Monday, July 31, 2017

Running Ragged in Charleston

Once a year or so, Ms. B. & I get together with our friends Terry & Beth and go somewhere for a long weekend of something akin to rest and rejuvenation. We've hit Asheville twice; we met in Savannah once a couple of years ago; and we just spent a couple of of sweltering but damn near jubilant days in Charleston, SC. And what do you mean, "Was there geocaching?" Ha-ha, you make funny.

Friday, ass-crack of dawn: Kimberly and I hit the road, bound first for Columbia, SC, where we stopped to hunt a few Civil War–themed caches along the Timmerman Trail, just south of the city. Based on a number of recent alligator sightings in the area, we wondered whether we might see some roaming about — the terrain here does scream "Gator!" — but no, we had to settle for caches instead. Afterward, we continued to the nearby Congaree National Park, where we joined up with Terry & Beth and had ourselves a kick-ass picnic.

Friday, in the ferocious midday heat: Our HQ in Charleston was an old — and very likely haunted — two-story rental house on a narrow lane within a mile of the French Quarter, convenient to just about all the amenities, loaded with character, and generally comfortable but for Terry & Beth's rather too-short bed. There was an intriguing little room beneath the stairwell — locked, of course — from which the faint sounds of movement and an occasional eerie groan would issue. The resident ghost, we rightly assumed, but sadly for us, as with the alligators, we never managed a meaningful tête-à-tête. As with most of the old houses in Charleston, there wasn't a right angle or horizontal surface to be found within or without, and the possibility of some Lovecraftian horror or another emerging from these caddywhompus physical planes lurked ever in our minds. Well, some of our minds, at least — those of us who recognize such uncanny things for the uncanny things they actually are.

It wasn't long before we commenced our obligatory research expedition, which led us to a couple of interesting wine bars and a little restaurant called Juliet, where we had some decent pizza and service so attentive it seemed almost bizarre, which we learned was likely due to a review in an influential local publication that gave the restaurant what-for over substandard service. I hope for them it's a good lesson learned, as we did enjoy ourselves there. For afters, we found ourselves a rooftop bar at a place called Stars, which clearly catered to a clientele of an age bracket that made us out as senior citizens, but we had a scenic view, and thus none of us complained. The sky was kind of pretty too.
Aaaand...we're off!
L) Our quarters on Rose Lane in Charleston; R) the ghostly presence under the stairs?
Surely, the place where IT hides.
View of the early evening sky from the rooftop at Stars
Saturday, the almost-ass-crack of dawn: For breakfast, we tried out a nearby little place called Sunrise Xpress, which we enjoyed so much we did it again on Sunday. Service there was a little slow, even disorganized, but the food was first-rate, and I think we would all give it a decent recommendation. After breakfast, Terry and I spent some time on a geocache hunt in Cannon Park, while Beth and Ms. B. walked down to an arts & crafts center in search of artsy-fartsy implements. Eventually, we rejoined the ladies and ventured forth to an interesting little place called Pounce, the Cat Cafe, where you can have drinks and spend time with bunches of kittens, all of which are up for adoption. This was a difficult, difficult place to depart, I can tell you. Good company there indeed.

Then, while the rest of our expeditionary force checked out the local markets, I trekked a few blocks over to the Charleston Public Library, where I was able to snag a creative little geocache amid the stacks. It's a hide type I'm particularly fond of, and this was a textbook example of how to do it right (GC1Z9Y5). I rejoined the group, and off we went again, soon to find ourselves at what proved to be our happiest of happy places: another wine and tapas bar called O'Hara & Flynn, where we were treated to some superb wine and delicious vittles in a gorgeous setting. From the moment we entered, the proprietor struck me as a familiar-looking chap; eventually I determined he was a dead-ringer for my old, dead friend Harry. My stating of this fact sent Beth into a fit of hysterics. Why I cannot necessarily say, but as my late friend had a warped sense of humor, I am certain he would have approved.

