Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday, Good Friday

Old Rodan's happy Black Friday face

It takes a mindset I neither have nor comprehend to brave the zombie hordes at the shopping areas on Black Friday. I have about as much interest in sawing my own head off with a rusty bread knife as I do tolerating so many walking/ talking/ pushing/ shoving/ screaming heaps of compost masquerading as human beings to save some dollars on things I, or folks of my acquaintance, likely don't much need. Now bear in mind, I don't make a lot of money; I live fairly comfortably, but far from extravagantly, so, yes, I like to take advantage of bargains when I can get them. Groupons are my friends. But there's a limit to what I'll put up with from the herd out there, and Black Friday is on the far side of it. From things I've personally witnessed or had related to me (my ex-wife was a devoted Black Friday shopper) to the inevitable news stories of chaos among the masses, it is clear to me that the veneer of humanity we see when things are going swimmingly is thin beyond thin. Throw a complication or two in front of the herd, and the meltdown is inevitable and potentially horrendous. In fairness to those I loathe, I do not exclude myself from succumbing to a destructive group mentality under certain circumstances. Back in the 1980s, I spent a couple of Independence Days at Taste of Chicago downtown, and I once came perilously close to being pushed by a mass of humanity onto the tracks in front of an oncoming subway train; you'd best believe I clawed my way out of that situation just to get myself into a train car before I got killed, and damn anyone who was in my way at the time. I never inflicted that event upon myself again.

If you haven't seen Five Million Years to Earth, you really ought; it's a wonderful science-fiction depiction of Black Friday made years before the contemporary shopping day actually became a thing.

For my own mental health, and to prevent adding myself to the body count at these godless things, on Black Fridays, I always steer myself in exactly the opposite direction. Today, it was out to Fairystone Park, where a nice geocache in the woods awaited my attention. Happily, I was the only human being in evidence out in this general direction, and I made short work of the hide.

Though you might not infer any such thing from all of the above, I do love my peoples, those what aren't vermin anyway, and a happy few will be getting nice Christmas presents from me. Most will come by mail order.

Do be sweet.
Foundations from an ancient dwelling, viewed from the geocache site
The swimming area at Fairystone Park, where I have spent much pleasant leisure time in years past.
Today would have been a bad, bad swimming day. Brrrr.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Day of the Big Bird

Big dinner with great company, so now it's mellow time (including some serious writing on my current work-in-progress — a short story about a haunted vineyard; dark spirits and all that, don't you know). Kimberly's parents were down from Michigan for the holiday, so we all gathered at Mum's in Martinsville for the Thanksgiving Day feast. Each of us contributed some goodies — I made a pretty dang good pumpkin pie — so it was a monster meal, to put it mildly. I even got a bottle of wine from the top shelf, which is really kind of rare. I have a fair bit of hiking and geocaching slated for the next couple of days, but I don't know that I could put in enough to cancel out today's caloric intake.

I am right now mighty thankful to be in reasonably good health; to have the best girlfriend in the world; to have many other special loved ones in my life, especially my Mum and my daughter; to have three beautiful critters; and to have, hopefully for the long haul, a decent job — with an employer of integrity, that generally shows its employees due respect and gives us reasonable time off, particularly at holidays. I know a lot of people who have to work holidays, and I do find it very distressing that more and more employers feel compelled to open on days that have been traditionally reserved for family and loved ones. I absolutely treasure my holidays; at no time in this life will I ever think, "Oh, my Christ, I wish I had put in extra time at the office!" Our rampant consumerism is steadily eroding traditions such as Thanksgiving that once gave the majority of us just a little more sense of shared experience and perhaps even unity. I, for one, have no need to go out to eat, to shop for bargains, to go to movies, to give money to merchants who have no need to be open other than to try to rake in a few more dollars — especially if the better percentage of whatever they make is only going up the chain to those who don't work on the holiday. For an awful long time in this country, the vast majority of companies have done FINE without having to stay open on one of the very few days during the year that many people actually consider rather sacred. Bear in mind, I'm not talking about providers of critical services; whole 'nuther arena, that. I also know full well many folks do welcome the opportunity to work and make some extra money. Sometimes, you just gotta. But I sure wish it for people that this is for you an option and not a mandate. An employer who offers working as a choice I can at least respect. The latter sort, though, far as I'm concerned, is garbage. I do not and will not support them with my business.

And for God's sake — you stupid ass broadcasters playing Christmas music from Halloween on... cut it the fuck out. Start it tomorrow.

