Sunday, July 31, 2016

Take the Long Way Down

It started as a normal enough week, and then I went to work and things began to get shaken up. Won't go into details here, but it made for a weird day, a weird week, and a weird foreseeable future. Not weird as in how cool is that, but weird as in bloody hell. For now, all is well, though over the long haul, who can say?

Naturally enough, the company of the world's best girlfriend, some good food and wine, and a spot of geocaching helped put the world back to rights, at least for the time being. Our monthly supper club gathering was Friday night at the Albaneses, where we had some of the best homemade larb gai I've ever tasted, decent wine, and some rip-roaring music. I won't admit to getting up and dancing, but there are those who might say that I got up and danced. They must have been drinking. In any event, I woke up yesterday morning with a bit of unusual muscle ache, so something untoward must have occurred. Joe was having fun taking portraits of our individual gang members and somehow, I came out feeling rather negative about it:
Yesterday, Ms. B. and I made one of our regular pilgrimages to Chapel Hill, as we were desperately in need of fare from Trader Joe's. Made several stops for caches, including a nice new one ("Gentlemen, Start Your Paddles," GC6GCXM) hidden by regular caching partner Yoda Rob at the Haw River boat launch on the old Greensboro-Chapel Hill Road in Alamance County. Putting in a boat must be fun here, for as you can see in the photo of Ms. B. above, it's a long way down. There was another on the UNC campus that required a change of elevation ("Pancake," GC31TEK) that quite appealed to me. Found a couple of more quickies, but after that, the oppressive heat was about all we could take.

Ms. B. and I did our shopping, had some drinks at The Weathervane at Southern Season and West End Wine Bar, and finished with a nice dinner at one of our favorites, The Spotted Dog in Carrboro. A fairly short but torrential downpour did cool us off a bit, as we happened to be kind of out in it. Now, on Wednesday night, we'd enjoyed a rare treat — a big screen presentation of the original Planet of the Apes, at the Grande Theater here in Greensboro — so we followed it up last night by watching Beneath the Planet of the Apes at Ms. B.'s place. Those are my two favorite Apes films, and especially as I hadn't seen the original at the theater since I was a kid, watching these was one of this weird week's highlights.

It'll be some time before we know the direction our work affairs will take, so for now... it's business as usual. Till laters.
Feeling worldly at West End Wine Bar in Chapel Hill

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Sandy Level Creep and Other Creeple People

Tonight's book launch party for Young Blood at Mtn' Jax in Martinsville is all done and was done well. A nice turnout resulted in numerous books being devalued with the old man's signature, not to mention those of the Smith Brothers. Got to catch up with several local folks I'd not seen in quite a while, drink some decent beer, and consume what was most certainly the best friggin' burger I've had in many moons. Mtn' Jax turned out to be a hospitable venue for the event, and live music later in the evening added some serious energy to the proceedings.

To kick things off on an apt note, as I was coming into town via the back roads through Sandy Level, I found that the Sandy Level Creep (see "Bold Moon and the Sandy Level Creep" and "The Creep's New Threads") was not only decked out in a new outfit, he had made a friend. What a cheerful duo, these two. As you can see in the photo, they're guaranteed to make passersby feel all kinds of warm and welcome.

About the time things were winding down at Mtn' Jax, I received notification that a new geocache had just been published, aptly titled "Stone Graveyard" (GC6NVNE), and — how happy is this — it was over in Jaycee Park, not far from uptown Martinsville. I managed to get to the park just before dark, hike a short distance on the trail, and make a relatively quick first-to-find. A fitting opening and a fitting ending for a successful book launch. Thanks to those of you who came round, and we missed those of you what didn't make it.

The Creep may not, though. He may not miss you. You might wish he would. He and his new friend....
The 3Ms — Myron, Mark, and Mat

Sunday, July 17, 2016

ConGregate Concluded

The best part of a convention is taking a break from the convention.
ConGregate III is over and done, at least for me, and overall it turned out a good one, with a few caveats, all having to do with the High Point Radisson Hotel. I arrived on Friday afternoon around 4 o'clock for my booksigning, and the first thing in view was a hellishly long line of people trying to check in (to the hotel, not my signing). I found out later that most Friday arrivals had a two- to three-hour wait to get a room because of a "housekeeping" issue. Ms. B. and I customarily spend one night at the hotel for nearby conventions, and this year, we had opted for Saturday night, so at least I didn't have to worry about checking in that afternoon. With the majority of con-goers apparently still trying to get checked in, the dealers' room at 4 o'clock was deserted. At 5:00 PM, I had a panel to moderate ("The Evolving Role of Authors"), and while all the panelists were on hand, we had a massive crowd of two attendees. For what it was worth, the panel turned out to be spirited, informative, and enjoyable. Then, after some geocaching and a nice dinner at Thai Chiang Mai, I drove home. Apart from the latter two activities, it was scarcely worth my time to go all the way to High Point and back.