One of our most intriguing discoveries was a place called 5Church, a large, ancient church that has been converted to a couple of fairly upscale restaurants and bars. On the ceiling of the "sanctuary," a significant amount of text of The Art of War has been partially transcribed. And in the next section of the church, we found an almost divine barbecue joint called Queology, where Terry and I satisfied our by-now irresistible cravings for smoked dead animal with a half-rack each of excellent baby back ribs.
The ladies in front of the ornate bar at O'Hara & Flynn
Cutting up in church
A portion of the church's ceiling
I expect we made my dead friend Harry's doppelgänger quite happy because, after dinner, we returned to O'Hara & Flynn to listen to some live music performed by a male/female duo who, much to my delight, played almost exclusively samba and Latin jazz of 1960s vintage, the guitarist on a unique and beautiful ten-string. We were sufficiently enthused about the place, the refreshments, and the music to linger until our proprietor was ready to throw us out.
Blood on the pillow

And having walked many miles over the course of the day, in the heat of the furnaces of hell, we decided to Uber it back to our quarters, where there came a bit of new strangeness: when I went up to our bedroom and turned back the bed, I discovered a good-sized spot of fresh blood on my pillow. As near as we could tell, none of us were bleeding, so we found ourselves baffled. Now, at some point in our investigation of this phenomenon, Brugger noticed that I had a cut on my elbow and declared the mystery solved. Not even close, I would say, but when a prosaic answer presents itself, the conventional mind will latch onto it and stubbornly refuse to accept the less traditional yet more obvious alternative. Being that I had no recollection of getting cut at any time during our wanderings, I can with some confidence postulate that our ghostly presence, for its own nefarious purposes, drew some blood unbeknownst to me. This conclusion is, in fact, inevitable to the perceptive and focused mind of someone grounded in science and not given over to womanly imaginings.

Sunday, not-quite-the-ass-crack-of dawn: Another delicious if s-l-o-w breakfast at Sunrise Xpress, and then time to pack up, clean up, and head over to Magnolia Cemetery for some sightseeing and a virtual cache (H. L. Hunley, GC563E) of particular historical interest. In addition to the possibility of ghosts, we faced more potential encounters with gators but again, dammit, came up empty in that department. For hanging out with large, carnivorous reptiles of the marsh, this was not the trip. Instead, we found a serene, somber, picturesque setting with thousands of graves dating back to Civil War days; massive, Spanish moss–draped trees rising above worn gravestones and monuments; and acres of marshland teeming with herons, cranes, egrets, and other creatures of the wild. Truly one of the most impressive boneyards I've experienced, equal to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in New York and Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah. It's the kind of graveyard that might take a little of the disappointment out of being buried.
Obelisk-like mausoleum at Magnolia Cemetery

The moment of excitement came when Ms. B. began holler for help from some distance away. We thought perhaps she was being mauled by a gator, but as Terry and I sallied forth to investigate, we discovered she had blundered into a spiderweb, occupied by its colorful and quite sizable inhabitant — who, in the end, was almost certainly more put out than she was. Still, Ms. B. did give Terry and me a pretty good dressing-down for making insufficient haste in our rescue effort. My explanation that we were simply showing due respect to the deceased by not running through the cemetery fell upon at least marginally receptive ears, but I did indicate for future reference that if one is going to squall and thrash about as if one has caught fire, it's probably best not to do it in the resting place of the dead.

At last, it was time to depart, so we said our goodbyes to Terry & Beth — only to run into them again a hundred miles on, so we had a rather prolonged lunch at some Fatz restaurant along the interstate. And then... onward. A few more caches. And home.

Till the next outing with good friends.
While alligators on this trip might have been scarce, our colorful, multi-legged friends were not.
An interesting little sapling discovered in Magnolia Cemetery
The Incredible Two-Headed Beth-Brugger rising from the grave
Serenity in the shade

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Cryptic Morgue Pit

Yeah, what a hectic week. After months of preparation and planning, the company I work for by day has moved from its longtime digs on Market St. in Greensboro to a new office out by Piedmont Triad International Airport. I can't say I'm thrilled about the change — my new daily commute is actually longer than my drive when I lived in the city of Chicago and worked in the northern suburbs (square mileage–wise, Greensboro is larger than San Francisco or Boston, with almost enough urban sprawl to boot). I suppose I was somewhat spoiled by having to drive no more than 15 minutes to any of my various workplaces in Greensboro since I moved here in 1987, usually with minor to moderate traffic issues. Now, it's the daily Asshole Parade on Interstate 40 and U.S. 29, with few reasonable alternative routes to and from my place. It certainly ain't helping my blood pressure.