And that's my curmudgeonly rant for today. Accept it or don't. It's all fine.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Conjuring Up Some Fun

I missed The Conjuring when it came round to theaters a while back, but the trailer had looked fairly promising, and I figured at some point I'd just have to catch up with it. That turned out to be this evening, as I watched it over here with Ms. Brugger. Afterward, she had to go home to a solitary house (well, with one fat cat), and I'm fairly sure she wasn't really looking forward to it.

I love a good supernatural thriller, with lots of atmosphere and suggestions of dark, dangerous spirits. The Conjuring indeed gives me these very things, though not unexpectedly, in the last third of the film, the suggestions give way to pretty graphic demonic horror stuff. That turned out to be okay with me, though I definitely preferred its more subtle moments, as these make me far more uneasy than the hollering, flying, crashing, and roaring that typically accompany demons from hell these days.

The story is very much a straightforward haunted house/demon possession tale, all of which we've seen before — more often than not, done badly, which I can happily say is not the case here. Roger and Carolyn Perron, played by Ron Livingston (Band of Brothers, The Time Traveler's Wife) and Lili Taylor (The Haunting [2005], Mystic Pizza), along with their five daughters, move into a remote, dilapidated farmhouse, in which inexplicable and increasingly frightening incidents occur. When there appears to be no explanation for these other than the supernatural, the Perrons turn to paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who confirm that this family is, indeed, in a heap of supernatural trouble. The property has been cursed by a witch, and as a result, over the years, the house has accumulated more than its share of angry dead. Spiritual warfare ensues, at times quite noisily and, in the end, with fairly substantial property damage.

To this film's credit, even the over-the-top stuff is entertaining, and in a couple of cases, damn near unnerving. As the story unfolded, I noticed an intriguing similarity to a 1991 TV movie called The Haunted, which starred noted character actor Jeffrey DeMunn and Sally Kirkland as haunted couple Jack and Janet Smurl. I gave The Haunted a glance on the interwebs, and — sure enough — that movie also featured the real-life husband-and-wife team of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played in that film by Stephen Markle and Diane Baker). The Warrens had most famously investigated the infamous Amityville horror, as well as something in the neighborhood of 10,000 cases of reported supernatural activity (only a handful of which they claimed were authentic). Not being a believer in such things, I can't speak to their actual exploits, but in this film, as well as in The Haunted, I found them to be believable, reasonably endearing characters. Overall, the acting in The Conjuring is quite convincing, with special notice given to the five Perron family children (played by Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver), all of whom were remarkably good for their ages.

The Conjuring does feature one of the scariest dolls I've seen since Talking Tina in The Twilight Zone. Annabelle is her name, and scaring the brown poop out of you is her game. Virtually all the props in the movie are rendered to be creepy, down to the clocks stopping at precisely 3:07 a.m. and a big old tree that easily beats the one in Poltergeist for unnerving design (I'd love to hunt a geocache in a such a tree).

If you're a believer in paranormal activity, I imagine this movie might actually have the capacity to disturb you on a relatively deep level. As outright entertainment — despite its overly familiar plot — with its decent acting, atmospheric visuals, and ugly supernatural entities, I think The Conjuring succeeds pretty damn well. Four out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
Lili Taylor, as Carolyn Perron, gets the clap.
Little girl needs a hand; ghostly apparition obliges.
It's a nice enough wardrobe, but I gotta tell you, that ain't Narnia on the other side.
"Hello, my name is Annabelle, and I don't like you. Not one wee tiny bit."

Thursday, November 21, 2013


The other day, I received a coupon for a couple of free pay-per-view movies on Time-Warner cable, so tonight I decided to watch something I had never heard of, just to broaden my horror horizons, so to speak. I chose what proved to be a taut little Spanish thriller about cannibalism called Omnivores (Omnivoros, 2013), written and directed by Oscar Rojo, released domestically by Fangoria.

A renowned food critic, Marcos Vela (Mario de la Rosa) catches wind of what's known as "clandestine" restaurants, which cater only to the very wealthy and serve only the most exotic dishes. One such restaurant is reputed to serve human flesh, and though at first incredulous, Marcos pursues the leads he uncovers. Sure enough, he comes upon what appears to be a gathering of affluent, eccentric, well-dressed and well-mannered cannibals. Against his better judgment, he refuses to give up his investigation; instead, he delves even deeper into this mysterious "restaurant" — until turning back is no longer an option.