Saturday morning, I had an early panel, a workshop, and another booksigning, so I hit the road at the ass-crack of dawn to get there. All these went smoothly enough, and this time, at least, I drew some business at the booksigning. Happily, Ms. B. showed up during the signing, and after it was done, we took a very pleasant wine break at The Vino Shoppe, which proved to be the highlight of the weekend. When we returned to the hotel (after stopping for a cache), we headed for the front desk to check in, and — for the love of god — they had no rooms available for... no one knew how long. There were already quite a few people waiting for rooms, and more coming, so I opted to go on to my next panel — "Oh, no, Tokyo! Here Comes Godzilla!," which I also moderated — before attempting to check in. This panel was well-attended and all-around enjoyable. Hey, it was Godzilla!

Afterward, we returned to the front desk, and this time, finally, three hours after the official check-in time, we managed to get a room. It proved clean and comfortable, though was noticeably shy of towels. Fortunately, after a while, a lady from housekeeping stopped by, without being asked, with a bunch of towels on hand. Bravo on this. Unfortunately, the parking garage, which used to be free for hotel guests, now charges a daily fee ($6.00, which is at least reasonable). Sadly, it looked like a trash bomb had gone off in there, particularly in the rickety old elevator. And the rest rooms in the public areas of the hotel were abominable. Filthy dirty and reeking. Now, I've got to tell you, I've stayed in this hotel couple dozen times in the past 30 years, and I've never seen it so poorly run and maintained. This morning, as a token gesture, they offered guests a free continental breakfast or 30% off the regular breakfast, but let me tell you, I've stayed in plenty of hotels that cost half what this one does and that offer continental breakfasts just as part of your stay. I don't think this token concession on the Radisson's part smoothed many tempers.

In between my con duties, Ms. B. and I headed for Little Tokyo, one of our favorite High Point dinner spots, and enjoyed an excellent sushi dinner. The last item on the con menu was "Java and Pros(e)", a well-attended author reading, featuring Darin Kennedy, Michael G. Williams, and me, along with plenty of coffee for those who cared for it, though Ms. B. and I provided our own liquid refreshment in the form of 14 Hands Red Blend.

This morning, I had a 10:00 o'clock workshop, my only duty of the day, so after that was done, Ms. B. and I headed out, she to her house and new kittens, I to a few geocaches. After finding several and replacing one of mine (which required climbing a tree) my find count stands at 8,900 — just a hundred away from the big 9K! I grabbed a fair lunch at Steak & Shake and returned home, and I've half a mind to crash and recover for a bit, as all this conventioning stuff, fussing about second-rate hotels, and tree-climbing in summer heat can about do an old fellow in.

While the hotel situation was frustrating, the con itself was well run as usual. I don't know the final number of attendees, but it looked to be somewhat less than in previous years, and several other guests remarked on the fact. I hope for the organizers' sake it was a success, but I've got to say, I may have second thoughts about returning to the High Point Radisson. I've long said that it was not adequate for the needs of StellarCon and now ConGregate. I'd love to see the con return to either Greensboro or Winston-Salem. We'll find out next year.

A beautiful High Point evening, seen from our hotel room.
And a pleasant High Point morning, at least until the summer heat kicked in with a vengeance.
Finishing off my con duties by grabbing a geocache at nearby Gibson Park.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Night I Got Mauled by a Bear

The Bear. Photo by Clark F.

For all the hair-raising, death-defying stunts I have pulled while out geocaching, I have suffered very few caching-related injuries. I tend to do more harm to myself going from one room in the house to another than I do scaling forty-foot retaining walls or crossing precarious fallen trees above rocky ravines.

But not always.

October 28, 2008. It was a cold, dreary, foggy night, fitting for the Halloween season, and I was out with my (now ex-) wife, commonly known as Mrs. Death, for some after-dark caching, which was one of our favorite activities. Among our stops was a cache in the High Point area called "The Nut 'n' Honey Pot" (GCZKNK), about which we knew nada. Our Garmins led us to a little office complex off Gallimore Dairy Road, and once we parked and made our way into the darkness, we saw something that froze us in our tracks: a big honking bear... a big honking metal bear, with razor-sharp claws, standing next to a tree. Yep, that was our ground zero, so we decided to commence our search while trying our best not to disturb the beast.

Well, given the placement of the hide, which I shall not reveal to you here, it was kind of impossible not to disturb the bear. He clearly was not happy with us because, once I was done scouring the ground around his feet, I stood up and....


You see that outstretched paw? The paw with the very long and very sharp claws? Let me tell you, people, that bastard up and swatted me in the head so hard I went right back down on my hind end, and I knew exactly what it meant to see stars. There was hollering and cussing and groaning, and I didn't even try to get back on my feet for quite a while. As I was sitting there, I noticed Mrs. Death looking at me and shaking her head. "That's going to leave a mark," she said.