That said, this is still the best day job I've ever had or could probably want, at least as long as I'm on someone else's payroll. The pay ain't that great, but the benefits are fair to middlin', and I couldn't work with a better team of folks — except may Troy, but we're not going to talk about Troy. We're not going to talk about Troy at all; we're going to leave him out of it.

However, this isn't quite the end of it. These new quarters are actually temporary, as our permanent space, a couple of buildings over, is not quite ready for us to move in. We'll probably remain in our current location for a couple of months and then go through the whole moving thing all over again. For the moment, though, I kind of like the office where we're situated. It's a cool (read chilly) building, which really sits well with me, and there's lots of space for walking with Ms. B. at break times. There are, in fact, a handful of caches on the premises, though of course I claimed them several years ago when they first came out. However, once I determine whether there's adequate usable space, there's a good chance I'll hide a new one or two nearby.

The past couple of days, with all the upheaval, everyone's been kind of punchy, and our work spaces have been designated as summer camp cabins, with the occupants responsible for naming them. The space I share with a couple of others has become known as the Cryptic Morgue Pit, and I was not entirely responsible for this, a fact that gives me at least some hope for certain of my co-workers.

Busy, busy.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Racketeers

Last night... such a fateful night... a half dozen or so dangerous men with musical instruments gathered at The Daily Grind in Martinsville for the fourth Songwriters Showcase and unleashed a racket fit to wake the dead — and now you oughta see the all those walking dead shambling past my window. It is to be afeared.

The Songwriters Showcases present local artists playing all original songs, and the first three filled up the house. Last night, we started out with a somewhat smaller group, both musicians and attendees, but over the course of the evening, more and more people filed in, and at the end of it all, the place was nearly packed. Each musician brought a unique sound to the place, from refined, jazzy instrumental (Darryl) to raucous improv (Angus and Daily Grind owner Daniel). I played a couple of sets, five songs in all, and no one threw any shit at me, which was a refreshing change of pace. Okay, well, no one's actually thrown any shit at me, but I bet they wanted to. Unfortunately, none of the ladies who have made some exceptional contributions to the gatherings came round last night, which was disappointing. In particular, I was hoping Morgan would be there to play some of her signature, Celtic-inspired ballads, mais alas....

Come Friday, September 22, I'll be part of a two-man show — The Writers Round, Featuring Tokyo Rosenthal and Mark Rainey — in which each of us takes several turns playing individual sets over the course of the evening. I can always use as many hecklers as possible, so I hope some of you folks can make the show. That's going to be a busy weekend too, as on Saturday, September 23, The Smith Brothers will be presenting a five-year anniversary screening of Young Blood: Evil Intentions at the Hollywood Cinema in Martinsville, and I'll be on hand to autograph copies of the novel. More on that event a bit later.

Finally, to leave you with a sample of what was and what will be... last night's performance of "Fire in the City"....

Monday, July 17, 2017

Trauma of the Living Dead

I was saddened to hear of George Romero's passing yesterday. What a career he had — and what a driving force in the horror field. But if he had made no more movies after Night of the Living Dead, I suspect Romero might still have attained legendary status. Night scared the daylights out of countless moviegoers, including my mom (and possibly my dad), and it traumatized me years before I even got to watch it....

I remember that first TV commercial for Night, or at least a portion of it — a brief shot of one of the undead gnawing on a human hand; a shot of a desiccated, staring skull; a shrill, nerve-shattering scream. I was eight or nine years old at the time, and that advertisement cost me serious sleep over a couple of evenings. In fact, this movie looked scary enough that I was pretty sure I didn't even want to see it.

But then the kicker: Night of the Living Dead came to one of our local drive-in theaters on a double bill with Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster. Now, whatever my feelings about flesh-eating zombies, I was by this time in life a serious daikaiju geek, and the opportunity to see a Godzilla movie at the theater was not one to pass up. Naturally, I asked my parents if they'd take me. They answered with the dreaded "maybe."

What happened was that Mom and Dad went to the drive-in to check out the movies, to see if they were "okay" for the likes of me. Well, the next day, Mom very firmly told me I could not go. Night of the Living Dead was just way too much. Those zombies were eating people! I assured her I didn't want to see Night of the Living Dead, I just wanted to see Ghidrah.

"You're not going anywhere near that drive-in theater!" was my traumatized mother's reply.

And so, no Ghidrah for me that go-round. In fact, much to my dismay, it was years later before I got to see it — well into high school, if I remember. As for Night of the Living Dead, I believe I was in college when I finally got to experience that treat. By then hardly traumatizing, but it certainly entertained me. And to this day, it remains one of my favorite horror movies. My most memorable experience with it was Halloween 1983 — my first in Chicago — when Night played on a double-feature with Eraserhead at the sadly long-gone Varsity Theater in Evanston. And just a few years ago, the Rives Theater in Martinsville — where I saw the majority of the horror and monster movies of my youth — Night played as a midnight movie at Halloween.

Yeah, I don't know how many times I've seen it now, but I'll probably watch it quite a few more times before I pass on over myself. Not to mention the original Dawn of the Dead, which also rates among my favorites.

Thanks, George, for those treasured memories you've provided. I remember you for those, but I know many folks who will remember a warm and genuine soul who touched their lives in many other wonderful ways. R.I.P.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Old Farts in the Park

Yoda Rob, Old Rodan, Diefenbaker — 3/4 of Team Old Fart (photo by Robert Isenhour)
It felt like a regular reunion of old farts today, for Yoda Rob, Old Rob, Diefenbaker, and Old Rodan have not turned the woods dark and dismal for way too long a spell. The four of us made a day of it in Rowan County, mostly at the expansive Dan Nicholas Park, with a relatively brief incursion into the nearby town of Salisbury for a handful of (mostly) park-&-grab hides. I added another 23 caches to my total count, which now stands at 9,533. Hmm — 10K by the end of the year, I wonder...?
Is that the Team Old Fart logo etched into that tree?
Surely, none of us would do such a thing.
(Cough, Yoda, cough, Rob...)

We expected a miserably hot day, and make no mistake, the temperature got a good ways up there, but it was hardly as awful as it has been recently, especially in the humidity department. At times, we even had a pleasant breeze blowing. We found a good variety of cache hides—some micros, some big honking ammo cans, some well-camouflaged, some just for the numbers. Individually, each of the Old Farts made a good showing, with no one earning the Dead Weight Award today. Inside the park, we put in about a five-mile hike and found 13 of the 14 caches we hunted. There's a fair chance the one we didn't find is simply missing, but nonetheless it can be frustrating to look at the geocaching map and see among all those smileys one ugly, bitchy, flingin'-flangin' sucky unclaimed cache. of the caches in the park was hidden at a picnic table in one of the camping areas, and it just so happened the campsite was occupied. I figured, what the hell, I'll go ask the attendant gentleman whether he'd mind if I searched his picnic table in hopes of finding a geocache. Happily, as it turns out, his wife and daughter were at least occasional geocachers, and he seemed rather excited that there was one literally under their noses they could hunt. I did manage to make a quick find, and it was kind of fun to be that unexpected visitor making what many might consider a weird-ass request.

March of the Old Farts (photo by
Robert Isenhour)
My favorites of the day were actually among the urban hides in Salisbury proper, one hiding inside a hole in a telephone pole, cleverly disguised; another residing some ways up in a tree next to a Cook-Out parking lot. I'm pretty sure the surprised folks having lunch in their car next to said tree had a good laugh at the Old Fart (yes, me) clambering up into those branches. (Yeah, that first step was a doozy.) Oddly, after we had found the cache, a young gentleman accosted us and asked whether we might have been looking for the geocache in the tree, as he believed it to be missing. We assured him it was still there because I had just signed the log, which seemed to surprise him, but, well, there it is.

Lunch — a rather late one — happened at East Coast Wings, where I ordered some wings that proved almost too hot for my palate, and that's saying something. Still, all very satisfying, as hot wings are one of my wee little vices.

Tonight, here comes episode 10 of Twin Peaks, and that should cap off what has been overall a satisfying day (and weekend). Next weekend, it's Songwriter Showcase at The Daily Grind in Martinsville, which means I need to practice my ass off this week to insure that my fingers and voice are in at least passable condition.

I know... the deuce, you say!
One of my favorite caches of the day, hidden in a hole in the telephone pole
Uhh... Yummy???
Old Farts — a slightly different view: Yoda Rob, Old Rob, Diefenbaker

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Something Evil

Gray clouds cry in the thundering sky,
Yellow fire darts between billowed masses.
The voice of the wind is howling in my ears,
And the trees quake as the thunder crashes.

Inside the fire roars, and there’s someone at the door
Coming in from the gloomy, pine-black forest.
Cloak drawn around him, and his boots are caked with mud.
He sits down for an ale and me another.

He tells a tale as he downs another ale.
There’s a fear down deep behind his eyes.
Out in the storm something fearsome is born,
Something evil that now comes with the night.

And with his words,
A sound is heard from outside.
Fear clouds his eyes,
And he dies
In his chair.

Out in the rain looking through the window pane,
Two eyes glowing in a fiery brimstone red.
With a thunder I can hear, my heart pounds with fear
As a shadow fades into the forest.
Carrying my gun, I break into a run
Through the trees that were once so familiar.

But as I run through the rain and the mud,
There’s a sound that echoes from behind.
Back at my house, all the lights go out,
And I’m standing on the edge of a nightmare.

Sound drawing near,
I can hear
But I can’t hide.
Lost in this dream,
I hear a scream.
It is I.

Gray clouds cry in the thundering sky,
And the air is lit by streaking forks of light.
Out in the storm, something fearsome is born,
Something evil that now comes with the night.

©1983, 2017 Stephen Mark Rainey

This spooky song and plenty more may be heard when I play at The Writers' Round Featuring Tokyo Rosenthal and Mark Rainey at The Daily Grind in Martinsville, VA, on September 22, 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Songwriter Showcases in the Works

Lately, I've been about as busy playing music — or something akin to it — as writing fiction. Of course, the composing of prose is my secondary profession, while banging on the guitar and hollering to scare the wits out of innocent passersby falls more in the "hobby" department. Still, now and again I do a public performance here or there, and I've become a regular at the The Daily Grind's quarterly Songwriters' Showcase in Martinsville, VA. There's one coming up on Friday, July 21, 6:30–10:00 PM. Per the usual, I'll be one of several singer/songwriters playing a set of original tunes, mine based primarily on the darker sides of life (and death), which I suppose surprises the hell out of my faithful followers.

In September, however, I'll be sharing the stage with only one other artist—Tokyo Rosenthal—and we'll each play at least four individual sets of original music. I've been dusting off my old song sheets from way the hell back and trying to get my fingers and voice back into respectable shape (if such is even possible). Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I wrote maybe 75 songs, but, unfortunately, only a handful of recordings and/or lyric sheets have survived the years. Quite a few of those songs are no doubt lost forever in my memory, and in some cases, that's probably for the best. However, I've managed to drag a number of them kicking and screaming back to the light of day, and my burning fingers and scratchy voice are testimony to some serious practicing these past few days. I've got a lot of brushing up to do, I can tell you.

I'd like to invite any of you who are brave enough to either or both shows. The "big" one — The Writers Round Featuring Tokyo Rosenthal and Mark Rainey — will be September 22, 8:00 PM–10:00 PM. You've plenty of time to prepare yourself, so mark your calendars and gird your loins. I'd love to see you folks. But only heckle me if you really mean it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Signing My John Hancock

Team 2-1/2 Men: BigG7777, Suntigres, Old Rodan

Just about every year since I began geocaching (2008), on or about the July 4th holiday, it has been a personal tradition—nay, a personal requirement—to celebrate my freedom to scrawl my John Hancock on the log sheets of as many hidden little containers as a satellite signal will guide me to. Today was no exception, with an entertaining venture into the forgotten wilds (i.e., at least ten miles from the nearest wine bar) of Forsyth and Davidson Counties, with caching partners Bridget (Suntigres) and Gerry (BigG7777). Most caching outings are fun; this one was memorable. Mainly, today I found cache #9,500, which means I have a mere 500 to go before the big 10K. Later this year, perhaps...?

One of our first targets was a cache that has daunted me for years, titled "Green Series Cache: Not a Purple FOB" (GC2TDF5). It was hidden in 2011, and not long after its publication, I had attempted to find it, but without success. The location is something else: a dense thicket near a megachurch that attracts thousands to its services (I know—I've been there on Sundays thinking to hunt the cache, but the sheer number of Christian soldiers marching about the location have dissuaded me). Today, however, apart from someone who appeared to be learning to drive around the church parking lot, no one else was present and we were able to make our way to Ground Zero without having to avoid countless, devastating barrages of humanity. Inside the thicket, which can only be entered by hacking one's way through tangled curtains of poison ivy, sheer walls of briers and brambles, and a veritable moat of quicksand, one will find a decaying tobacco barn—roofless, tottering, and home to lord knows what varieties of critters. How I missed finding the cache on that long-ago attempt is a mystery, for today, once having braved the thicket and entered the old structure, locating the container proved relatively simple. Signing that log was a most satisfying accomplishment after a long and rather trying spell on the home front (don't ask).
The old tobacco barn, completely hidden from view outside the dense thicket

From the perspective of someone who has found 9,500 geocaches, I'd say it's rare to come upon cache logs containing anything other than the signatures (and occasionally a few personal observations) of past finders. Today, we found a couple that were hardly positive in nature but that provided a few chuckles. One cache, which resided at the base of a light pole in a busy parking lot, contained a log with an entry that read, "You Are All faggots Get A Job!," obviously inscribed by a non-geocacher, a.k.a. muggle, who had happened upon the hide. At least this semi-literate soul had the decency to use the cache log as a medium to communicate his deepest thoughts rather than simply make off with the container, which is the far more common behavior among muggles.

At another cache, which was unwisely hidden at the base of a stop sign located at the corner of someone's front yard, we found in lieu of a logsheet a note from an unhappy property owner advising the hider of the "game piece" to contact George at a certain address and/or phone number because he was interested in having a "chat." We did find this amusing in its way, but we also recommended that the container be removed and the geocache listing be archived. However unsporting, the property owner was clearly within his rights to take issue with the placement of a container of which he didn't approve on his land. Cache hiders take note!

And then there's the throw-down—the replacement of a presumably missing cache by a hunter, whether with or without the permission of the original cache owner. Throw-downs are frowned upon by most in the geocaching community, although there are some cache owners who will give occasional permission (sometimes even giving blanket permission) to replace containers that are obviously missing. I have, on occasion, replaced containers if I have checked with the cache owner (or know in advance the owner will approve), but it is bad personal policy to replace containers willy-nilly just because you can't find them. The local geocaching community does have its chronic offenders in this regard, and we did come upon a blatant example of their handiwork today when we found what was clearly a throw-down, only to find the original container shortly thereafter. True, this is a small thing in life's bigger picture, but this same behavior has caused some real-world strife between a number of individuals I know, and a simple focus on personal integrity whilst in the field would almost certainly alleviate the issue altogether.

Anyhoo, all this made for a day of intriguing geocaching, and at this particular time of life, that kind of intrigue is just my speed.
L: the throw-down; R: the original hide
Because there was also cache there, we took our lunch break at a nearby Dairi-O, a local franchise that specializes in super-delicious hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken wings, ice cream, and such—including some of the most addictive french fries I've ever tasted. Not even a little bit healthy, of course, but if nothing else, I burned off a fair number of calories and sweated off some water weight in near-hundred degree temperatures today. So yeah, this Fourth of July fit comfortably into Old Rodan's grand personal tradition. May there be many more.
In the sun, my car's thermometer read over 100 degrees; in the shade, it was scarcely less. No like! NO LIKE!