Omnivores borrows a little from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, Hannibal, and other movies about those with deviant appetites, and the storyline offers little in the way of surprises. It does offer decent acting; a sparse but highly effective music score; some truly gut-wrenching suspense; and a smidgin of gore, well-timed and just graphic enough to give me a more-than-customary touch of movie-induced jitters. I should not have enjoyed someone knocking at my door while I was watching this movie; I might have been compelled to answer with weaponry in hand. I can't recall the last movie that did that. It wasn't in recent years, I can tell you. The climax was foreshadowed early in the picture, but the ending still provided a minor, gratifying little surprise. In the end, the movie proved itself a slick, ultimately satisfying experience.

It was certainly appropriate that I watched Omnivores during dinner — spicy barbecued chicken with baked beans prepared with molasses, brown sugar, and bacon. It would have been better with dry red wine — not Chianti, though; with this movie, I would have fancied a Nebbiolo, I think — but since I had a bit of wine last night, tonight was a dry night.

If you have an appetite for an intense little thriller, give Omnivores a go. Order it rare.

Monday, November 11, 2013

It's All Relative

Robbin Lee verifying his precise location in space
and time. Conclusion: nowhere and fast.

Time and distance, that is. In last week's episode, Old Rodan was out climbing Mt. Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia — a solid ten-mile hike, uphill, both ways. This week, he went out with fellow geocacher, Robbin Lee (a.k.a. Rtmlee) to the Birkhead Wilderness in the Uhwharries, about 45 minutes south of Greensboro. The overall distance hiked was less than half of last week's big outing — just about four miles — but something about traversing Birkhead (I'm guessing it's bushwhacking up numerous super-steep, slippery, leaf-covered slopes, seemingly taking two steps backward for every single step forward) required a much greater expenditure of energy. The day started chilly, too, but as it wore on, the temperature climbed until it felt more like summer than mid-autumn, requiring us to shed layers of clothing to prevent heat exhaustion.

The Birkhead Wilderness area is just southwest of Asheboro, NC, encompassing over 5,000 acres of the northern Uhwharries. The mountains are considered the oldest on the North American continent. Almost all the Birkhead area is deep woods, so you won't find spectacular views, certainly not like those we experienced at Mt. Rogers last week. The wilderness area is open for hunting (in season), hiking, and camping, with numerous trails of varying difficulty.

There are also plenty more caches down that way. I shall return.
Old dude taking a much-needed breather
There are ancient artifacts dating back 12,000 years and more to be found in the Birkhead Wilderness.
This little rock cairn is not likely one of them.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Burying My Lovely

Well, it ain't quite October Project, but it is Brugger and I banging out a bit of living room music, accompanied by wine and cats. (You may notice, a few seconds in, a certain feline monkeying around in the background, lower center screen.) It's a wonder we didn't trip over them, since they were winding around our legs while we were trying to be semi-serious. Could have ended up a terrible waste of wine — and a mess on the carpet — but fortune smiled on us.

Enjoy. Or run screaming. Your choice.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I Can See for Miles and Miles

Yesterday was both a very sad and very invigorating day. Sad in that little Dusty passed away (see last night's blog entry), invigorating in that I undertook a fair personal challenge by hiking to the summit of Mt. Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia. Some of y'all folks who enjoy backpacking and hoofing it many miles in rugged terrain probably do such things with regularity, but me... I hike a lot, climb trees, go underground, and undertake all manner of fun challenges to find geocaches, but I rarely put in as much physical effort as I did on this trip. It's a bit of an achievement for this old man.

Fellow geocacher Todd "tbbiker" Briggs had invited me to accompany him on this outing, and so I agreed, figuring that an endeavor of this magnitude would either kill me or make me stronger. At the moment, I'm still alive, so I guess that question is answered. The morning sun, however, has not yet risen....

Brilliant sun, biting wind, deathly dark clouds, hail, sleet, a spot of rain, bone-chilling cold — all of these things we experienced on the ten-mile round trip. I met Mr. Briggs at his place in Mayodan bright and early, and we immediately hit the road for the trip out to the mountains. We reached the trail head right at 11:00 AM, passing up a few nearby caches to make a beeline for the summit, figuring it best to get the big hike out of the way first. This proved wisdom (yes, such thing is known to happen, however infrequently). Initially, one sets out on the Appalachian Trail and ascends steadily on very rocky, rugged terrain that only grows steeper as you go, particularly around a large formation about halfway up called Rhododendron Rock (for obvious reasons). The landscape is virtually all rock and scrub; unlike most mountains in the Appalachians, there are no dense woods until you draw near the summit, lending the impression of being out west. The last half mile or so of the hike is a gradual ascent up the ridge through lush fir and spruce trees, on a carpet of moss, which turns the forest into an unbroken sea of brilliant green. At the summit, you are completely engulfed in this forest, so there aren't any spectacular views. Those are all reserved for the trips coming and going, and they are incredible.

One of the most entertaining aspects of the hike is encountering the multitudes of wild ponies that live on the mountainside. I made friends with several who came to request of me goodies, of which I unfortunately had none. The warning signs on the mountain indicate the ponies may kick or bite, but the ones who came to visit with me were very well mannered.

The climb up was pretty taxing on our old bones — well, my old bones — but Todd and I kept a steady, relaxed pace so we'd still have some energy for the long descent. The majority of the hike involves carefully picking one's steps on oftentimes treacherous rocks; there's very little just plain walking. We suffered one (Todd) and a half (old Rodan) falls, but these happily proved inconsequential.

A bitter wind had pummeled us for a fair portion of the hike up, but it wasn't so cold that we didn't work up a decent sweat. Upon arriving at the summit, we broke out the beef jerky, taunted Bigfoot for a while, and took a passel of photographs. We hadn't been there very long when black clouds came rushing in, and — as is inevitable — there, at the farthest point from any significant shelter, the sky opened up and began pelting us, not with rain but with BB-sized hail. This kept up for more than half our descent, turning things fairly treacherous as the rocks got slicker and slicker. For a little while, the hail turned to snow, and then — fortunately, very briefly — to rain. By the time we arrived back at the parking area, the sun was shining and the temperature had risen about ten degrees.

I may be sore tomorrow, but while this was probably the longest and most rugged hike I've done since I was in Boy Scouts... all kinds of a long time ago... it was actually far from the most physically grueling of the past five years. We'll call that one the Birkhead Wilderness, last summer — half the distance of this one, but with super-steep terrain in 105-degree heat. That's the one I was lucky to survive.

Perhaps a nightcap, and then I sleep. Goo' night.

Click images to enlarge.
Damned Rodan on the rocks
One of the nice views while the sun was still on our side

Mr. Briggs taking in the view at Rhododendron Rock
Old man at the summit — messin' with Bigfoot
One of the many ponies that came to make friends with us
We didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition... or the deluge of ice

Saturday, November 2, 2013

RIP Dusty

Dusty in her younger, healthier days
Today, little Dusty passed on after a fairly long decline to poor health. She was getting up there in years — over 15 — and she finally went to sleep today and did not wake up. She was always a little curmudgeonly, which I admired, but she could also be exceedingly sweet. Many mornings I'd wake up with her lying on my back, purring, and when I'd roll over, she'd dutifully wait till I was done and just readjust her position without actually getting off me. Her sister, Charcoal, passed away several years ago at age 8 from a tumor. I so hope they are playing together in the land across the rainbow bridge. Goodnight, little sweetheart.
Crabby Dusty
Dusty all set to go places

Friday, November 1, 2013

Night of the Scarecrow

Another Halloween come and gone... sigh. This year's was particularly satisfying. Our regular Halloween festival at work, which is always a hoot, was even better than usual. Lots of costumes, jack-o'-lanterns, trick-or-treating, and cash prizes. Rather than my customary reading of a scary story, Ms. B. and I got together and performed some dark tunes, including my original, "Scan in Progress," October Project's "Bury My Lovely," and Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." All went well except for Brugger mixing up some lyrics during the October Project. They slid by without causing a row, but you just watch it there, Brugger! My Syd the Salacious Scarecrow costume not only caused a couple of near myocardial infarctions, it took third place in the contest, which earns a nice cash prize, and Ms. B. won first place in the jack-o-lantern carving contest, for an even nicer cash prize. And that is why Halloween is my absolute favorite day at the office. Not to mention I took off the second half of the day and also worked in a vacation day today.

Big surprise, I went geocaching during the afternoon — it was a beautiful day for it — and for the evening, Ms. B. and I partook of festivities at our friends Dan and Faun's place. Dan has had health issues that precluded him being as active as usual getting his house decorated, which is one of his favorite things, so several of us got over there early to help put things in proper order. The end result was beautiful. For me, the highlight of the evening was getting into full costume and guarding the house against the young trick-or-treaters marauding through the neighborhood. Scared the bejezus out of several, but most fun was this one little girl who so loved the costume that she wanted a big photo op with me. Her dad took a bunch of pics and said she was going to be thrilled with them. I do so love seeing kids being raised right.

Alas, for my day off, it's pouring rain, so I doubt I'll be heading out to the geocaching trail. Tomorrow, though, is another day.

Hope you had the happiest of Halloweens.
Scary Dan in front of his own personal castle of horror