Hell yes, it left a mark. And I left a good bit of Mark with the bear — you know, that red liquid filling most of us have.

At least we found the cache. I could have signed the log in blood, but I was apparently too dizzy to think straight at the time.

That was the night I got mauled by a bear.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Tree Peepers, Bedlam, and Adolescent Classics

As I'm having to spend more and more time with my mom, going with increasing frequency to my old hometown to care for her, I find myself growing very protective of those old things in her house that still remain from my childhood. There aren't that many, not like there used to be. There's a small corner of the attic with a few toys, books, artwork, and other miscellaneous objets d'arte that belonged to my brother and me, some going back to our pre-kindergarten days. In the back room on the main floor, Mom has graciously saved a bunch of barely intact books that I valued as a kid — I am now mighty glad they didn't get chucked out along with so much junk over the past few decades. That photo you see above is a fair representation of my "literary" appetites at about age twelve. Of course, that's just a tiny sampling, as I became a voracious reader the moment I managed to comprehend two consecutive sentences. Everything from James Bond to Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators to Mad magazine to Whitman's Big Little cartoon books to Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. A regular borgasmord, to quote a young Mason Reese. (You remember him, right — the ugly little red-headed dude in the Underwood Deviled Ham commercials from the early 1970s?)

It's been a stressful few days for me, what with Mom's condition always preying on my mind, and out there in the world, bedlam reigning perhaps a bit more than usual. You've seen the meme, I'm sure, that reads "My desire to be well-informed is at odds with my desire to remain sane." That's pretty much it. It's depressingly difficult to find even slightly unbiased coverage about events in the world, particularly since every soul alive has an outlet to air his opinion, whether measured and well-informed or vicious and ignorant. I stubbornly remain connected via Facebook since it's the handiest tool for keeping up with the people with whom I most want to keep up. Still, at the best of times, my blood pressure runs a little high, even when on meds. I've come to the conclusion that ordinary bedlam raises it to around 140/90, whereas Bedlam + Facebook = BP 180/100. Bedlam needs to take a breather.

As always, geocaching proves itself the best mitigator of high blood pressure. I've been fortunate in that local cachers have kept new ones coming out between here and Martinsville, so that I can usually hunt a cache or three when I'm coming and going. One that I found today earns a favorite point for its high novelty factor — not an uncommon type of hide, but its placement was a lot of fun, particularly in that it was being watched over by a little tree peeper. I saw him perched atop an open fence post, so while I hunted, we had a friendly conversation. After a while, I saw he had gone, and I hope he didn't actually go down into that fence post, as he might end up stuck. On the other hand, given that he was resting quite comfortably on it, perhaps it's one of his favorite hangouts.

Peace be with ye.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Young Blood Novel Release Party

Regular followers of my shenanigans may recall that, a while back, I wrote the novel Young Blood, based on the 2012 indie movie Young Blood: Evil Intentions, made by brothers Mat and Myron Smith. The official novel release party is coming up on Thursday, July 21, at Mtn' Jax Restaurant, 45 E. Church St., Martinsville, VA 24112 at 6:00 PM. Both the Smith Brothers and I will be on hand, possibly along with members of the film cast, and there will be plenty of copies of the novel available (paperback, $14.99), which we will happily devalue with our autographs. The book also features illustrations by Myron Smith. Make plans to come around for a shocking, horrific, bloody awful time of it. We'd be happy to have you.

I also plan to have copies of the novel available at ConGregate in High Point, NC, on the weekend of July 15–17.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Geocaching GPS: A Great Personal Spider Story

Here's something a little different, at least for this old dude. My latest tale, "Arachnid Alley (or How I Learned to Stop Screaming and Love the Spider)," has just been published in Geocaching GPS: Great Personal Stories of Geocaching Firsts. This is a new anthology of true geocaching stories, edited by Kimberly Eldredge and published by New Frontier Books. Like all the stories in the book, mine is not fiction but a recounting of a noteworthy first geocaching experience, mine relating how I (almost) overcame Arachnophobia, back in my early days of geocaching. This particular adventure involves dark tunnels, big spiders, and three adventurous souls with flashlights and Garmins. Actually, once our intrepid gang got past stage one of the cache in question — "Greensboro Underground" (GC1R7EV) — the Garmins were superfluous. Nerves of steel and warped senses of humor were not.

The book has just been launched so it will be available at GeoWoodstock 14 (GC5Q1ET), a regular geocaching mega-event to be held this coming weekend at the Botanical Gardens in Chatfield, CO. Sadly, the distance puts it out of reach for me, but how nice the book will be available for its perfect target audience. You don't have to be a geocacher to have fun with this one, though. There are 50 tales from geocachers all over the country, with some real gems about first encounters of all kinds. It's available in paperback and Kindle formats.

Check it out here: