Thursday, November 24, 2016

Eat, Drink, and Be Wary

Whatever its historical significance, Thanksgiving Day, for all of my days, has been reserved for family and dearest friends, a Rainey tradition that I value above most others. Particularly these past few years, as life has become more complicated with age, celebrating Thanksgiving has served as a kind of bleeder valve for the accumulated stress of the year, especially now that dealing with my mom's health situation is taking an ever-increasing percentage of my life. This year especially, politics has become such a consuming, contentiousness thing between friends, neighbors, and families, I think a lot of people need a big time out to evaluate their priorities. So much because of the media — social and otherwise — the country has become a big pressure cooker, and the longer things go on this way, the more violent the release is bound to be. I've resolved to do my best to be as positive an influence as I can be, I don't care who you are or what your politics are. I figure that either we build bridges now, or there's going to be a conflagration somewhere down the line that none of us are going to like. Personally, I'd like to see more good years ahead, for you, for me, for all of us.

Today was the perfect day for focusing on bringing down my blood pressure, which, despite a daily regimen of Losartan HCl, has crept upward to levels I can't sustain (though the amount of butter and salt in some of the day's feast might not have been quite the recipe for vascular health). I'm at my mom's in Martinsville more than frequently, yet I rarely get out and about visiting my old haunts except on holiday visits. So, this evening, after the Big Eat, I hoofed it around some of the woods in the neighborhood that are thankfully still intact after all these decades. As a wee youngster, those woods were a source of both wonders and nightmares, for in those days there were things out there that made strange sounds, that kept me awake at night, that surely watched me from the shadows with anything but benevolent intentions.
A massive, five-trunk Ghostwood that towers
over the surrounding trees

Down in the valley along Indian Trail, there's a meandering creek where I frequently played (and where I once managed to step, barefoot, into the shards of a broken bottle, resulting in a passel of stitches and some of the worst physical pain I've ever known). I encountered my first copperhead down there, which, in its anger at being disturbed, pursued me for what must have been many miles up the street. Around age eight or nine, I happened upon an injured opossum stuck in a mire; at first, I noticed only its thrashing tail, which I thought was a snake. "Snake!" I yelled in warning to my little brother. Then, when I realized it was actually a critter with burning red eyes and great big tuskies sticking out of its mouth, I hollered, "No, it's an armadillo or a rat or a pig or something!" This one didn't like me any better than the copperhead had, but at least it didn't chase me. A bunch of us kids used to play army down there, in an area that was greener and lusher than any of the rest of the woods, and that we called "Vietnam." I wouldn't be surprised if, somewhere down there, the remains of countless plastic model tanks that I set on fire and blew up with firecrackers are buried and awaiting excavation. There's something of gorge across which lots of fallen trees made handy bridges, though if my parents had known we were crossing them at admittedly dangerous heights, they would have killed me dead, such that I could not be writing about them all these many years later. This particular spot we called The Spider Pit, after the ravine in the original King Kong. I'm pretty sure that real dinosaurs lived there.

As a history buff, I would love to know more about the actual location. Along the hillside, paralleling the residential street, there are remains of what was once a road of some sort. In the years before I was born, it was clearly part of a large farm, and even when I was a youngster, there was an old, abandoned horse's stable (I seem to recall the horse's name was Frankie) and a wooden bridge across the creek, both now long gone, although one rotting beam of the old bridge remains. The story went that, as the horse was crossing the bridge, either the bridge collapsed or something caused the horse to fall, but in any event, the horse died. Other kids told me that, at night, you could still hear the horse crying out, and though I listened for it, I never heard any such thing. Alas! Many years ago, either from something I read or was told, I gathered a spur from a rail line ran through this area, which possibly could account for the cut along the hillside. But this is mere speculation, and I'd have to do some serious research to learn about this immediate area in the days before I lived here. The most famous local legend is that of Sam Lions, a slave from pre-Civil War days who escaped a heartless landowner, who eventually had him killed. One of the roads in the neighborhood is named for him. An account may be found here: The Legend of Sam Lion

As I was heading home, I came upon a massive flock of turkey buzzards settling into the trees for the evening behind Lakemont Court. I made a video, though it doesn't capture the magnitude of the sound they made — hundreds and hundreds of the huge scavengers, their wings beating and rustling, the trees alive with them, limbs thrashing beneath the weight of the interlopers. If one weren't aware of what was actually making that noise, one might think the sky was falling.

Thus draws another Thanksgiving Day to its close — gratifying, relaxing, stimulating. And it's put me right where I needed to be to get to work on my next terror tale. Scary? You betcha.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.
All that remains of Frankie's Bridge. In all my years here, unfortunately, I never heard
the crying of a ghostly horse.
The area that I used to call "The Spider Pit," after the ravine scene in King Kong. There were always trees fallen
across the gorge — obviously not the same ones seen here, 40+ years later.
All that remains of what might have been a road or rail bed from the days long before I was born.
The mouth of a little underground channel at the creek along Indian Trail

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Old Farts at the Center of the Earth

Evil Rodan in the deep, dark underground

It's been many moons since Team Old Fart — Rob "Robgso," Robbin "Rtmlee" (a.k.a. "Yoda Rob"), Scott "Diefenbaker," and Old Rodan — got together for big a day of geocaching. But at long last, get together we did, and today we hit the northern Chapel Hill area, primarily to get in some hiking and caching at Hollow Rock Park, but afterward figuring to go hunting wherever the wind blew us. Happily, that wind (quite a brisk one) blew us a) into the depths of the earth, and b) to Dickey's BBQ Pit for lunch. We had not really pre-planned an underground venture, although I had noted there were a couple such caches in close proximity to the park — at least one of which I had visited in my earliest days of geocaching, before I had any idea there might be caches hidden in the drains, culverts, and hidden passages deep below ground. Here, the hider is one who is known to possess an exceptionally evil mind (Christian "Vortexecho," sometimes called "Gone2Far"), and the two we found today, while enjoyable and even a little challenging, were far from his most insane (see "Pandora's Box" for a fine example of his devilish mind at work). So after our hike, we decided to see what we could see by the lights of our puny little flashlights in the depths of the earth.
Looking down from the cache at "Concrete Tomb"

"Concrete Tomb" (GC1JZBX) was the first of our subterranean targets. The method of accessing this one became quickly apparent, and getting into the pipe without falling into some deep water proved to be a challenge that a casual onlooker probably would have found hysterical. Once inside, it was not far to ground zero, but snagging the cache itself required a relatively minor physical challenge that, had it gone wrong, likely would have resulted in either extreme wetness or a concussion. Nothing so untoward happened, but I was a little nonplussed when I pulled the container from its hiding place and Diefenbaker, with a nasty chuckle, told me I had just missed grabbing a rather sizeable spider that was lurking behind the cache. Whoopee shit, Mr. D. Anyway, getting back out involved something of a reprise of the maneuver we used to get inside, only in reverse, and I credit Yoda Rob's timely presence that prevented me swamping myself in the swamp.
Diefenbaker signs the log at
"I'll Show You Evil!"

It was back in 2008 that I first visited "I'll Show You Evil!" (GC1FBNG), and I spent lord knows how long poking around a sealed manhole cover, thinking there must be a brilliantly camouflaged container somewhere around it. Nope. Not around it — somewhere under it. But the only way to access the passage is to find the pipe that leads to it. Here, that could have been one excruciating challenge, had not Mr. Lee already experienced the joy of this particular evil hide. He led us to where we needed to be, and we knew by way of our GPS coordinates that we were in for a lengthy underground journey. Now, Old Robgso has never developed a fondness for the underground cache set, and initially it was his intention to sit it out while the rest of us went culvert diving. But peer pressure can be a powerful thing, and by the time we hunched ourselves over and crept into the pipe, Old Rob was with us. Now, I won't come out and say there followed a lot of swearing, caterwauling, and peeing of drawers, but there might have followed a lot of swearing, caterwauling, and peeing of drawers. Regardless, by the time we reached our destination, it wouldn't be unfair to say that Old Rob was enjoying himself. I've done enough of these underground hides that I'm relatively comfortable in the dark depths, but this one was of sufficient length to require a couple of rest stops, and there were sounds in the distance that made us think a) there might be a monster in there with us or b) there might be a monster in there with us. Clearly, since I'm here composing this account, the monster didn't get us, but the thing I glimpsed when I looked back, just before exiting the pipe, appeared not a little bit friendly and even less human.*

As I mentioned above, the ill wind that blew us underground also blew us right to Dickey's BBQ Pit for lunch, and a fine lunch of beef brisket and onion tanglers it was. For a chain restaurant, Dickey's pretty damn well rocks.

We picked up a good many other caches over the course of the day, but it was the challenge of the underground that made it all quite special. That, and the great company of old farts, who have been much missed on recent caching excursions. Old Farts Unite!

*I realized later that this was just Diefenbaker.
Mad men
L: What do you suppose that is up there? R: And the old man swore he'd never cache in such a place!
Rob and Rob taking a break from the rigors of traveling through the pipe — uphill, both ways.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Arts, Crafts, Caching, and Cowfish

Old Rodan amid the ruins of some mysterious, ancient 20th-century civilization
As a respite from the political madness in the aftermath of the November 11 election, Ms. B. and I ventured forth to Raleigh at the crack of dawn this morning, she for an arts-and-crafts seminar she's been wanting to take, and I for some geocaching, topped off with possibly the strangest lunch I've ever eaten at Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar and then some wine at Vinos Finos. Didn't find all that many caches — several were clearly gone after some serious flooding a while back, and I spent a good while on ill-fated hunts for a couple of very difficult ones — but I did get in some very enjoyable hiking in a few different wooded areas in north Raleigh. Somewhere along the line, I managed to shed the tiniest amount of blood, so I guess by Robgso's definition of fun, I had me some.
Not much sense of scale in this photo,
but this wall of boulders, with a number
of bore holes in them, along the Crabtree
Creek Trail, is quite huge

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar is an interesting little joint, offering all kinds of strange fusion dishes (known as "burgushi") featuring sushi and other Asian treats blended with traditional American burgers and general comfort food. I had "Nature Boy's WOOOOO-shi BuffalOOOOO-shi Roll," consisting of sautéed chipotle bison, fried green tomato, grilled onions, feta cheese, and tempura flakes, topped with fresh green tomato, chipotle aioli, diced tomato, red onion, and jalapeño pepper. Yeah, it was good, not something I'd want very frequently, though. Ms. B. ordered "The Taste Explosion Roll," with beef, applewood bacon, jalapeños, spicy mayo, and tempura flakes, topped with Roma tomato, pepper jack cheese, and cashew cilantro pesto. We swapped a few pieces, and I might have actually preferred hers.

Happily, with all the reports of threats and attacks against minorities of every sort, in Raleigh, we saw people of every color, young, old, some no doubt gay, perhaps a few transgender folks, all going on about their business, playing with their kids, generally making the world move as it ought. I hope this will continue to be the norm in America.

Thank you very much and good-night.
A little waterfall at Lassiter Mill Park
Entertaining structures in a green area near Eastgate Park
Lunch — a bison sushi roll

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Damned Rodan's Doomsday Chicken Salad

It's been some time since I've posted a recipe, and since I just whipped up what is easily the best chicken salad I've ever et, perhaps it's time I did. Naturally, with a spur-of-the-moment concoction such this, all kinds of variations are possible, so I'll just share with you How I Did It. This recipe makes about two large sandwiches; adjust amounts accordingly.

Meat from one roasted chicken breast, shredded
Hard-boiled egg, chopped
Large stalk of celery, diced
1/4 medium yellow onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped very fine
1/4 cup chopped green olives
1/2 Carolina Reaper pepper, chopped very fine (for peppers of lesser megatonnage,
     such as habanero, use a whole pepper)
Tbsp mayonnaise
Tbsp cracked pepper Ranch dressing
Tsp sriracha (or chili garlic sauce)
Bread for two sandwiches (I prefer Arnold honey wheat sandwich thins)
Dash cracked black pepper
Dash celery salt
Dash garlic salt

Mix ingredients together and dump on your bread, preferably with a couple of lettuce leaves to help cool things. Consume with glee, and then run around the neighborhood screaming, "MOTHER OF GOD, what have I done?"

You're welcome.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Secret History of Twin Peaks

I've been a knocked-out Twin Peaks geek since I sat in my living room on April 8, 1990, got halfway through the pilot, and blurted out to whoever was in the room with me, "This is the best damn television show I've ever seen." After having watched the original two seasons and the follow-up/prequel film, Fire Walk With Me, countless times over, my opinion has changed little. While the critical consensus that the show went off the rails after the first half of the second season is anything but ill-founded, even those episodes still engage, and the second-season finale, directed by David Lynch, is a mind-blowing masterpiece. And yes, damn those cliff-hangers, yet and still it was the not knowing that sparked so much speculation about the show — more specifically, about the characters and their fates — and spurred fan interest that has only blossomed over the decades. My view of Fire Walk With Me also bucks the majority opinion that it was a train wreck featuring a few scattered moments of brilliance. No ma'am, the more times I watch that film, the more I find to dissect, to revel in, to question, to be glad in not knowing all the answers. It's David Lynch doing what David Lynch does best, and oh, my lord, would I ever love to see a director's cut of this monster. Of course I am all revved for the Showtime revival set for next year; at the moment, I don't have Showtime, but there is always a way.

I picked up The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost, the show's co-creator, knowing little about the book, only that it fills in some gaps while leaving many unaddressed, and that it ostensibly sets up some plot points and possible characterizations for the upcoming series. For a book like this, reviewing it without spoilers is a tricky prospect, so if you proceed, you may encounter them. Be on your guard.

Though it's called "a novel," the book is structured as a dossier compiled by an individual known as "The Archivist," who clearly has connections to both Twin Peaks and certain government agencies (fans of the show will almost certainly guess his/her identity quickly). In turn, the dossier is being investigated by an FBI agent, whose hand is shown primarily in the copious footnotes that accompany the text. The documents in question include top secret government papers, personal correspondence and diaries, excerpts from local news stories, transcripts of interviews, and more. From these documents, a picture of the strange forces at work in and around Twin Peaks begins to take shape, starting in the earliest days of the nation, with fact and fiction intermingling so that one is barely recognizable from the other. From writings by explorers Lewis and Clark, we learn of the discovery of two mountains near a river with a great waterfall, a small circle of sycamores, and a mysterious cave. A fair portion of the book focuses on the plight of the Nez Perce tribe in the area and their interactions with both the US government and those same otherworldly forces first encountered by Lewis and Clark. From there, the mysterious 1947 incidents at Roswell, NM, occupy a significant portion of the novel's word count, tying into the alluring but little-explored events in the series that involved Major Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis).
Doug Milford after joining
the US Army, circa 1941

Throughout the novel, we do get to discover more about some of the local personalities that were prominent in the series, with the most attention paid to Sheriff Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean); Deputy Tommy (Hawk) Hill (Michael Horse); Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn); Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie); Josey Packard (Joan Chen); Mayor Dwayne Milford (John Boylan); Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill); Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie); Margaret Coulson, a.k.a. "The Log Lady" (Catherine Coulson); Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton, from Fire Walk With Me); and others, including relevant information about their parents, siblings, and various significant family members. Perhaps the most surprising revelation of character involves the mayor's brother, Doug Milford (Tony Jay ), who, in the show, was the most minor of minor players, known primarily as the publisher of the town newspaper (The Twin Peaks Post) and the ill-fated husband of vixen Lana Buddig (Robyn Lively). In The Secret History of Twin Peaks, Doug Milford comes out front and center, with author Frost building a complex, lifelong history for him that, within the context of the TV series, one would never have suspected (very possibly the reason Frost chose this particular character to imbue with such dramatic significance). At first, Frost's decision to center the story on Doug Milford didn't ring quite true, but over the course of the story, that focus became less jarring and more comprehensible, especially as its ultimate scope became apparent.

The murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and the fate of her father, Leland (Ray Wise), are granted little more than passing mention near the end of the book, but given that the first season and a half of the series — plus Fire Walk With Me — revolved almost entirely around that mystery, further delving into the superficial facts of it here would have seemed redundant. Happily, however, a number of loose ends from the series are given closure, such as the outcome of the explosion in the bank at which Audrey Horne (Sherilynn Fenn), Pete Martell (Jack Nance), and Andrew Packard (Dan O'Herlihy) were present. We have a tribute to the Log Lady, ostensibly for the Twin Peaks Post, as lovingly rendered as if it were intended for the late actress who played her, Catherine Coulson.
Page from the journal of explorer Wayne Chance,
circa 1875, showing a rendering of the map
discovered on the wall of Owl Cave

The most intriguing aspects of The Secret History of Twin Peaks are the back stories for the characters that offer insight into their personalities that may or may not have been exposed during the series' run, and the explorations of outré events related to but not necessarily showcased in the series. Given the book's focus on mysteries and secrets, which include but are not limited to Twin Peaks, geographically and thematically, one might expect more delving into the Black Lodge and its inhabitants, yet these are given relatively little coverage. However, at the end of the book, the Archivist's conclusions regarding universal mysteries absolutely encompass the essence of the Lodge, and in fact open the way for continued exploration, likely to be set up in the upcoming Showtime series.

To be sure, The Secret History of Twin Peaks is not aimed at the casual reader, but rather to those geeks such as myself who have made the show not just a source of entertainment but a passion. Given Twin Peaks' structure, open to so much individual interpretation, it is natural that this book might not jive with conclusions drawn by many fans over the 25 years since the show aired. But with this book, Mark Frost has done a commendable job drawing fans back into the town, the characters, the mysteries of Twin Peaks. I blazed through the book cover to cover, but there's enough material within to warrant a revisit, especially in that — just like the series — repeated visits may reveal secrets missed in the initial experience.

The audio book features members of the cast — including Kyle MacLachlan (Special Agent Dale Cooper), Russ Tamblyn (Dr. Lawrence Jacoby), Michael Horse (Deputy Hawk), Chris Mulkey (Hank Jennings), David Patrick Kelly (Jerry Horne), Amy Shiels, James Morrison, Robert Knepper, and Annie Wersching — narrating passages that pertain to the characters they played (or will play). That, as well, may be a purchase worth making.

Without question, I will be revisiting this book, perhaps as often as I have revisited the series itself. Four and a half out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
The Twin Peaks sign for the upcoming Showtime series. Twin Peaks' actual population is supposed to be 5,120—
the extra digit is explained away as a "misprint." In reality, the network insisted that the show appear to take place
in a larger town as, in 1990, since it felt audiences wouldn't be receptive to another series set in a small town.