because it's been known to give me the business. Witness the following account:

Ms. B. and I are heading to a wine bar in High Point. I follow the phone's directions for a ways, but I know a road less traveled, so I take it instead. Most of the time, the little woman inside the phone understands this and reroutes me accordingly, but sometimes she's more stubborn than the lost old man who refuses to stop and ask for directions. As I make my way toward High Point, she instructs me to make a U-turn and head back to Wendover Avenue East. I refuse to do this thing because I too can be stubborn. I turn onto Highway 68 South, now heading directly toward said wine bar, and phone lady is urging me to make a U-turn, head back to Wendover Avenue East, and get on Penny Road heading south. I will not.

After a few minutes, we see our destination ahead and turn into the parking lot. Lady is kind of mad at me now, repeating her directions without even pausing to breathe. I couldn't do it; I'd pass out.

We get out of the car and go inside to drink some wine as, all the while, lady in phone threatens, cajoles, and pleads for me to exit the parking lot, return to Wendover Avenue, and head to the wine bar the way she wants me to. This kind of perseverance is admirable in its way, I suppose, and I would have let her go on until I got back home except she was draining my phone battery.

My newer phone is usually less insistent when I decide to go my own way. I do prefer this, but sometimes I miss the old bitch.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Nearly a Non-Starter

It's always a treat to get together with writer Beth Massie and artist Cortney Skinner, who are two of the world's finest folks — well, mostly — and we've been hoping to work out a visit for quite a while. Ms. B. and I had calculated doing this thing a few weeks ago, but we ended up having to postpone our visit due to her cat suffering some unfortunate feline infirmities. Things on that front improved, so we rescheduled a trip to the Massie-Skinner homestead in Waynesboro, VA, this weekend. Everything looked good, so we took off work a bit early on Friday afternoon and hit the road.

About halfway there, the old Rodan Mobile decided it had had enough of the road for one night. After stopping for a cache just south of Lynchburg, VA, I put the key in the ignition to crank her up and go, only to be greeted by a wall of resounding silence.

Starter is dead. Graveyard dead. Beyond resuscitation dead.

Now, I must say, break downs suck — they SUCK — but if one must break down, one can only hope for things to work out as smoothly as they did this go-round. I got AAA on the horn — best investment I ever made, especially with all the history the Rodan Mobile has seen — and managed to reach a fellow at a garage, even though it was past their closing time. He said he could get to my car first thing Saturday morning, which was a blessing, since most of the shops we looked up were closed all day on Saturday. Ms. B. called around and found a decent enough hotel not too far away. The tow truck arrived within minutes and got us to the garage — and then the driver was kind enough to actually take us to the hotel after we got my car dropped off.

Once ensconced in our hotel room, Brugger and I checked maps for some nearby food. Ah... McDonald's. About a mile up the road. No sweat... we have feet. So we put them to good use and hiked up the way toward a late-night meal. Coming upon Spring Hill Cemetery — a large, very old, and agreeably eerie bone yard — was the evening's highlight. The gates were locked, so we couldn't go inside, but we had a great view of the stones and markers from just outside the fence. Quite enjoyed the serenity of the place after a rather stressful evening.

Yesterday morning, as promised, the garage guy promptly got a new starter put in. One quick cab ride later, we had a working automobile and soon enough were back on our way to Waynesboro. When we arrived, it was to find yet more fucked machinery: Cortney's computer had committed stupidcide, right when he was in the midst of a project with a deadline of immediately. Thankfully, eventually, he got things sorted out enough for stress levels to subside to critical. After a wee spot of geocaching with Beth and Brugger — including a most amusing visit to another graveyard — we went for a tasty Mexican dinner, a spot of ice cream, and a bit more caching.

This morning, it was off to Starbucks, where we met some more of our fabulous fiends from the area: Nanci & Phil Kalanta and artist Keith Minnion, who had provided some devilish art for Deathrealm back in the day. The shooting of shit and what not went on for some time, but then Nanci gleefully tortured us with a dramatic reading of Damn You, Demon! — the latest non-childen's children's book by Beth and her sister, Barb Lawson. Following this, we became embroiled in a long, profound discussion, which involved the waylaying of total strangers, about whether Starbuck's interior walls were painted brown or green. Unable to withstand this torture further, Ms. B. and I hastened to depart — but only after I found Beth and Cortney's geocache, "Queequeg" (GC4ARE1)... or Quohog or Hedgehog, or whatever it's called... which is on the premises.

The hunt for a couple of more caches took Ms. B. and me to a picturesque, rustic spot or two nestled in the mountains around Fairfield, VA, and then we hit Roanoke for a great lunch at Blues BBQ Company, which we had discovered last February when we were in town for Shevacon. And then, on to Valhalla Vineyards, atop a mountain just outside of Roanoke. As scenic as a location comes, this place. We quite enjoyed their wines, especially their 2007 Valkyrie — a blend of Cabernet Savignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Vedot — and 2001 Cornucopia blend, all of which come from their own grapes. The staff we met were quite personable, and Brugger and I would both recommend the place highly, with the possible caveat that quite a few of the clientele, at least while we were there, were ungodly rowdy and inconsiderate — some playing board games, which, at a winery, ought to be forbidden by at least thirteen statutes and a possible constitutional amendment. Hopefully, this was merely an anomaly, for a place as distinctive and atmospheric as Valhalla deserves more respectful treatment. It ain't no downtown bar and grill.

So, I'm back home now, where I've been trying to suppress food riots amid the feline general population for the past few hours. That's all kinds of rough, I gotta tell you.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Halloween Horrors in Wake County

During the month of October, the Wake County Public Library System will be hosting several panel discussions with North Carolina authors who specialize in dark and speculative fiction. Guess who fits that bill....

The events will take place at various of the library branches, and I am scheduled to participate on Sunday, October 13, at 2:00 PM at the Eva Perry Regional Library in Apex, NC, along with Jenna Black, Clay & Susan Griffith, and Lisa Shearin. Authors will discuss speculative fiction, their writing processes, and more, with an audience question-and-answer session following. If you're in range, please come on out and join the discussion. The library is located at 2100 Shepherd's Vineyard Drive,Apex, NC 27502 (View Map). For more information, visit the Wake County government's library event site here.

I'm pretty sure there will be geocaching for afters. I hope to autograph several log sheets.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


UProoted. Can you see the geocache?
(Click image to enlarge.)

Geocaching forever takes me to some mighty neat places, and this past weekend, I found another cool hiking trail a few miles up the road — on the campus of Rockingham Community College, in Wentworth, NC. Several years ago, I did a presentation about creative writing to the writers group there (indoors, not on the trail). The campus is not terribly large, but there's about five miles of trail through the surrounding woods, and they're fairly scenic, with lots of variation in terrain and a rocky creek with a neat little waterfall. Near the trail head, there's a quaint little reconstructed village featuring several structures, some built as far back as the mid-1800s, which were moved from various locations in Rockingham County. A few new caches came out on the trail the other day, and when I went after them, I enjoyed the area so much I put out a couple of my own. Alas, one of them turned out to be too close to another one that had already been hidden but not yet published, so I had to retrieve the container — a nice decon box I found at the Liberty Antique Festival, of all places. I'll head back up there soon enough to put it out in a new location, hopefully free of proximity issues. The other one was published yesterday — "UProoted," it's called (for good reason), and if you have sharp eyes, you might be able to spy it in the photo at left.

Four more cache finds to mini-milestone #6,300. This weekend, no doubt.
The reconstructed village at the trail head. The buildings consist of tobacco factory, a tobacco barn,
a corn crib, and a one-room school house.
The little waterfall along the trail. The nearby cache is aptly named "Not Quite Niagara."